format is often promoted
as the format of choice for free (and non-free) documentation. DocBook, as
an SGML and XML standard, is compliant with as many buzzwords as anybody
could wish for. The standard is well developed and highly expressive.
And DocBook, of course, is all about structure. More, perhaps, than any
other markup language, DocBook forces the author to concentrate on the
structure of the language without thinking about how a document will be
rendered in any particular medium.
Anybody who has had to create a serious work in full frontal DocBook knows
the rest of the story, however. DocBook is complex and verbose. Like
PostScript, DocBook requires that the author maintain a deep stack in mind
to track the current state of the document. And, like PostScript, DocBook
is best used as the output of a higher-level tool, rather than created
directly by the author.
Unfortunately, given the current state of the tools available, manipulating
DocBook directly with a text editor is often the only option available. So
your editor, who is currently in the process of updating a substantial book
which is, of course, in DocBook format, was more than usually interested in
the recent announcement
that Conglomerate 0.70 had been
released. As stated in the announcement:
Congomerate is a free, user-friendly XML editor. It is
particularly aimed at DocBook editing, but should be able to handle
arbitrary XML document types.
For authors working in DocBook, a nice editor would be worth a great deal.
So Conglomerate seemed worth checking out.
The first challenge with bleeding-edge software, of course, is getting it
installed and running. For Conglomerate, an attempted install on Debian
sid proved doomed to failure; the maze of dependencies proved too twisted,
and the packaged version in experimental had not been updated. On the
other hand, version 0.70 configured, built, and installed on a Red Hat
Linux 9 system without trouble. There are advantages to having a
variety of distributions sitting around.
What resulted was a tool that shows some serious promise, but which is not
yet ready for production use. The sample text used (Chapter Two of
Linux Device Drivers, Third Edition) required significant editing
(with a text editor) before Conglomerate would accept it. Conglomerate
does not recognize common entities (e.g. –), and there
are differences of opinion on how certain types of tag (such as
<indexterm>) should be terminated in some situations. The
tool spews out an unending series of Gtk warnings, crashes occasionally,
and is generally slow. It is missing fundamental features, such as an
"undo" operation. It does, however, work well enough to give a good
idea of where the developers are going.
True to the basic premise of DocBook, Conglomerate is all about structure.
Looking at a document in DocBook will not tell you much about how it will
appear in printed (or web) form, but it is full of information on how the
document goes together. To that end, the window (see the screen shot on
the right) is divided into two panes. The left side shows the overall
structure of the document, in the usual tree presentation. The main
window, on the right, shows the text. But this is no WYSIWYG presentation;
instead, the document is presented as a set of nested boxes showing, once
again, how things are structured. Subtrees of the document can be expanded
or hidden at will, providing a sort of zoom feature.
At the structural element level, the right mouse button yields an
impressive array of new elements (86 of them) which can be added as
subelement or sibling elements. Once you get below the paragraph level,
however, a whole new menu with various types of low-level markup
(e.g. <emphasis>) appears instead. Conglomerate does not, of
course, change the presentation of the text to reflect this sort of
markup. So, for example, rather than italicizing text marked
<literal>, it simply indicates that the tag is present.
The tool displays internal comments in a highlighted form, but does not
appear to provide a way to add or edit comments.
There is no shortage of features that this tool still needs: undo, an easy
way to join paragraphs, the ability to read and fix not-quite-perfect
files, entity definitions, and some sort of way to quickly see what
formatted output would look like. The performance and stability issues
need some work. But none of this should detract from the fact that the
Conglomerate developers have made substantial progress toward the creation
of a desperately needed tool. Conglomerate is headed in the right
direction; we're looking forward to the next release.
Comments (31 posted)
we reported on the impending
software patent vote in the European Parliament. That vote, set for
September 1, did not happen as scheduled. Thanks, at least in part,
to protests in various forms, the vote has been pushed back to the
September 22 Strasbourg session.
What remains unclear is what will be voted on at that time. By some
reports, the entire software patent proposal has been pushed back for a
rewrite before the vote. By others, it is a simple delay, and the same
proposal will be voted upon in Strasbourg. Real information, however,
seems hard to come by.
Either way, now is not the time to let up the
pressure on software patents. The next few weeks should be used, by
Europeans, to make sure their MEPs understand how they feel about software
patents and the threats patents pose to European businesses. The "software patent factsheet" being distributed by
MEP Arlene McCarthy should be challenged.
