The market is the question

December 18, 1998

Liora Alschuler

So, what IS the market for these XML editors?
In an atmosphere of universal acceptance for XML from Microsoft, IBM, Sun, Adobe, Netscape, and Oracle the market for XML content editors still remains in shadow, obscured by the spotlight on XML for ecommerce and database interoperability. Microsoft has consistently stated that the market is unworthy of their attention, falling below the many-million mark and their actions are consistent with this view.

Of the three opening keynotes, only Adobe's Charles Geschke addressed document publishing. But the tool he showed was for making pictures, not words. Offline, Bruce Hunt, Adobe’s Manager of Internet Technology, indicated that Adobe was committed to enhancing and extending the XML capabilities of both FrameMaker and FrameMaker+SGML, that the two products will eventually merge, and that new, fresh approaches to creation of PGML, combining words and pictures, are an area they would like to explore, although no concrete plans have been laid.

Do these editors deserve a prime time spotlight?
Collectively, the success of XML has breathed fresh life into the editing toolmakers, and just in time as the fallout among SGML editor vendors had reached crisis proportions. The veterans all seem to have learned that they must make the user interface easier and virtually all now realize that giving a writer some degree of direct control over how a page looks is essential for survival in a GUI, WYSIWYG world. All seem to realize that they must find new ways to cut the time and investment associated with SGML projects if they want to expand beyond the SGML editorial market. With the exception of SoftQuad, those catering to the tech doc market are looking to do this by pre-packaging document management.

Yet in some respects, they seem poised to make the same errors as before. Oh, for some sugar daddy of structured editing who could offer a cash incentive to the first editor vendor to think outside the box on table composition! With the expanded role of XML for data and ecommerce, lack of semantic markup for tables strikes us as shortsighted, yet the only implementation that addresses this need came from Xerox in a prototype called Raven that does not appear headed to market.

Do authors writing Web-ready documents need XML-aware tools? The GCA conference audience is biased toward those with SGML-tempered expectations: that separation of content and format in a vendor-independent standard format means direct user control of markup. Certainly this was the message received by David Turner who represented Microsoft in their modest exhibition floor booth: by shows-end he was convinced that this audience at least wants direct manipulation of XML in the browser. How this translates into a product strategy inside and outside of Microsoft remains to be seen.