Shaking Up Tech Publishing

There’s an interesting discussion over on David Heinemeier Hansson’s blog about how the technical publishing industry could change in order to give better deal to technical authors. It’s particularly notable for the contributions from Tim O’Reilly and Gary Cornell (the publisher at Apress).

One point that interested me was DHH’s assertion that all books are written in Word. I wrote my first book in Word, but I don’t remember that being forced on me by the publishers. It was a disaster and probably added more than a couple of weeks to the whole process. I vowed never to do that again.

So when I wrote my second book, I was glad that neither of my co-authors ever suggested Word. It was decided from a very early point that we’d be using POD (actually O’Reilly’s slightly extended version of POD). All three of us felt much more comfortable working in a text-based format. In fact the whole process made for an interesting article.

I can’t believe that technical authors are happy writing in Word. The advantages using a format that can be processed using the standard Unix toolset must be obvious to anyone with a vaguely technical background. I can only assume that some publishers insist on Word.

That said, I’m not completely wedded to the idea of using POD. Next time (and I’m certainly not guaranteeing there will be a next time) I’m thinking of using DocBook. The idea of using a standard XML format that can be transformed into many other formats is very appealing. I might even try OpenOffice Writer in DocBook mode.

But I will never again write anything longer than a memo using Word.


  1. All books are most definitely not written in Word! Some people author in Framemaker and deliver camera-ready (that’s what I do and I love it). some people author in InDesign (at O’Reilly notably), etc.I think anyone paying for Word should definitely try OpenOffice as an alternative. Styles are far more reliable in OpenOffice, which of course is very important for books.

  2. I wrote ProgJab in DocBook (it was my choice, from DocBook or Word), and GPG in Word (the only real choice).Summary – DocBook was great; Word was a nightmare and got in the way. I’ve never written anything substantial in Word before GPG, and vowed never to again after GPG. That goes for Word and all other WYSIWYG WPs, but especially Word. Text+markup is (and always will be by many people) highly underrated.Hey, who turned off my 3270 terminal?

  3. ..ever heard of a self-fulfilling prophesy – you don’t want to like Word, and then you try and use it, and then – miraculously, you don’t like it!I’d quite like to hear some concrete examples of what the problems are. Just turn it on, start typing, and stop when you’ve finished. The 95% bloatware features can easily be ignored.

  4. I just saw this – X-Pubs 2006, Europe’s largest XML content management and publishing conference. Looks like they have Ann Rockley and JoAnn Hackos, plus Adobe, Mark Logic, XMetal, Idiom etc.Its on 2-21st June in LondonHave a

  5. Europe’s largest XML Conference X-Pubs 4th & 5th of June 2007( worth a look.Covers XML / DITA / CMS. 2006 was brilliant.End-users from Bombardier, Schlumberger, BMJ, and the Irish Government are presenting their stories, AND Michael Priestly (IBM), Steve Manning (Rockley Group), and other experts from IBM, Adobe, PTC Arbortext,, XyEnterprise, Mekon, etc.

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