XML presses the publishing business

Adobe Systems on Monday joined an army of software vendors that are using XML (Extensible Markup Language) to transform the way documents are published.

The company will begin shipping Adobe FrameMaker Version 7.0, the latest release of its software for creating content once and publishing it to a variety of media, a process called multichannel publishing. From a single user interface similar to that of a word processor, Adobe FrameMaker enables users to create content, such as a user manual or sales documentation, and publish it for use in a variety of settings, including the Web, handheld devices and print.

A new feature in the latest version is the ability to create content in XML.

"There's quite a bit of power behind XML," said JoAnne Buckner, senior product manager with Adobe's FrameMaker team, which has built support for XML into the product.

When authoring content in XML, "you are able to store content in a media-neutral format and apply business rules to that content," she said. Those business rules determine how and where content can be used or distributed. When content is created in XML, it can be easily reused in a number of popular formats.

In addition to XML, FrameMaker can output content as an Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format) file, in HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) for display on a Web site, or in a format that can be displayed on an e-book reader or handheld device.

The San Jose, California, graphics software maker is not alone in trying to make publishing easier by helping content creators to put out their work in a variety of formats. Corel Corp. recently acquired SoftQuad, which makes XMetaL, an application that can out put content in some of the same data formats as Adobe's software. A longtime player in the market, Arbortext Inc. makes another competing product, Epic Editor.

Although each company promotes unique features in its software, they all agree on one thing: the importance of XML.

"We're beginning to realize that information is dynamic, and the question becomes, how do you keep it in sync?," said Ray Schiavone, president and chief executive officer of Arbortext.

Among the benefits of Arbortext's Epic Editor software, Schiavone noted that writing content in XML allows a user to make modifications to the text and have those changes automatically reflected in every medium that is published.

"That's where XML is getting broader adoption," he said.

A good example of the power of XML publishing is in the software business, where vendors may write a lengthy user manual for each product and then publish it as a printed book, as a CD-ROM and on the Web. Before XML-based tools were available, each time a new version of software was released, a company would have to go through the daunting task of updating the content in each version of its manual individually, Schiavone said.

John Harrison, the documentation manager for Concord Communications Inc., a Marlboro, Massachusetts, maker of enterprise management software, recently began using Arbortext's content management software to create the documentation for his company's software products. After several years producing printed books and online help documents with at least four different applications, Harrison said he sees great benefits of a single authoring tool.

"When you start a software company, you have to write manuals and help books. Then you build out your online help. At some point you end up having a whole set of printed books and a whole set of documents online," he said.

"The problem is, every time the product is upgraded, you have to open up all the book files, change them and reprint them -- same thing with the online documents," Harrison said. "Now we have one source for creating all of our content and updating it."

It's not just the software business that is finding benefits in multichannel publishing software. Some of the biggest customers now using it are state and local governments, which publish vast amounts of documentation, such as images of maps and legal documents, according to the companies providing software.

Airplane and car manufacturers that publish maintenance manuals also are making use of XML-based publishing, according to Dan Ryan, chief executive officer of Stellent Inc., a content management software maker in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

One benefit of new software from Stellent and its competitors is the ability to write content in XML and reuse pieces of it for various purposes, Ryan said. For example, "There are sections in a car manual that can be reused for different model cars. The software allows you to author those chunks in XML, so when you put a user manual together for each car, you can reuse the 'change tire section,' " he said.

In addition to easing the workload for those managing content, these new software tools are aimed at lowering the cost for content publishers of all types.

"There's a tremendous hidden cost in getting information out. The challenge is, how do you do it most cost-effectively?," said Arbortext's Schiavone. "When you think about it, every company is a publisher."

New products coming to market:

-- Adobe FrameMaker Version 7.0 is available for US$799. It can run on Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP operating system and earlier versions of Windows back to Windows 98. It is also available for Apple Computer Inc.'s MacOS X running in classic mode and earlier versions back to Mac OS 9.0. An upgrade version is available for $379, or $209 if purchased within 90 days.

- Adobe has also released an updated server version of FrameMaker that can be used to publish high-volume content. The server version is available for $7,999 and can be installed on Mac and Unix operating systems. An upgrade of that software costs $3,999.

- Both Stellent and Arbortext said they expect to release new versions of their respective products within the next two months.

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