Slick new interface for DynaTag

January 10, 1998

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

SGML/XML ’97 saw a major new release of DynaTag from Inso Corporation, the first new release of this product in more than two years. While not an editor, DynaTag is used to mark up text generated in unstructured, proprietary formats from Microsoft Word, Adobe FrameMaker and Interleaf. The product therefore falls into the general category of how-do-I-get-the-tags-in? software. What we saw of this release demonstrates a graceful maturation of what was primarily a utility designed to create content for the other Inso products into what is now a flexible and well-designed tool that can stand on its own.

More than most SGML products that are slapping "XML inside" onto their packaging and product literature, DynaTag has a claim to native XML-ness. It always produced what you might call "well-formed SGML" —a tagged document that was valid against a DTD derived from the original instance. Thus you could be sure that your DynaTagged SGML had the proper set of start and end tags, but there was no way to enforce a predetermined structure. Sebastian Holst, VP of product management, gives a nice gloss to this feature of the Inso product line: According to Holst, Inso’s SGML sales are about $18 million annually in a total market for SGML software that he claims is about $80 million. At present, 70% of Inso users use DynaTag to prepare their documents, which means that over 10% of annual SGML publishing has been done without the use of a predefined document schema.

The new release actually moves closer to the idea of schema validation, giving the user some control over the structure of the tagged document. The major enhancement of the new release, however, is a delicious user interface that seems, from our initial encounter with it, well designed and based on a good understanding of how a user might want to add structure to text. While the user can designate and make some constraints on target markup, DynaTag still does not validate against a pre defined DTD.

The illustration below shows the Project Mapping interface. Tabs at the bottom of the screen reflect the other major components of the interface.

The second DynaTag picture (page 28) shows the style sheet editor. More than a style sheet creation tool, the DynaTag style sheet editor is really a disaggregation tool since the input text is unstructured but already styled. Two files result: tagged SG/XML and a style sheet usable with the Inso DynaText publishing products. XSL support can be expected as soon as the draft, to which Inso contributed, is stable.

DynaTag captures the incoming style information and categorizes it as pure or variant. The user can do bulk mapping of variants based on context and content, previous and following elements, tree structure and siblings. Table and cross-reference tags, which were hard wired in the old DynaTag, are now variable. Target markup can include empty elements, entities and new container elements not present in the unstructured source. For example, a section may have a title and three paragraphs. Auto tagging will create four container elements—one for the title and one each for the three paragraphs. The user can now create a fifth, implied container, surrounding the title block and the three associated paragraphs.

Inso has sprinkled the user interface with wizards to step the user through the most common configurations of lists, tables and project mappings. Currently, DynaTag remains a module for DynaText/Web publishers priced at five seats for $15,000. Inso is exploring how to sell it stand-alone.