At 09:24 AM 7/31/01 -0400, Elliotte Rusty Harold wrote:
>So far, I've experimented with four different XSL-FO processors: the
>Apache XML Project's FOP, Sebastian Rahtz's PassiveTeX, the Antenna
>House XSL Formatter 1.1E, and RenderX's XEP. Two are implemented in
>Java, one in native Windows code, and one in TeX. FOP and PassiveTeX are
>open source. Antenna House and XEP are payware. Here are my experiences
>with each:
>FOP was the first XSL-FO engine and is certainly the most popular. It's
>open source and far easier to install than PassiveTeX, the other open
>source alternative. However, of the ones I was able to actually test it
>produced by far the worst output. It had the most annoying formatting
>troubles. For example, it ate all the blank lines in my source code
>examples and put extra indentation at the front of the first line of
>each example. I've noticed that probably more than half of the bug
>reports on the Docbook-APPS mailing list about the Docbook XSL-FO
>stylesheets can actually be attributed to bugs in FOP. FOP is improving
>rapidly -- one major bug I noted in footnote handling was fixed in the
>last couple of weeks while I was performing my tests -- but it's clearly
>not even an alpha quality release yet. A lot of work needs to be done
>before FOP can be recommended for more than experimentation.

No arguments from me, in the main. You've basically established that there 
is a reasonably strong correlation between effort expended and progress. :-) 
The 2 commercial efforts probably put in more person-hours per day than FOP 
gets in a week, and of course PassiveTeX gets even less attention than FOP.

FOP developers and committers have never suggested that the processor is 
anything other than a work in progress. My best guess is that if we have a 
production release by the end of the year then we'll be doing well. Alpha is 
a long ways away.

My experience with DocBook FO stylesheets and all of the formatters suggest 
that even though your statement about bugs on the Docbook-APPS mailing list 
is most likely true, that there are sizeable chunks of DocBook FO that do 
not layout properly in _any_ formatter. Statistically, if the huge majority 
of people that process DocBook FO are using FOP, then it stands to reason 
that they are turning up lots of bugs and that almost all are from FOP. Says 
very little about FOP relative to other processors. And how many _unique_ 
defects are being reported?

But you're right - nobody should be using the processor in production. Not 
yet. When we think it's ready we'll say so.

>Bottom line: none of the formatters are yet suitable for producing a
>finished product. Ņone of them can replace TeX or QuarkXPress. You might
>be able to publish a simple book with these, but you'd have to design
>your book and style sheet so that you avoided the bugs and unimplemented
>features of the processor. Antenna House probably produces the most
>polished output, and I'd use it if all I wanted to do was print out a
>document from my laser printer. However, since I need PDF files I can
>send to my editors and download to a typesetter, my choice for the time
>being is PassiveTeX. 

Antenna House is good, but as you say it's Windows only...serious drawback. 
RenderX XEP, IMHO, is the best all-round FO processor available right now. I 
certainly have had no problems in using it, either.

Useful review, in any case. If you happen to post it elsewhere, do us a 
favour - specifically note that we (FOP) do not recommend FOP for general 
production, that it is under development, and that it's not even close to 
alpha. All points you made yourself. Thanks.

Arved Sandstrom

Fairly Senior Software Type
e-plicity (
Wireless * B2B * J2EE * XML --- Halifax, Nova Scotia

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