RE: [xsl] Future of XSL Stylesheet Writing?

Subject: RE: [xsl] Future of XSL Stylesheet Writing?
From: "Michael Kay" <mike@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 27 Sep 2007 10:14:08 +0100
The tool just announced by RenderX is not the first; one of my clients has
been using a similar tool from AntennaHouse.  They've been working around
its limitations by doing pre-transformations on the input and
post-transformations on the output, so I forwarded the announcement to them;
they've tried the new tool and the first indications are that like the
Antenna House tool it does 90% of what they need but leaves them with
problems doing the other 10%.

That's always the problem with code-generators. They work by stereotyping
the solutions to common use-cases, and they always leave you stuck when your
problem departs from the stereotype. It leaves you with messy choices
between (a) living with the fact there are some things you can't do, or (b)
tweaking the output, and in the case of (b), either (b1) trying to make your
tweaks reproducible so you can rerun them every time you regenerate the
code, or (b2) using the code generator as a one-off getting started tool,
and not using it for subsequent maintenance.

And then of course there is the problem of errors. Few code generators
manage to map errors back into the design space - to understand the errors,
you need to understand the generated code.

That's not to say that such tools can't improve programmer productivity. But
they certainly have a long way to go before they are usable by people who
have no knowledge of the target language. (Incidentally the first wysiwyg
XSL programming tool I saw, which is long since forgotten, was around 2001.
It was beautifully and expensively produced, but couldn't do anything of any
complexity at all.)

Now, will your XSLT/XSL-FO skills serve you for 5-10 years? Yes, if you
choose to let them. But these days, if you're not mastering a significant
new technology once a year, then you're not keeping up.

Michael Kay 

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Steven Janoff [mailto:Steven.Janoff@xxxxxxx] 
> Sent: 27 September 2007 01:16
> To: xsl-list@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
> Subject: [xsl] Future of XSL Stylesheet Writing?
> Hi,
> Newbie here, well-trained recently in the XSL arts, with a 
> career-related question.
> Been in technical publishing and related fields long enough 
> to see several generations of publishing solutions where 
> "hot" skills go cold or cool.  E.g., TeX coding skills 
> replaced by secretary using Word; HTML/CSS hand-coding skills 
> replaced by graphic designer using Dreamweaver.  And so on.
> Now I'm knee-deep in XSLT/XSL-FO stylesheet writing.  I've 
> wondered how long these skills would be "hot" before being 
> replaced by much-less-skilled workers using a WYSIWYG XSL 
> editor to create stylesheets, without knowledge of the 
> underlying XSL code.  And I see the recent announcement of 
> the first such tool (or the first I've heard of), primarily 
> applied to visual FO development.
> How many years do you think it will be before the skills 
> celebrated on this list -- writing XSLT/XSL-FO stylesheets 
> the "old-fashioned" way, understanding the code -- will be 
> supplanted by the scenario described above, as happened with 
> the earlier tools?
> Will these skills serve me for a number of years (5? 10?), or 
> will I be looking for the next suite of tools to learn in 
> just a few years as grandmothers around the world start 
> creating PDFs in XSL-FO at the push of a button?  That's an 
> exaggeration, but you know what I mean.
> I've written this post in at least 6 ways (some much longer, 
> some shorter), but the fundamental question is the same:  
> Will these skills be bankable in 5 or 10 years?
> Thanks for your honest assessment here.  No one on the list 
> can be expected to predict the future, but the vast wealth of 
> background among you suggests that an "educated guess" from 
> this list is about as close a prognostication as you can get 
> to what will actually happen.
> Steve
> --
> Steve Janoff
> Information Manager, Specialty Engineering General Atomics 
> Aeronautical Systems, Inc.
> Tel. (858) 312-3255 (New number)
> Fax (858) 312-4668 (New number)
> Steven.Janoff@xxxxxxx

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