Reviewing Structured Editors - Part Deux

July 8, 1998

Liora Alschuler

The Seybold Report on Internet Publishing
Special for

by Liora Alschuler

In our first look at the new crop of XML editors, we noted that the application space was expanding along a continuum of publishing requirements, from layout-intensive programs like Bladerunner from Interleaf to basic text and structure editing in new programs like Henry Thompson's XED. In this update, we review some of the XML editors shown in Paris (including the role of XML in Office 9), look at editing support for XSL, and give you our thoughts on where this market is heading.

To balance our coverage of the new, the small, the weird, and the extreme in this market, we have collected links to Seybold coverage of the mainstream, market-leading editors, added them to the mix and consolidated a list of links to Seybold coverage of XML editors.

XML Editors in the Paris Springtime

SGML/XML Europe '98, held in Paris May 19-21, provided an opportunity to catch up on some structured editors not covered in our earlier article (Bladerunner, Raven, XED, and XMetal). Vervet Logic's XML Pro, now in release 1.0, is the only brand-new entrant over the last two months, so, while it wasn't shown in Paris, we include coverage of it here.

But the top news was a peek, albeit a brief one, at the type of angle brackets we can expect from Office 9.

Excosoft—A new entrant in the U.S. market, Excosoft's Documentor has been under development for years in the demanding tech-pubs department of the Swedish telecom giant, Ericsson. You can buy it out of the box with a companion application that supplies minimal file management capability. And it is the only editor to support namespace-like cut-and-paste between documents created with different DTDs.

Grif—About all we can say about Grif is that it is not dead again, at least not yet. This is the French company that fielded SGML and HTML editors, only to go on the auction block last year. It resurfaced in Paris as part of the Toronto-based I4I.

I4I (Infrastructures for Information)—In addition to showing Grif's Symposia Pro, which it just acquired, it has yet another variation on how to turn Word into an XML editor. I4I's S4 implementation looks promising, offering real-time validation for arbitrary DTDs.

Microsoft—HTML is clearly Microsoft's focus for the next release of Office, but XML does play an interesting supporting role. Even though this is not a structured editor like the others reviewed here, because of its stature in the market, we go into some detail on Microsoft's use of XML in Word. We also got a preview of new HTML support in PowerPoint and Excel.

Stilo—Still waiting at the starting line, Stilo's editor nevertheless embodies some interesting ideas that someone ought to commercialize, sooner or later.

TimeLux—TimeLux's little Luxembourgian editor, EditTime, is starting to look as if it might outgrow its niche as the multilingual editor of choice for the European Union. Definitely worth a look-our Seybold coverage shows you how this one has developed over the past three years.

Vervet Logic—Here is our first look at XML Pro, a new take on what the heck an XML editor can be. (And a read-my-McLipps T-shirt to whomever market justifies this name.)

With Style

In Paris, the chorus line was singing: "When the XSL spec settles down, we'll support it." Are the vendors just whistling DSSSL, or will the market really implement XSL when it is a stable spec? Several vendors have initial XSL creation utilities, including XSL Styler from ArborText, and several can export an XSL style sheet. Only one, to our knowledge, EditTime from TimeLux, can import an XSL style sheet created elsewhere and display the result.

We feel that the prospects for XSL implementation are much stronger than they were for DSSSL, but here, too, time is working against the XSL committee.

Why stronger? First, XSL is a second-generation general formatting language for structured markup and therefore can benefit from knowledge of DSSSL's strengths and weaknesses. Second, XSL is simpler. Third, there is a larger potential market, although how many users not doing commercial publishing will need XSL above CSS remains to be seen. Last, the notion of an application-independent style specification itself is gaining ground through CSS implementation. The risk, of course, is that CSS will be so well established by the time XSL comes out that it will be betamaxed and never gain widespread use.

The primary mitigating factor for the XSL group is that CSS will just not support print in the manner that XSL can support print. And finer and more flexible control over layout may not remain a problem reserved for print. Jon Bosak, the chair of the XML Working Group, speculates that in the long term, the requirements for on-screen layout will surpass those for print because of the endless variety of display devices that must be supported and the eventual need for complex hyperlinking and navigation. If this bears out, serious (read: business-critical) Web sites will be lining up for the sheet music as soon as the ink is dry on XSL.

Will XML Editors Ever Become Mainstream Products?

Microsoft Office brings in $500 million each month. How many of the people buying it really care about direct control over structure or metadata? According to the research of CAP Ventures, the worldwide market for SGML editing software in all of 1997 was well under $500 million. Not nearly enough, evidently, for Microsoft to pay attention.

So as existing SGML applications and new HTML applications migrate to XML, will structured editors remain a tiny slice of the overall editorial marketplace? Or is this a market poised for growth? Does everyone who needs a structured editor for writing those honking big SGML tech manuals already have an Adept or FrameMaker or Author/Editor license? Does anyone writing business reports, letters, catalogs, personal Web pages, letters, messaging metadata, memos, World Cup predictions, or Biblical exegeses really care if XML editors become mainstream, commercial, end-user products?

The size of this market lies somewhere between the market for Word and the niche market for SGML editors with its relatively high license costs and extremely steep start-up curves. This is a big spread, and it leaves quite a bit of room for speculation and development but, at this point, no obvious path to large scale commercial success.

Our view of available tools indicates that each is developing its own direction. While the mainstream SGML editors, which were used primarily for tech doc, were able to consolidate a core feature set that began to define "SGML editor," there is no such consensus on what the core features are, or even what the core market is, for a general-purpose XML editor. The traditional publishing audience is just one audience, but even in that sector, there are specialized needs for translation, catalog publishing, technical documentation, dictionaries, and other applications. Add to this the audience for all sorts of dynamic, personalized Web pages, for application messaging, and for Web metadata, and the sum is that it is much too early to predict the eventual size of the market for structured editors, especially since the two close companions to XML-XSL and Xlink-are not yet ready or well known or well understood.

For the time being, XML for documents is not all that different from SGML for documents, at least until we have full display of XML with XSL styles in Web browsers. Good programmers don't work for free, so, with all this fresh development going on, customers should be prepared to spend more on licensing a specialized XML editing tool than they do for a mass-market word processor. Or they could just jigger their own workarounds to get those angle brackets into the files.