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Re: MS Word as XML editor?

> > would you please provide any information on using MS Word as XML editor
> > (ideally like FrameMaker+SGML)? Any links, ideas, addon software?
> As enticing as it sounds, it doesn't really work. If you rely on the
> consistent application of styles, you will be let down by people. If you rely
> on macros and/or interface prompting, you'll build something that's difficult
> to maintain and modify, assuming you can make it rigid enough that nobody can
> screw it up anyway. Structured authoring in Word is a bit of a holy grail,
> and the very short life of Microsoft's own 'SGML Author' in the early to mid
> nineties indicates that it might truly be mythical.

We actually have used this approach on quite a number of projects with
success. For really complex markup, we had to write a validation tool
that took the user to the point in the document where the error was
(yucky and hard work to implement, etc, but completely usable). However,
for many other projects a Word template was supplied (with some training)
on how to use it, and it has been quite acceptable. We are doing a project
at RMIT (a University) where all the secretaries around the University
have to type up documents using the template for publishing on the RMIT
web site. So far they are coping fine. We use the 'save as web page'
or 'save as rtf' formats, convert into XML, HTML forms, whatever, then
round trip it back again. All up, we have done this on several projects
succesfully. Its not perfect, and keeping the supported styles low helped,
but the users were much happier being able to use Word rather than having
to learn to use a different editor for just one task they had to do.

We actually tried to use SGML Author for a project (before we had to roll
our own). Our experience with SGML Author was that it required almost
expoential growth in rules defined compared to the complexity of the DTD.
It was also very slow. We had problems editing any definitions ever created
(ie, you created a rule set, then if you added a new element you had to
start again from scratch). When we hit 500 rules, this got to be rediculous.
So I don't think its the approach which is why SGML Author failed - I think
it was the implementation. We ended up writing a separate tool ourselves
custom made for the project which has been in a production environment
for several years now (based on RTF).

Bottom line is you can get it to work, but Marcus is right - keeping the
number of styles down to a minimum is important as its harder for users
to make mistakes then. (We just ignore any new styles users introduce,
so when they review their document as a web page, they realise text has
gone. They don't make the same mistake twice! :-)

Alan Kent

ps: We have made our 'save as web page' <-> pure XML and 'save as rtf' -> XML
(the round trip has not been released only because I was too lazy to do so)
with our scripting language, Ace (as I have mentioned before on the list).
http://www.simdb.com then search for 'download'. It only does half of the
problem (it generates valid XML, not semantically nice XML). An additional
layer needs to be developed on top if you want to convert the XML into
more meaningful markup - which we don't ship for free