XML Powers Document Builders

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2002-09-30

XML Powers Document Builders

With last weeks shipment of Corel Corp.s Ventura 10, the polished production of structured documents from XML data sources becomes a two-horse race. Adobe Systems Inc.s $799 FrameMaker 7.0, released in May, was quicker out of the gate and can run on more courses, with versions for Mac OS and Unix as well as Windows 98 or later. However, the $699 Ventura 10 has integrated task-automation tools that will often get it across the wire first when running on its home turf of Windows 2000 or Windows XP.

These products differ greatly in their view of how XML capabilities are best integrated with their core functions. FrameMaker might seem to have the advantage, with import and export options for XML, while Ventura offers only XML import. In most shops, however, we believe that Ventura will have the edge in practice, with its powerful and intuitive XML mapping editor that enables structural translation and condi-tional formatting of incoming content based on XML tags and rules.

FrameMakers XML interaction de-pends more on outside help. The prod-ucts manual instructed us, "You can open and work with any structured file ... as long as the file has an associated application. ... A developer typically sets up this application for you." Without that developer support, the FrameMaker manual warned, "You may not be able to save ... to the structured format ... because some mapping information may be unavailable."

Adobes claim of "XML roundtripping" is, therefore, somewhat exagger-ated. We recommend Ventura to smaller departments that dont have developers on call and that are interested mainly in automating the flow of data into documents—with the caveat, noted earlier, that Ventura is offered only for Windows 2000 and Windows XP.

FrameMaker runs on Windows 98 or later as well as on Mac OS and Unix. The Unix version of FrameMaker carries a premium price of $1,329; no Linux version is offered at this time. Frame-Makers platform neutrality is a particular advantage for the graphically ori-ented shops that are, in many cases, still Mac OS domains.

On the other hand, Ventura 10 offers integral scripting, while FrameMaker of-fers macro capabilities only on Unix—again, an advantage for Ventura in most of the enterprise shops seeking a simple path to task automation.

Document developers who attempt to export content to XML files for other purposes may find FrameMakers tools less helpful than one might expect. For example, when we used a supplied FrameMaker template to create a book chapter with multilevel section headings and paragraphs, the products Structure View tool showed an angry red square at the end of the structure tree—meaning that something was missing—until we had written more than one section.

When we attempted to validate the still-incomplete document for export to XML, we received an error message, "More contents required at end," which didnt really tell us what was wrong. We had to use the template facilitys Show Sample command to see a specimen that passed and had to infer the specific problem. When our complete document did receive the blessing of Frame-Makers Element Validation tool, the Save As XML operation generated a verbose error message that concluded, "Parsing aborted"—but our XML output file appeared to have been correctly generated.

Both products offer publication to PDF files, an option we vigorously endorse in preference to the growing practice of posting documents to the Web in Microsoft Corp.s less widely supported Word formats. For those seeking the broadest possible use of content, FrameMaker has the edge with its option of producing the Tagged PDF files needed for optimal viewing on handheld devices.

Both products disappoint those who might be seeking a smooth path to final production for content that originates in Microsoft Word. When we imported a Word document that included such minor challenges as an embedded section in landscape layout, bracketed by portrait-format pages, neither product han-dled this correctly.

We also felt time-warped by the need to invoke spell-checking utilities from a separate menu in FrameMaker, rather than getting on-the-fly alerts of our typing errors, as weve enjoyed for half a decade in Word. Ventura 10 does have automatic spell checking, but users will have to dig down to an options menu to find it; overall, though, it comes closer to Words high level of integration, as is often the case when a product takes full advantage of a single platform rather than preserving portability by taking more of a common-subset approach. FrameMaker and Ventura 10, like many other pairs of products, give IT buyers that choice--but also force them to make it.

Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com.

Executive Summary

: FrameMaker 7.0">

Executive Summary: FrameMaker 7.0

Usability Fair
Capability Good
Performance Good
Interoperability Good
Manageability Good
Scalability Good
Security Good

Adobes FrameMaker 7.0 combines proven capability in document production with new facilities for consuming XML-formatted data and for producing device-neutral output thats suitable for handhelds and Web clients as well as print. Its multiplatform flexibility suits the needs of the graphics and engineering environments that are most likely to be using workstation operating systems other than Windows, and it also maintains support for the many end users still running Windows 98.

Cost Analysis

Mainstream word processors have narrowed the gap in document layout capability that used to justify premium-priced publication tools. Basic productivity features such as spell checking remain relatively clumsy in the higher-priced products, compared with better-integrated aids that Microsofts Word has had since 1997. As critical content delivery emphasis shifts from static documents to dynamically generated Web pages, even the XML facilities of the new FrameMaker might seem like an inadequate bridge from the old century to the new.

(+) Provides opportunities to integrate data flow into structured documents, to develop content on many platforms and to deliver content to diverse devices.

(-) Anticipates application developer support to take advantage of XML facilities.

Evaluation Short List

  • Corels Ventura
  • Microsofts Word
  • www.adobe.com/products/framemaker

    Executive Summary

    : Ventura 10">

    Executive Summary: Ventura 10

    Usability Good
    Capability Excellent
    Performance Good
    Interoperability Fair
    Manageability Good
    Scalability Fair
    Security Good

    Corels Ventura 10 asks and answers the question, "How can a high-end document production tool become a more productive component of enter-prise IT?" Its integrated XML mapping editor streamlines the input side of the process, while PDF publishing capabilities (although not as device-neutral as those of Adobes FrameMaker) add value to the output. Limitation to Windows 2000 and XP may discourage its adoption by many graphics professionals and by end users still on Windows 98, but it may attract more interest as a complement to Microsoft Word in many department- and enterprise-level tasks.

    Cost Analysis

    For shops already using a compatible workstation platform, Ventura 10s integrated XML tools will yield life-cycle savings (versus more basic word proces-sors or high-end competitors) by auto-mating production tasks without costly application development support. Even the cost of acquiring a Windows 2000 machine in whats otherwise a Macintosh or Unix environment might quickly repay itself.

    (+) Enables automatic acquisition and formatting of data in polished documents for print and electronic publication.

    (-) Limits content development platform choice; does not fully support delivery to other than full-screen electronic devices.

    Evaluation Short List

  • Adobes FrameMaker
  • Microsofts Word
  • www.corel.com/ventura

  • Rocket Fuel