Arbortext Adept 8 Editor Review

September 22, 1999

William Brogden and Ed Tittel

Arbortext Adept 8 Editor Review


Take a Tour of ADEPT 8

This editor is the latest in a long line of tools from Arbortext, a company with a strong background in SGML, now applying its expertise to XML. The big market for SGML-aware editors has been the defense industry and other large enterprises with a tremendous investment in documentation. This heritage shows in the industrial strength design of the Adept editor, version 8.

Installing Adept 8 on a Windows NT system proceeds smoothly, but you need plenty of free disk space, on the order of 250 Mbytes. The main thing you have to decide is how many of the optional document types and language support packages to install. Spelling dictionaries for 15 languages are available. Standard document types include a bunch of business forms, HTML, and the DocBook DTD. Adept is strictly for creating and editing SGML and XML documents; creating a custom DTD requires the Arbortext Architect product or some equivalent tool (or hacking out a DTD in ASCII with a text editor, which is how two users of Adept that we interviewed handle this sometimes daunting task).

Most of the documentation supplied is online, but Arbortext supplies paper manuals for installation, conversion of documents from earlier versions of Adept, and the release notes for version 8. There is also a short manual to get you started with editing. Updates and customer support are provided through the website at


Adept allows great flexibility in your editing layout. Figure 1 shows the sample DocBook format document provided in the side by side format. The left window shows the document structure, which Arbortext calls the Document Map and the right shows formatted text. You can edit in either window and even cut and paste between windows.

Figure 1. Editing with the Document Map and formatted text.

Note that in Figure 1 the red cursor in the right window has a matching dim red cursor in the document structure window because the window synchronization option has been chosen. With this option, both windows show the editing position and scrolling is synchronized. Collapsing and expanding the elements in the Document Map also hides and reveals text in the formatted text. Options are available to split the window horizontally or to devote the entire window to the Document Map or the formatted text.

Tags embedded in the text can be hidden or shown in the formatted text view by using options from the View menu. Figure 2 shows the appearance of the text window when the full tags option is chosen. Note that because the "TOC" element has been collapsed, the full text is replaced by a + symbol. This presentation could be very helpful when learning how to use the editor with a new document type.

Figure 2. The formatted text view with full tag display.

The toolbar has three sections: editing, markup and table building. In addition to the usual cut and paste tools, the editing toolbar provides buttons for inserting tables, graphics and equations. Most SGML parsers don't provide for equation parsing, but Adept 8 handles this well with a special tag and built-in features. Table editing is handled elegantly, but only in certain DTDs. For example you can't edit an HTML table using the special Adept tools. You can always work directly with the HTML table tags of course.

Figure 3 shows the text editing window with the table editing toolbar and an example table and equation. Note the table editing rulers that allow you to conveniently position the table divisions.

Figure 3. Editing a table.

One of the most elegant features of this editor is the way it enforces the document structure when you are using drag and drop or cut and paste. It simply won't let you paste an element at a location that is contrary to the DTD requirements. When dragging an element, the cursor changes to indicate points where pasting an element is illegal and where pasting an element will cause addition of a tag to maintain correct structure, such as attempting to move a copyright element to the wrong location.

For the Power User

The Adept Command Language (ACL) for version 8 has been extended from previous versions. Commands are typed in an optional command line window at the bottom of the display. ACL capabilities range from simple editing assistance such as finding the next occurrence of a tag to executing shell commands. In addition to simple commands, you can create user-defined functions using a C-like syntax. These functions can customize the user interface and add new input dialogs.

What's Missing

It seems to be a law of nature that no tool can satisfy every user's expectations. We were surprised to find that the dialog for inserting graphics into the text required you to type in a file name instead of providing a file browsing function. Another annoyance was that there appears to be no simple function to count the words in a document. However, the spelling checker does provide a count of words examined.

When editing this review using the supplied HTML 4 DTD, we were occasionally surprised by the limited list of elements the editor would let us insert at a given point, probably because of the editor's strict interpretation of the DTD. You can turn off strict context checking in order to accomplish a particular task, but on attempting to save the file, Adept will warn you that the document may be invalid.

User Support

In the initial review copy we found a bad interaction between Adept and Windows NT. Whenever we edited a file and exited Adept, an NT Application Error box reported an error inside an Explorer component. After we discussed this with an Arbortext support person, a replacement DLL that fixed the problem arrived via email the next day. The online help material is extensive and well organized.


Product Information

ADEPT 8 Editor
Requires: NT4 (SP4)
Company: Arbortext
Location: Burlington, MA
Price: $1300

Adept is best described as an industrial strength editing tool for SGML that is also quite usable for HTML, XML, and other simpler document types. Although this tool is both expensive and complex, it is well worth the money for organizations that must build complex documents, be they in XML or its more venerable parent language, SGML.