DOD builds virtual archives
SGML is a sound foundation, Vercio said, but the services are implementing it
differently. His office is trying to change that as it publishes Defense Department
directives on the World Wide Web and in other electronic formats. Because the services
commonly modify DOD directives for their own needs, the Pentagon staff is investigating
how to establish a virtual repository of all the directives and modifications so that they
are readily accessible.
The tool they are using is Panorama Pro software from SoftQuad Inc. of Toronto. The
software automates SGML document preparation and supports online publishing, including
searching. Pan-orama Pro also generates a table of contents that automatically is updated
whenever the document is changed.
Vercio said this feature was useful for scanning document contents. Using the contents
list, a user can select one section of a large document to print.
Web publishing is based on Hypertext Markup Language, a subset of SGML that lacks
some of SGML's functionality. HTML is changing as the Web develops, Vercio said, so it
lacks the advantages of standardization. On the other hand, HTML browsers do not support
SGML. Web browsers are common, but SGML ones are not.
That's one reason the Pentagon chose SoftQuad's products. The company has made a
free Panorama viewer plug-in for Microsoft Internet Explorer and for Netscape Navigator
available on the Internet so that anyone can get it and view DOD directives.
"We can't charge Joe Civilian out there to come in and access our
information," Vercio said at last month's meeting in Washington.
SoftQuad representatives attending the meeting said the free viewer was a trial
offer good for only 30 days. Vercio said he told the company that if it does not offer a
free viewer, they can no longer do business together.
SoftQuad's Roberto Drassinower indicated the company would be flexible about this
stance, which he said reflected the need for revenues to support continuing product
As an alternative, the Pentagon could use the Acrobat products from Adobe Systems
Inc., whose free viewer already is in wide use. But Adobe's proprietary Portable Document
Format is not SGML.
Also, military publishing officials describe building the hypertext links among PDF files
as more difficult than doing the same task in SGML.
Links are the key to online publishing as Vercio sees it. Rather than replicate
documents and pieces of documents on many servers, he said, they should simply build
robust SGML links among them.
His goal, he said, is to reach the point "where we start looking at the policies as
bits of information" in an information base, rather than as conventional
With the information in this format, the user can obtain the information readily no matter
where he is or where the information resides.
But if the Army and Pentagon, for example, are going to link to each other's documents and
have them appear unified to a reader, they must have a common electronic format.
"We will use the services and everybody that's in this realm" of
DOD policy directives to come up with such shared formats, Vercio said.
Vercio said he hopes OSD will create a new office to tackle the program.
"Once documents no longer are supplied in print, how will military units on the
front lines get the information?" someone from the audience asked.
Most military units already take CD-ROM drives to the battlefield, Vercio replied.