XML Powers Document Builders

With last week's shipment of Corel Corp.'s Ventura 10, the polished production of structured documents from XML data sources becomes a two-horse race.

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.