Flexible new editor from Excosoft

January 10, 1998

Seybold Report on Internet Publishing
Vol 2, No 5
January, 1998

We also got a first look at a new SGML editor called Documentor from Excosoft, a Swedish company, which was showing both the editor and an integrated document-management system called Excoconf. Although shown for the first time at SGML/XML ’97, Documentor is a stable product, based on the ten-year-old Excoword that used a proprietary data format. Interim saves are still to a proprietary data format, but Documentor exports fully compliant and validated SGML. From its name, you can assume, and you would be correct, that it aimed at the technical documentation market. Håkan Lothiguius, product manager, further refines its scope, saying that it is not intended for layout-intensive end-user manuals, but for general technical authoring that is integrated within the product development cycle.

The user interface, which appears clean and straightforward, takes advantage of the underlying document structure. The figures (above and on the next page) show a fisheye view of the document with one section expanded to show full text and the rest of the document collapsed as a series of graphic containers and a view of the document with and without SGML tags.

Documentor appears, from what we have seen, to have all of the structure-specific features we expect in an SGML editor: Hitting Enter creates a new element just like the one above; element insertion lists are context-sensitive; users can insert blank elements or highlight text and insert markup around it; there is constant background validation based on James Clark’s SP parser; and so on.

But Documentor also has some structure-based editing features that we have not seen before. Under the rubric "Hierarchical Autotagging," or HAT, Documentor lets the user cut a piece of a structure tree and paste it elsewhere in the document hierarchy or in another document that uses a different DTD. Documentor looks at the tree at the insertion point and renames the pasted elements according to their new place in the structure. Thus, if an author cuts a Heading 3 with following paragraphs and pastes them following a Heading 1, the HAT renames the Heading 3 as a valid Heading 2. If the tree structures can’t be mapped, Documentor retains the original naming for the pasted elements. In SGML terms, this is a walk on the wild side, but it may be just the type of refreshing approach to structured editing that will strike a responsive chord as we see a wider range of document manipulation for XML on the Web.

Documents can be formatted for print or as HTML within the editor according to a style sheet. It takes about 20 seconds to format and preview 94 pages, in the sample we saw. Users can preview laid-out pages full-screen or as a series of thumbnails. HTML can be edited in Documentor or exported. Style editing is still rudimentary, compared to the content editing interface, and is slated for further development. It will be XML-capable when Excosoft adds Unicode support, which is slated for the end of March, ’98.

Excosoft was founded in 1986 based on technology developed for the Swedish telecommunications giant, Ericsson. It currently employs 25 people and hopes, with the help of new financing, to expand to 40 by the end of ’98.

The firm’s appearance at SGML/XML ’97 was its first attempt to extend beyond the Scandinavian technical documentation market, where their competition will be ArborText and FrameMaker+SGML. Our exposure to the product was too brief to know how it compares with these established U.S. products, but the marketplace can undoubtedly be improved through increased choice and competition, and it looks as if these folks have some fresh ideas.

Documentor runs under Windows 95, NT and the Sun, HP and AIX flavors of Unix. Documentor is currently priced at $1,300 per concurrent license for Win95 or NT and $2,500 for Unix.