XML in WordPerfect 9: A User's View
May 31, 2000
For the introduction to this article, please see part 1: A Developer's View.
From a user's point of view, the XML features of WP9 are fairly straightforward and easy to use. Perhaps the best part is that there's no set up needed to use the application, as there is in FrameMaker+SGML (which requires a techie to set up the file structure, the EDD, and so forth). With WP9, the XML is ready to go right out of the box.
Things get a bit more complicated when you start introducing personalized XML files, DTDs, and style sheets. WP9 uses an oversimplified "project creator" to walk users through setting up and opening new and existing XML documents. While the typical user can navigate this exercise without ever consulting the user's manual (which you probably want to avoid anyway), things get a bit hairy when something goes wrong (such as if the style sheet won't open with the XML file). In our experiences and experiments we found that, if using personalized XML components, it can save some aggravation on the back end to first compile the DTD. Doing so entails a journey through the bowels of Windows to find the WordPerfect XML Project Designer utility, but it's worth it. The compilation process associates the DTD with a WP style template (or style sheet). Once the DTD is compiled on your system, most other problems are, we found, minimized.
One neat benefit of the "project creator" feature is that it allows the user to permanently set XML project names. For instance, I compiled our DTD and style template, and called that project "StdsPubs." Now whenever I want to use that specific template and DTD, I just choose "StdsPubs" from the list of projects and -- bingo -- I'm ready to edit XML.
The Look and Feel
Despite its simplicity, at least compared to Adept or FrameMaker, WP9 has all the tools you need to create and work with XML files. Best of all, most of these tools are logically arranged and easily accessible. Where FrameMaker+SGML uses different windows for each facet of SGML/XML (a window for elements, a window for the tree view, a window for attributes, etc.), WP9 presents all that information on one simple screen. By default, the program positions the XML tree to the left of the text. The size of the tree view, however, can easily be reduced or increased, or closed altogether. Rather than interspersing XML functions among regular word-processing functions (as Frame does), WP9 nicely separates them. Access to all XML tools rests comfortably within one pull-down tool menu. Plus there's the XML toolbar that sits neatly beneath the regular word-processing toolbar. Carefully arranged, the toolbar gives quick access to the features you need most often, including a pull-down menu for elements (a huge plus!). As in most of the other XML editors, the tree view is particularly helpful. The program marks in the tree exactly where you are in the document, and marks any errors with a bright yellow warning marker. It even gives you a pull-down menu list of valid elements or attributes if it has determined one is needed at that point. The only missing feature really is Merge Elements -- as it is you have to cut-and-paste the content of the second element in the first one.
|Figure 1: WordPerfect's Main Screen|
Another advantage of the WP9 XML editing environment is that it sits atop the traditional WordPerfect word processor. That means the user has access to all of the nifty features of WP9, plus its XML functionality. Its SGML/XML capabilities notwithstanding, WP has long been considered superior to Word as a word processor, though poorly marketed. One obvious attraction of the WP editing environment is that it doesn't try to automate each task you perform, and instead yields control to the user (nor does it have that annoying dancing paperclip!). For anyone who has had to suffer through the quirks of Word for any extended period of time, end user control is a very good thing.
Special characters or symbols have historically posed problems for editors and XML technicians alike. WP9 solves that problem by offering great Unicode support. In FrameMaker, for instance, accented characters would need to be converted to an entity, meaning additional external documents linked to the SGML file. WP9 simply inserts the Unicode character and moves along. (It is unfortunate, however, that the option to insert a character reference seems to work only for ASCII characters.) While Unicode on its own is a nice feature, the real marvel is the interface through which WP9 lets you select the special characters you need. At last those stubborn and antiquated KeyCaps and Character Map menus are passé--WP9 uses a pop-up window that organizes the special symbols and characters by genre (such as Greek, math, or Japanese) rather than by font. The symbols are presented in a large-point type, with the Unicode characters coded in red. Adding symbols and special characters -- and ensuring that they transport from platform to platform -- has never been so convenient.
Although designing the WP9 XML style sheet can be an exercise in frustration, WP9 has been designed to give the user unprecedented control over the look and layout of an XML document. Unlike FrameMaker, where the style template sits frozen behind the actual SGML or XML document, the style template in WP9 can be tweaked and adjusted on the fly. For instance, if the user wants to add an extra new line between each paragraph, that change can be made -- by the user -- directly in the style sheet. This is a terrific benefit for anyone who wants to use an XML document for traditional print, where minute style details (such as the amount of space between list items) are critical. Giving style control to the end user also frees the XML technician (i.e., the style sheet designer) from having to anticipate every nuance of style that might arise within a document or body of documents. The user, for example, can create a slightly different style sheet for each XML document, which will ensure that each time the document is opened with that style sheet, the document will look exactly as formatted. (In FrameMaker, on the other hand, cosmetic adjustments to the documents, such as extra spacing, are lost once the document is closed.)
The danger of an active XML style sheet, of course, is that an end user can make global and significant changes without really being aware of what they've done. Sure, WP9 queries the user if they want to save changes made to the style sheet once changes have been made, but the program doesn't keep track of what's been changed, or what parts of the XML document were affected by the changes. At the very least, it is a recommended practice to keep a copy or two of a master style sheet safely tucked aside so that the original styles can be restored as needed.
Overall the XML features of WP9, at least from an end user's perspective, are comprehensive and easy to use. That's terrific news for anyone seeking to amble into XML without first delving deep into their pockets for a pricey editor. For a mere $150, you get the ability to exchange files near-flawlessly with top-end applications such as ArborText's Adept and Adobe's FrameMaker+SGML. Sure, you don't get as much bang for your buck, and you only get a word processor as opposed to a desktop publisher, but WP9 will surely meet the needs of less intricate XML ventures. For instance, a small weekly newspaper could buy several copies of WP9 and, within hours, have all of its writers generating clean XML by means of the XMLNews DTD.
WordPerfect seems especially appropriate for editing documents using an HTML-based DTD, which it can print or publish to PDF so that they can then be easily served on the web.
But as much as we're impressed with the XML capabilities of WP9, we're proceeding with caution. While WP9 is an efficient and affordable XML editor, it is hardly poised to take on the world. For starters, WP9 is not Corel's meal ticket; Linux is. Therefore, much of the company's marketing and developing efforts (and, it certainly seems, its technical writing staff) are put toward its Linux initiatives, with WP serving as an auxiliary money-maker. But at $150 a unit, maybe that's OK.