It is also
necessary to provide a counter to the pro-patent forces, which are
evidently pressing for a removal of the interoperability exemption in the
perhaps, can be won - but it is not over yet.
Comments (7 posted)
[This article was contributed by Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier]
In the last week or so, Cem Kaner's Software
Customer Bill of Rights has been making the rounds of the "blogosphere"
and getting quite a bit of attention. Essentially, Kaner proposes ten basic
rights that should be enjoyed by any user of commericial software. As End
User License Agreements (EULAs) have become increasingly onerous over the
last few years, Kaner's bill of rights has struck a chord with users.
For the most part, the rights proposed by Kaner are already enjoyed by
users of open source software. They
already have the right to transfer free software to other users. They don't
need to reverse engineer the software to check for security holes or to
fix bugs and security glitches -- they already have the source code.
(Nothing in any open source license would prevent a user from choosing
to do it the hard way, however.) Kaner proposes that users should have
the "right to see and approve all transfers of information from her
computer." While "spyware" is a constant danger posed by proprietary
software, with access to source code, users can make sure that a program
isn't secretly sending data off of their computer to another machine.
However, there are a few rights that would benefit users of open source
software. Firstly, the unfettered right to reverse-engineer proprietary
would be a major boon to the open source software community. As Kaner
points out, courts
have been willing to enforce clauses against reverse-engineering in
software licenses. This poses a problem for open source developers looking
to achieve interoperability with commercial software, operate embedded
devices with open source software or simply a way to access data saved in a
Another right that Kaner proposes is "mass-market software should be
transferrable." As mentioned previously, users already enjoy the right
to transfer software that is licensed under a FOSS license. However,
most users of open source software still end up dealing with proprietary
software. How many open source users have purchased a laptop or desktop
computer with software preinstalled that will never be use by the
purchaser? The cost of a Windows XP license is built into the price of a
brand-new machine. The user should have the right to transfer that
software to another user who will make use of the software, if we so
The first item on Kaner's list, however, is "let the customer see the
contract before the
sale." This is particularly timely in light of Dell's hidden license
policy. Even some of the Linux vendors have started using the
"clickthrough" mechanism, with some of the Linux installers requiring
the user to agree to the terms of the open source licenses, without
allowing the user to read them first. This is probably done because of
the number of licenses involved -- most distributions include software
under the GNU General Public License (GPL), Lesser GPL, Artistic
License, Apache License, Mozilla License, BSD License and so on.
One potentially dangerous clause in Kaner's bill of rights is number
ten, "When software is embedded in a product, the law governing the
product should govern the software." Generally, this would be a good
thing. A hardware manufacturer should not be able to use licensing terms
to forbid the transfer of a router or network appliance by forbidding
the transfer of embedded software. Car manufacturers shouldn't be able
to exclude embedded software from warranties.
However, one wonders if this might make open source developers liable in
some way if their software is "embedded" in a product. Most, if not all,
FOSS licenses disclaim any warranty because the software is being given
away. What happens, however, if a court decides that embedded software
qualifies as "goods" and that developers can be held liable for defects
-- even if they have not charged for the software in the first place?
This may seem like a stretch, but we do live in a very litigious
Kaner's proposed rights would be a dramatic improvement for users of
proprietary software, but they leave out many rights that FOSS users
take for granted. For example, users of FOSS software expect to have
access to source code. They also expect to be able to modify the
software, to add or remove features that they deem necessary or
desirable, and to be able to distribute the changes.
Despite the fact that the Software Customer Bill of Rights doesn't quite
match the average FOSS license in terms of customer rights, it would be
good to see it become reality. It's time to start reversing the current
legislative trends that have given far too much power, and too little
accountability, to vendors of proprietary software.
Comments (5 posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition
- Security: Counting advisories; new vulnerabilities in gkrellm, horde, pam_ldap, phpwebsite, ...
- Kernel: Class-based resource management; Power management; MODULE_ALIAS
- Distributions: Interview with Knut Yrvin, Project Leader of Skolelinux, Beehive Linux is dead
- Development: Coming soon: GNOME 2.4; new releases for Balsa, Ghostscript, JACK, Mozilla, Samba,...
- Press: Linux gains ground on aging Unix, Ian Clarke and Freenet, More SCO, Linux: Is free really cheaper?, Controversy over software patents
- Announcements: Linux in the Library of Congress, LinuxFocus, LPI newsletter, Linux Gazette, Linux.Conf.Au 2004 Registration Opens
- Letters: Monkeys and Penguins