XMetaL speeds content creation

XMetaL speeds content creation

SoftQuad Software is definitely keeping up with the times and making history along the way. The makers of HotMetaL, one of the most popular HTML editors for creating Web content, has released an equally appealing tool, XMetaL 1.0, for creating content based on Extensible Markup Language (XML) and Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML).

If your company needs to create a large amount of SGML- or XML-based content, you should consider using XMetaL. Different from a Web authoring tool, XMetaL is a production tool for creating XML- and SGML-based content for publishing. Unlike competitors such as Enigma's XMLPro that are aimed at XML application developers, XMetaL is targeted toward content authors - people who key in content from other sources or subject matter experts who write original content. XMetaL enables these people to create structured content without having a deep understanding of XML or SGML tags. This translates into bottom-line savings because companies don't have to hire expensive markup specialists.

XML is fast becoming the preferred data interchange medium and may evolve to become the next-generation language for the Web. Creating content in XML in a platform- and presentation-independent way makes sense because your information will live longer and can be repurposed readily.

Authors tend to create documents using word processors, such as Microsoft Word, because they are accessible and easy to use. However, the resulting documents have to be converted to ASCII text and marked up (that is, blocks of text need to be identified with tags that define the structure of the document) before they can be useful for publishing.

XMetaL gives authors almost the same level of comfort as a word processor, except they work in the native XML or SGML environments. In addition, by using this tool, authors can add content that conforms strictly to the structure and rules defined in a Document Type Definition (DTD).

Unlike other XML editors, XMetaL is purposely built for creating DTD-validated documents. Companies can create a customised version of XMetaL for each DTD for each author.

This is similar to creating a unique word processor for each class of document. Customised versions of XMetaL provide the author with an intuitive interface for rapidly authoring specific content.

Although XMetaL is aimed at authors with no programming experience, companies will reap greater productivity rewards by fine-tuning XMetaL with the built-in customiser. By using the customiser menu option, you can customise the editor to conform to just one DTD. In addition, XMetaL comes with support for JScript and VBScript. You can configure one of these languages as the default or integrate any scripting language that conforms to the Windows scripting specification, such as Perlscript.

SoftQuad has put considerable effort into designing the software to make customisation easy and powerful. Users start with a given DTD and customise XMetaL for the appearance, behaviours, and functionality of the user interface. Users must start with a perfect DTD, because XMetaL offers no help to the author if it encounters errors in the DTD.

Behaviours and functionality modifications take additional work and require a thorough understanding of the desired document structure, the DTD, and user interface design techniques. But an SGML or XML expert can design behaviours visually using the wizard-like dialogues of the customiser.

To make authoring tasks idiot-proof, you can use the built-in scripting support. A trick I liked was recording a sequence of tasks and then modifying the recorded macro for additional functionality.

An extensive set of methods and properties allow you to develop complex applications, which can be launched from macros or custom toolbar buttons. They are somewhat complex to develop, but they will pay for themselves quickly by making content authors' work highly productive, especially with repetitive, high-volume, document-creation projects.

Users deploy and install a customised version of XMetaL in a unique and intriguing way. For each DTD, you create a complete distribution of XMetaL's folder hierarchy and store it in a shared folder on the network. Users simply run Setup to install XMetaL tuned to process a particular document type. One artefact left behind from this method is that each author may end up with multiple installations of XMetaL, one per DTD. All the resources and most of the assets are local to the author, who works in a stand-alone environment.

At present, XMetaL does not support SGML catalogues or repositories, therefore you will need to set up alternative mechanisms to aggregate the content for further processing in the publishing chain: for example, collating and organising the documents from multiple authors or formatting the documents for desired output.

If you need to generate a large amount of structured content for your publishing needs, XMetaL is a capable and highly customisable tool that will enable your content contributors to directly create validated documents with word processing ease.

As a bonus, tag-savvy users get a wysiwyg editor for added productivity.

The bottom line ****

XMetaL, Version 1.0

Summary: This Extensible Markup Language (XML) authoring tool is used to create digital content in the form of validated XML documents. Modelled to look like a word processor, XMetaL frees authors from having to know the intricacies of XML.

Business Case: XMetaL provides customisable features that help companies speed content creation. Targeted toward business users, XMetaL helps companies avoid the high cost of hiring XML and Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) experts.

Pros: Word processing-style editing; Tag and text views for tag-savvy users; Offers extensive customisationCons: Cannot create XML documents without Document Type Definition; Only for SGML/XML environments; No workgroup featuresCost: $US495 per seat; the price can be recovered quickly, especially when compared to what you'd spend hiring an XML specialist or training authors on XML. Available on application from Web.

Platforms: Windows 95/98, Windows NT 4.0SoftQuad Software

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