Developer

Corel's XMetaL makes it easy to create XML documents

If you are looking for an alternative to XMLSpy's XML authoring tool, you might want to give Corel's XMetaL a try. This review will help you decide whether it's right for your shop.


XML will never become the document standard within an organization, but it is popular for publishing projects. XML’s penetration into corporate development shops has been gradual, so the tools have been slow to arrive. XMLSpy is probably the most widely used of these products. (See this Builder.com review for details on XMLSpy.) Another tool, XMetaL, has been around for some time. The current XMetaL iteration is version 4, and it improves an already strong product.

The audience
Corel promotes XMetaL as a set of tools designed to simplify the implementation of XML applications across an organization. It includes four components:
  • Corel XMetaL Author—To create/edit XML documents
  • Corel XMetaL for ActiveX—To create/edit XML documents within an ActiveX container
  • Corel XMetaL Central—To deploy/manage environment
  • Corel XMetaL Developer—To customize the XMetaL environment

The product components are designed so that the IT staff can create the necessary Author interface using the Developer component. The Author interface can be deployed with the ActiveX component as well. The corporate IT support staff can manage the product with the Central component. This system removes the complexity from the user community, allowing them to focus on the content.

An organization may choose to take advantage of all components or use only what it needs. I'll focus here on the Author component. In an upcoming article, I'll look at what the Developer component offers.

XMetaL Author
XMetaL Author provides an easy-to-use interface. Figure A shows the workspace with a sample XML file loaded.

Figure A
XMetaL Author interface


The file is open in plain text view, so the raw XML is displayed. Three additional views are available: tags on, normal, and preview. Figure B shows the tags on view, which provides a look at the XML document with XML tags graphically displayed. The XML tags are collapsible (via +/- signs). Numerous Sect1 tags are collapsed in Figure B. The normal view offers the same presentation without the tags, and preview shows the document loaded in a browser.

Figure B
XMetaL Author interface showing XML tags


At this point, you may be wondering why the XML in the figures is displayed as it is. The reason is that a cascading style sheet (CSS) is used for the formatting. In addition, a document type definition (DTD) is used to determine what elements, attributes, etc., are available in the XML document.

The XML shown in Figures A and B comes from one sample that's available with the XMetaL installation. Because it's designed for use by corporate development teams rather than the lone wolf developer, it's prepackaged with standardized CSS and DTD files to ensure uniform documents.

Word processor simplicity
The XMetaL Author component is designed with ease of use as a main goal. It simplifies the process of XML creation, providing a word processor look and feel, and even adopts WordPerfect's thesaurus and spell checker components. This simplicity is evidenced by the strong integration with content management systems (CMSs). The Corel Web site includes an example of integration with the popular (and expensive) Documentum CMS. Although few small organizations can afford such high-end CMS tools, less-costly solutions are available, and the Author component makes it easy to access and work with CMS documents.

Comprehensive support
The XMetaL product suite is built on the base of XML standards. This includes full XML schema and DTD functionality, both Continuous Acquisition and Lifecycle Support (CALS) and HTML tables, full Unicode support, SOAP/Web Services within the Central component, and the ability to build forms with the emerging XForms standard.

Building a sample
It is true that the product is designed for collaborative development in a corporate environment, but it is also possible for an individual to create an XML document. The key is to begin with a valid XML schema or DTD. I'll use a sample schema to demonstrate.

First, I create an XML document by choosing New from the File menu. Next, I choose Blank XML Document, as shown in Figure C. Then, I'm prompted to select an XML schema or DTD file. This selection determines what is valid within the XML document.

Figure C
Creating a blank XML document


The Insert Element list, shown in Figure D, provides entities that can be inserted in the document. The insertion of a top-level element includes the elements contained within them. Figure E shows the results of inserting the root property tag and entering sample data. At this point, I can save the document externally, apply a style sheet for presentation, or do anything else necessary.

Figure D
Inserting an XML entity


Figure E
Sample XML document


A good tool for the right audience
XMetaL 4 is a well-designed product suite that greatly simplifies the process of working with XML, but it is appropriate only for a large organization or one with large-scale XML usage. An ideal fit would be a firm involved with publishing. As we'll see next time, the Developer component provides the flexibility to deliver the product necessary for your user community.

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