XML how-to: First of all, never cross your authors

XML evangelists' prayers are answered

Other vendors presented new XML tools at the Arlington meeting:

  • XMLSpy 2004, an integrated development environment from Altova Inc. of Beverly, Mass., can generate a document type definition or XML schema from an existing XML document or vice versa.

  • Altova's Authentic 2004, a lightweight XML editor, works within a browser.

  • The i4i x4o authoring tool from Infrastructures for Information Inc. of Toronto, Ontario, works inside Microsoft Word 97 and later versions to create valid XML documents within a familiar interface.

  • Adobe Systems Inc.'s Adobe Acrobat 6.0, FrameMaker 7.0 and FrameMaker Server 7.0 have incorporated XML. FrameMaker has usability features such as alternate text for images and easy document conversion to VoiceXML.

  • PDF Genie from Deque Systems Inc. of Reston, Va., generates XML and Extensible Stylesheet Language documents from PDF files.

  • Xcential Group LLC of Escondido, Calif., has tailored an XML authoring application for California's legislative process using a tagfree interface.
  • The Fish and Wildlife Service's Owen Ambur says he's glad the XML industry recognizes that users want open standards.

    Agencies that don't already have an Extensible Markup Language evangelist should get one, advises Brand L. Niemann.

    Why? Because the person tapped for the job can act as a guide to the burgeoning technology, said Niemann, an Environmental Protection Agency computer scientist and member of the CIO Council's Emerging Technology Subcommittee.

    Niemann also has headed the CIO Council's XML Web Services Working Group through its existence. The effort has morphed into a series of quarterly government conferences on software component technology.

    'The quicker we can define XML schemas and make them available to vendors to put into applications, the better we'll all be,' said Owen Ambur, a Fish and Wildlife Service systems analyst and co-chairman of the CIO Council's XML Working Group.

    Agencies need three levels of applications for XML documents, Niemann said.

    The first type lets users create documents without any kind of tagging. The second requires minimal tagging. The third includes advanced features for application developers and programmers.

    Agencies that want to see whether XML is a good fit for their programs should start with a small pilot, said Jay Di Silvestri, Corel Corp. director of enterprise solutions.

    Corel and the IT Association of America sponsored the Washington forum at which Niemann spoke.

    'XML doesn't do anything for you by itself,' Di Silvestri said. 'It's the means to something great.'

    Judy K. Burnam, the Federal Trade Commission's assistant CIO for software development, described her agency's new system for publishing regulations and decisions in the Federal Register. Typically, the commission has paid the Government Printing Office about $200,000 a year to publish its official business in the register.

    By using XML and doing much of the work itself, the agency expects to save $70,000 in publishing costs over the next year, Burnam said. The XML system, now being introduced in stages, combines Corel WordPerfect 11 with Documentum 5 from Documentum Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif.
    WordPerfect, used by 1,400 FTC employees, is the agency's standard word-processing application, Burnam said.

    Corel's consulting group designed an XML tagging system with ease of use in mind, she said.

    But after an agency builds a XML document management system, will employees actually use it?

    Not always. At an earlier forum in Arlington, Va., the CIO Council's XML Working Group tried to inspire more users.

    Not just talk

    'It's one thing to talk about doing XML; it's another thing to do it,' Ambur said. 'It's good to see industries recognize that people want to own their own documents and not be beholden to proprietary technologies.'

    Software applications that generate XML are becoming easy enough to appeal to nontechnical users, he said.

    XML authors can now choose from a wide range of tools, said Barry Schaeffer, president of X.Systems Inc. of Manassas, Va.

    The tools range from templates and plug-ins for word processors to enterprise-strength editing applications.

    Many subject matter experts prefer to create XML content directly in a full-featured editor, Schaeffer said. Others prefer word-processing software because it's more flexible and user-friendly.

    For that reason, agencies should make sure they fully understand the work environment before they start redesigning workflow for direct creation of XML content, Schaeffer said.

    'If you do it wrong, your authors can become a very nasty adversary,' he said.

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