Structured Editors: Conclusion

May 5, 1998

Liora Alschuler

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

These tracks, numerous as they may be, are still very faint. Among them, the one that is closest to a released piece of software is the noncommercial XED from the Learning Technology Group, now in its second alpha state. BladeRunner is pre-alpha; Raven, a proof-of-concept only; and XMetaL, a mere twinkle on the gui. How many will make it to market? Both SoftQuad and Interleaf have credible records in bringing announced products to market. Xerox, well, Xerox certainly has the resources to develop the technology, if it so chooses. Making a commercial success of software is something Xerox has historically left to others.

Let's assume, for now, that enough of these prototypes see the light of release to effectively broaden the editing spectrum for structured documents. Are they likely to fall prey to the same hazards that have so drastically thinned the ranks of SGML editors?

It is far too soon to tell how well any of these products will perform in a production environment, but we are encouraged by the fresh approaches taken by these products to some of the problems that have plagued SGML editors for a decade:

  • Viewing tables as just another way to format tagged data
  • Taking a "best guess" at simple display characteristics to minimize setup time for new document types
  • Import and export of industry-standard style sheets
  • Simultaneous viewing and editing of document and document type
  • Point-and-click, right-from-the-box application of basic formatting
  • Support for standard linking that is more robust and less breakable than the HTML <A> tag.

If these products are indeed viable, if these tracks indicate a new path, it is possible that within a year we may at last see real, new alternatives for writing structured documents that work in print and as richly linked hypertext. The success of these ventures depends not only on the craft of these software vendors, but also on the degree to which conversion technology can keep pace with the demand for richly tagged documents. Ultimately, the fate of the XML editors may be contingent on the skill and speed with which the XML companion standards are developed: Without exchangeable style sheets and standard methods for rich hypertext, there is much less justification for direct editing of tagged documents.