Recently I have been blogging quite a lot about bibtex (see here) and how I can parse bibtex files. When I tweeted about my most recent blog post, I received a reply asking whether I had looked at biber and, instead of parsing the bibtex file, whether I would be better off parsing the bcf file that biber produces as, if noting else, it is in XML and that will be a lot easier to parse. And, apparently, the names are already split into given name and family name.
I have had a quick look at biber (and the underlying package biblatex). They certainly look impressive but the learning curve seems to be quite high. From the VERY quick read, you have to install quite a few packages before it will work. This reminds me of the time I first installed WinEdt (a latex system). As an aside, I note that my version of WinEdt is 5.5 and the latest release is version 7. I wonder if it is worth upgrading?
When you install WinEdt, you also have to install the Mitex system. I remember when I did this a few years ago it was painful (I think it is simplified now) and if you did not do things in the correct order then WinEdt failed to work at all. Having said that, WinEdt is a great piece of software and it is my program of choice for writing scientific articles in Latex and, of course, Latex uses Bibtex and it all works.
If I install biblatex/biber will this work with all style files, class files etc. that are supplied by academic publishers or will I forever be trying to work around the system? Indeed, is it possible to use bibtex, and just use the new system when you want?
Maybe it will all work seamlessly (and I know that I should look at the documentation, but there is quite a lot of it) but I have been caught too many times where you do a quick install and then you are trying to get things to work for hours, if not days. I am not saying that biblatex/biber fall into this category, but I need to be sure that installing this system gives me benefits above and beyond which I already have.
As I have reported on previous posts I now just about have the parsing of names sorted out. However, I do know that I am just about to face problems with strange characters which are usually as a result of mathematical symbols or accent on names. If a new package is able to deal with those, so I don’t have to edit the file manually, or write yet another parser, then it might be worth installing.
But is it worth installing, just to find out? I’m not sure yet. I need to do some more digging around.