Able XML Pro still rough around the edges

Able XML Pro still rough around the edges

Despite the popular notion that Extensible Markup Language (XML) is simply HTML on steroids for creating killer Web pages, it is getting maximum use today as a platform-independent, lightweight data-interchange language for describing and encoding data. Thus, developers using XML to solve problems related to Web content management, data interchange between disparate databases, and Internet-commerce document exchange, for example, need a way to acquire solid XML skills to quickly create prototype XML documents.

Vervet Logic's XML Pro, Version 2.0, meets this need. This low-cost tool for creating validated XML documents frees developers to concentrate on the application rather than focus on XML tags and coding errors. But although it has made strides since its pioneering first version, developers accustomed to the Windows environment may find it lacks bells and whistles.

I found several GUI-related bugs, online help system problems, and operational quirks. According to Vervet Logic, much of these troubles stem from problems with the still-evolving Java language, its libraries, and the integrated IBM XML parser, the price to be paid for creating a cross-platform tool.

But where XML Pro shines is in its usability and suitability to developer tasks. It offers a simple, uncluttered user interface and spartan text-editing features suitable for entering only the small amounts of text characteristic of meta-data descriptions and data fields. This makes it easy to create meta-data documents, such as Channel Definition Format files, or database documents, such as parts catalogues or financial documents.

Also, unlike SoftQuad's XMetal or ArborText's AdeptEditor, which both present a document-centric view and word-processor-like workspace, XML Pro's view is data-centric, giving prominence instead to the XML structure hierarchy.

XML Pro is not for XML novices or HTML developers accustomed to Wysiwyg tools. Developers must have a clear understanding of XML's basic building blocks and the Document Type Definition (DTD) requirements associated with edited documents.

XML Pro offers an ideal work environment for developers concerned with the content model and document structure.

Turning on user options reveals a complete structural view of the document tree, including attributes, their values, and character data, providing an overview of the structure and associated data values in context.

And the tool makes adding values to element attributes in data applications easy by presenting a data-entry form quite similar to a database table data form for you to fill in.

Nevertheless, its implementation could use improvement. For example, when adding data values for the first time in XML Pro, a tiny text box appears showing only seven or eight characters. You cannot resize this text box during data entry or configure the editor to change the size, although, when revisiting the attribute, the editor displays full field. Further, the tool's drag-and-drop feature isn't well implemented; it was hard to discern the target before dropping the dragged object.

Also, online help is rudimentary, especially regarding troubleshooting, and it is not context-sensitive. And although you can associate a DTD with a document and remove that association at will, in both cases you must save the document and reload manually before the changes take effect.

Nevertheless, XML Pro's combination of developer-oriented editing features and affordability makes it a good addition to your XML toolkit. Its pure Java implementation and source-code licensing options give you platform neutrality and integration within your applications.

The bottom line ***

XML Pro, Version 2.0

Summary: This Extensible Markup Language (XML) editor has a fairly limited feature set but is adequate given its datacentric development focus. It's the only tool currently available suited to developers for whom an XML document is a content-modelling mechanism or a data container and not structured narrative text.

Business Case: XML Pro is a low-cost alternative to performing time-consuming manual coding using a text editor or going with a more expensive XML editor loaded with rarely used features or platform-specific tools.


Wizards help develop valid structure even without DTDPurely Java-based; uses robust IBM XML4J parserCons:

Limited drag-and-drop and undo capabilitiesOnline help is buggy and unhelpful when trying to solve XML/DTD problemsRaw XML text view only does not allow editingPlatforms: Windows 95/98, Windows NT or Sun Solaris, plus Java 2 Runtime environment.

Cost: All available from the Web site. CD version: $US174.95; downloaded version: $149.95. XML Pro/Near & Far Designer bundle (for Windows only) CD version: $324; downloaded version: $299.

Vervet Logic

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