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Docbook, Pandoc, Rants and Some Decent Free Fonts

I’m working on a user manual and am in the process of discovering several tools to do the job.

Here’s RSTA,  an online restructured text editor which lets you output into HTML and PDF. This is mainly of interest to people in the plone and python world.

Python programmer extraordinaire Mark Pilgrim explains why he codes in HTML and not Docbook. From the comment section, I learn about Pandoc, a great program for converting different forms (LaTex, RST, markdown, HTML, Docbook, gosh – just about everything!).

Here’s the Pandoc user guide and an online converter. The key, I’m guessing is how it handles unicode and document fragments, but I look forward to finding this out.

Pilgrim also does a rant about the restrictive fonts:

I know what you’re going to say. I can hear it in my head already. It sounds like the voice of the comic book guy from The Simpsons. You’re going to say, “Typography is by professionals, for professionals. Free fonts are worth less than you pay for them. They don’t have good hinting. They don’t come in different weights. They don’t have anything near complete Unicode coverage. They don’t, they don’t, they don’t…”

And you’re right. You’re absolutely, completely, totally, 100% right. “Your Fonts” are professionally designed, traditionally licensed, aggressively marketed, and bought by professional designers who know a professional typeface when they see it. “Our Fonts” are nothing more than toys, and I’m the guy showing up at the Philadelphia Orchestra auditions with a tin drum and a kazoo. “Ha ha, look at the freetard with his little toy fonts, that he wants to put on his little toy web page, where they can be seen by 2 billion people ha h… wait, what?”

Let me put it another way. Your Fonts are superior to Our Fonts in every conceivable way, except one:


Soon — and I mean really fucking soon, like “this year” soon — there will be enough different browsers in the hands of enough different people that can use any possible font on any possible web page. And then a whole lotta people will start noticing fonts again — not just Your People, just also Our People. People who couldn’t tell a serif from a hole in their head, but they’re gonna be looking for new fonts. People who are just savvy enough to be tired of Comic Sans will be looking for a new font to “spruce up” their elementary school newsletter, which, in an effort to Love Our Mother (Earth), they now publish exclusively online.

A typeface designer responds:

As a type designer I feel like I have to step in and say something here. First off the majority of typefaces designed in the past twenty years haven’t been made by big foundries but by individuals working on type in their spare time. Second, typefaces receive no copyright protection in the United States so copying font files and renaming them for sale is pretty much legal. Third, fonts have been available on peer-to-peer networks since before the days of Napster and in 2000 it was estimated that only one out of fifty instances of a typeface file (postscript or TrueType files) was paid for, and it has only gotten worse.

I have over forty commercial typefaces available for sale through various type re-sellers around the world and my average yearly income off the typefaces is $115, even though I regularly see my typefaces in use on the web, on TV in print and in video games. I used to think that one day I’d have a nice supplemental income from my typefaces but the reality of the situation is that people like you don’t value the effort that goes into making a typeface. I haven’t designed a new typeface in eight years now and I have no desire to do so. Why should I when you’re going to be a big bitching twat you greedy self-centered tantrum throwing teenager?

Actually, the whole thread has a lot of expletives and rants, but lots of issues come up.  Actually, the most valuable information I gleaned from the threads were the names of some decent free fonts: Gentium, Day Roman, Yanone Kaffeesatz, Yanone Tagesschrift, Delicious, Aller, Charis SIL, Doulos SIL, Junicode,  Linux Libertine, the Liberation and Droid families, and Computer Modern (or, more likely, its Type 1 version, Latin Modern).

See also the Open Font library (here’s the beta version, which seems buggy—the search results only gives 1 result). Here’s a general list of the most famous free fonts, separated by license type.

Here’s a good (and indispensable) article about how to use the font-face css rule to use any of these awesome free fonts. Here’s another how-to. Here’s a nice demo.

Update: This browser support table shows that Chrome 3 (the current version) does not support embedded fonts, and that Chrome 4 will be released in 2010. Also, Internet Explorer only supports EOT fonts. (I’m not 100% sure what that means; according to the link in the previous paragraph, EOT is a Microsoft implementation of fonts. Certainly there has to be a conversion tool? Update 2: this font wiki has this information and more).

The free font issue is important for distributing ebooks. (Here’s a mobileread discussion). The .epub standard supports embedded fonts (I think), and having a unique font makes reading a more enjoyable experience when reading on a  Kindle or Nook.  I am growing weary of the same font on my Sony PRS 505 reader.

I guess I haven’t mentioned it yet, but I’m working on two creative commons ebooks and am working on a user guide to publish on Booksurge and possibly as an ebook as well. For that reason, I’ve been learning a LOT about docbook. Overall, I’m happy with its flexibility even though the learning curve was steep –and also I’m depending a little too much on a on a noncommercial license of Oxygen XML editor. If I wanted to do something commercial, I’d have to pay $349 for a full version and $199 for an Author version (which lacks some  XML/XSLT tools but has an easier interface). Frankly, Oxygen is incredible, but I’m close to making commercial use of it.

Serna XML editor (the free version) is good for authoring, but I haven’t figured out how to validate it using various  schemas and DTDs. Apparently, Serna uses python plugins to enable validation of various XML languages like docbook and DITA. It looks like Serna only supports 4x versions of Docbook; I could be wrong.

By the way, after I finish one or two ebook projects, I plan to write an article about using docbook for ebook creation.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Ilia Kuznetsov 10/30/2009, 11:55 am

    In Syntext Serna you can use the schemas you provide. If you don’t have a schema, you can convert it out of DTD using Dtd2Xs or Trang for example.

    To get your documents validated create Document Template (see documentation). No programming (e.g. Python) is needed.

    You can also create Docbook 5 package for Serna by yourself, analogously to what you can see in Docbook 4 configuration directory.

  • Robert Nagle 10/30/2009, 3:03 pm

    Thanks. I just casually looked into Serna, but will give it a closer look later.

    Otherwise, it looks like an interesting application.

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