SoftQuad previews XMetaL prototype

May 5, 1998

Liora Alschuler

The Seybold Report on Internet Publishing
Vol. 2, No. 9
Liora Alschuler
May, 1998

If Xerox's Raven is a proof of concept, SoftQuad's XMetaL is a proof of concept for the next generation of a working product. While not yet solid code, it does represent a solid decision to pursue XML editing by the company best known for its HTML editor, HoTMetaL, and first known for its SGML editor, Author/Editor.

XMetaL is designed for a new audience that wants the power of generic markup without the restrictions of a fixed DTD and without the cost and complexity of an SGML editor. Bruce Sharpe, vp of development, says that SoftQuad is taking what it has learned about user interface design from the HTML environment and grafting it onto a validating, structured editor. The gui shown in Seattle featured a toolbar much like that of HoTMetaL, with buttons for applying character and paragraph formatting, changing fonts, and selecting styles.

The plans for XMetaL include an "Attribute Inspector"-a dialog for editing element attributes-as well as context-sensitive tagging. HoTMetaL 4.0 also allows insertion of arbitrary tags, although without validation. XMetaL will improve on this, validating documents against any DTD, including SGML DTDs. The base code, however, will be the HoTMetaL code, not the Author/Editor code, to take advantage of the ease-of-use features already built into the HTML product. Such features include ole authentication, docking toolbars, and a cleaner user interface for editing documents while the tags are hidden.

Other planned features include HoTMetaL-like site management, a source editing view, support for XLink (XLL), and support for CSS on import and export, with XSL support to follow. The difficult part about styles with arbitrary, nonpresentation DTDs, according to Sharpe, is making an initial guess on the mapping from arbitrary tags such as <projectPlan> to a style such as <H2>. SoftQuad's initial approach will be to provide graphic tools to let people do their own mapping in some reasonable fashion. On export, XMetaL will generate CSS styles to accompany the XML document.

A beta release of XMetaL is still far in the future, but Sharpe says that we can expect to see the product sometime this year. SoftQuad's current plans call for continued development of HoTMetaL, while XMetaL will eventually take over as the flagship XML and SGML editor.