XML Authoring Tools, part 2


Authentic Altova

Available in both desktop and browser versions, Authentic is a free ­authoring tool. XML documents are created and edited in e-forms via a word processor-style interface, based on structured stylesheet designs.

Authoring Experience

Authentic users edit XML in a WYSIWYG word processor-style interface. Content is rendered in e-forms based on stylesheet designs created in Altova StyleVision. E-forms are designed to enable users to view content sequence and structure as it will appear in the target delivery format(s). The same stylesheets can be used to instantly render the content HTML, RTF, PDF, and Microsoft Word 2007 (OOXML). E-form presentation is dynamic, based on user input. Authors can input graphics, images, and hyperlinks as well as text. Windows for project management, messages, entry helpers, and additional information provide users with guidance during the authoring process.

Integration Bits

Desktop version supports project management, batch operations, version control systems. Scripting (JavaScript, VBScript) for forms, event ­handlers, & macros. Can be embedded in other applications as an ActiveX control or widget.

System Requirements

Desktop version requires Microsoft ­Windows (2000, XP, Vista). Browser version requires a plug-in for Internet Explorer.

Misc.

I’m not sure how math content could be authored without an equation editor ­component. Perhaps in MathType, exported to MathML and pasted into Authentic?

If it were a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor it would be…

Cherry Garcia

Open Office OASIS

OpenOffice is free and open, works on Mac and PC. OpenDocument Text format (ODT) files would to be converted to/from your DTD through a customization of the XML Filter command.

Authoring Experience

Authoring would happen in the Writer word processing application. Templates would be created with styles corresponding to DTD tags. XSL stylesheets would be created for your desired outputs. Styles are then transformed to XML tags on export via the XML Filter command. This workflow is supported out of the box for DocBook.

Integration Bits

Would require 2 XSLTs to translate between your DTD and ODT (1 for import, 1 for export). Can transform to/from Word 2003 and DocBook out of the box. Some web applications e.g. Google Docs support ODT.

Technical Specifications

XML import is based on the SAX API.

System Requirements

Microsoft Windows: Windows 2000 (Service Pack 2 or higher), Windows XP, Windows 2003, Windows Vista, 256 Mbytes RAM (512 MB RAM recommended), At least 650 Mbytes available disk space for a default install
Mac OS X: Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) or higher, Intel Processor, 512 Mbytes RAM, 400 Mbytes available disk space
All platforms: Java runtime environment 1.4.0_02 / 1.4.1_01 or newer, Java Access Bridge.

Misc.

The provided formula editor is pretty rudimentary. It offers no way to adjust formatting of equations.

If it were a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor it would be…

French Vanilla

<oXygen/> XML Author SyncroSoft

XML Author is a cross-platform, simplified version of the Oxygen XML Editor, which includes all the authoring, database access, and publishing features of the larger application.

Authoring Experience

The WYSWYG word processing interface uses CSS stylesheets for presenting XML to authors. The application window is highly customizable, with detachable, floating, rearrangeable toolbars and menus. An XML Preview Window can show the results of processing documents with XSLT. Other efficiency features include intelligent (XML Schema/DTD aware) content completion and configurable XML syntax coloring for elements and attributes. Users can edit, validate, and transform Office Open XML (OOXML) and Open Document Format (ODF) data.

Integration Bits

Access to document repositories can be made through WebDAV, FTP, SFTP. <oXygen/> supports access to native XML databases (MarkLogic, etc.) and relational databases (Oracle, IBM DB2). For accessing a content management system, the editor can be extended by writing a Java URL protocol handler.

System Requirements

Minimum hardware configuration is PowerPC G4 class system with 256 MB of RAM (512 MB recommended) and 300 MB free disk space.
An official and stable Java VM ­version 1.5 or later from Sun ­Microsystems
Macintosh: Mac OS X 10.4 or later
PC: Microsoft Windows application (NT 4.0, 2000, XP, 2003 Server).

Misc.

Default templates are available for authoring MathML.
A 30-day demo version of Oxygen 10 is available.

If it were a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor it would be…

Phish Food

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8 Responses

  1. Mike,

    Your review of xml authoring tools is interesting to me because it demonstrates how little progress has been made in recent years. All these tool vendors seem to be stuck in a religious orthodoxy of how things should be done. Not one of them has taken a fresh look at the problem of authoring structured documents.

    In my view all of these tools are far too complex. I just took a look at the oXygen xml editor, but I’m familiar with some of the others too. The average author would be completely bamboozled by these systems. They are like Microsoft Word on steroids. And Microsoft Word is already on steroids!

    The simple structured authoring tool has yet to be invented. It’s not going to come from these established players (or from Microsoft). It will come from someone who is willing to start with a clean slate and who understands how to keep things simple.

    Paul Howson
    Queensland, Australia

  2. Paul,
    You are right on the money. I don’t want to speak for Eric, but I think he’d agree too. Personally, I want Adobe to either supercharge InCopy or take some of the XML tools in Dreamweaver and add an XML authoring component to the Creative Suite. Then buy or partner with MarkLogic and offer a complete, kickass XML workflow that mere mortals can understand and use efficiently. I think if Adobe did that, they’d have a totally compelling reason for a lot of large customers to upgrade, and a reason for new customers to buy. But mostly people look at me like I’m nuts when I say this. Maybe they’re right, but I can dream.

  3. Mike,

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for Adobe to create your perfect solution. They could have done this years ago. Clearly it’s not part of their thinking. Experience has taught me not to expect other people to implement my ideas. This is especially so with software.

    The problems with structured authoring tools aren’t technical, they are more to do with how people understand the task of authoring.

    Xml (and SGML before it) was invented as a way of encoding structure. But there are many ways of encoding structure. What’s important is the concept of structure, not the encoding system. This has been misunderstood, and the encoding system has become an end in itself — hence people invent “xml editors” when what is really needed is a structured editor.

    I have given this a lot of thought, having been involved in computer-based publishing for nearly 30 years (starting in the early days of TEX and later on the Mac, right through to the current tools like InDesign).

    Ten years ago I developed one of the first practical xml translators (as open source) which was picked up and used by a number of US based web publishers until XSLT systems came along.

    About six years ago I decided to develop a structured authoring tool. After three years of work I had a functional tool stable enough for my own use. Life events intervened and I had to put it aside. I thought “someone else will fill this obvious niche”. But so far nobody has, it seems.

    Paul

  4. I agree. Maybe the problem is software developers are, um, software developers and not content authors. They’re looking at The Tool, and not necessarily the user experience. I’m sure they have focus groups and whatnot, but they’re clearly talking to the wrong people.

    The other problem may be with the authors themselves and the companies who employ them. How much easier is it to say “Well, it’s difficult to use, but there’s nothing else, so we’ll deal with it” than to say “Hey Adobe, we’re not buying anything else from you until you solve this problem!” We still need to make products, so we’re stuck with what’s available.

    And maybe us structured content people are still too much in the minority for any of the big companies to make the investment necessary to develop the tools we want. I can only guess that if there was money to be made, then somebody would have done it.

  5. Thank you! This validates the frustration I’m having as IT looks at converting my publication to XML — yes it’s “my” publication — I author it, I design it and I know the data, at all levels. I want to structure the content to reflect it’s inherent relationships not how the IT geek perceives the printed book (and limited by their skill set) Sigh.

  6. It suprises me, yet another XML article without a mention to Adobe Framemaker and people crying where’s the Adobe product.

    Two problems in todays society:
    1) Paid Press like the tool who wrote this article.
    2) Ignorant readership, like the tools looking for Adobe to save them

  7. Brian-

    Ouch. First, I don’t get paid to write this stuff. This is my blog, and I do for the love, man.

    Second, the review of XML authoring tools was not meant to be a comprehensive survey, nor an endorsement of any product over any other. I put it out there for anyone who wanted to see some baseline info on a bunch of products in one place.

    The XML authoring blog posts are a re-purposing of a report on a dozen “tools” that I put together for another purpose. I had already determined that Frame was not going to deliver the goods for that particular project, so it didn’t make the cut of the final report, and thus is absent here.

    Maybe if you’d read the initial post, you’d have understood some of these things.

    Oops, gotta run. I hear the mailman bringing my big fat check from Shills 2.0 Inc.

  8. Have you ever considered publishing an ebook or guest authoring on other blogs? I have a blog based upon on the same subjects you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my readers would appreciate your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an e mail.

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