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On Thu, 2004-04-08 at 16:46, Bob Foster wrote:
> It seems quite likely that the utility of the outline view has something
> to do with the nature of the document. If you write very large
> DocBook-like documents, the outline view is pretty much useless; all it
Outline views are _particularly_ useful when editing large documents,
provided that you can hide minor block elements, such as paragraphs,
admonitions, tables, etc.
One thing that I haven't seen in an XML editor yet, but that would be
very nice, is an outline view that works over multiple files.
After reading several messages in this thread I feel a rant coming on,
but I'd like to say this first:
As a programmer, I appreciate the difficulties in creating an XML editor
that is fast, provides all the features necessary for structured
authoring, and manages to format a document for onscreen display. I
won't pretend to be half as good a programmer as the people who have
written the XML editors I am about to trash in the following paragraphs.
I am going to look at the issue solely from the viewpoint of a
professional technical writer.
Now, the rant. If you are under 18, or have a high blood pressure,
please skip this:
As a writer I have a hard time understanding why most of the current
crop of XML editors have user interfaces that are a lot worse than my
old SGML editor. (WordPerfect with an SGML plugin.) Nor can they measure
up to other old time SGML/XML tools, such as ADEPT Editor,
FrameMaker+SGML, Documentor, and others. (Yes, I know that from a
developers point of view, some of these were just horrible. Some were
not exactly ideal writng tools either, it's just that they seem better
than many of the things that are around today.)
Most of the current crop of XML editors, XMetaL and Arbortext Publisher
are exceptions, seem to be little more than text editors with syntax
highlighting. This is not what I want in an authoring tool that I am
going to use several hours a day, every day. Text editors with syntax
highlighting may suit programmers, but that is very different from being
suitable for authors.
XML editors must make it easy to write and structure documents. Context
sensitive element dialogs and validation are necessary, of course, but
they are not enough, not by a long shot.
For example, while you do not need the sophisticated styling of a word
processor or DTP program, the ability to format block elements and
inline elements differently is absolutely vital. You also need to
distinguish titles visually, there must be support for table formatting,
etc. Documents often contain images, or other embedded media objects, so
support for that is also a necessity.
Of course the features listed above are a bare minimum. In an editor for
professional use I also expect things like change bars, integration with
a DMS, a preview of formatted documents (limited use, I know, but quite
often I operate within those limits), and a host of other features.
As for tag coloring: It is a good thing to make tags visually distinct,
but treating tags as text with a different color is not good enough. For
example, it should not be possible to edit the tag name, particularly
not in such a way that the document does not validate. My personal
preference is for editors that denote tags with some sort of graphical
symbol. Editors that just lock the tags so they can't be edited are
technically sufficient, though they may lack a bit of visual appeal.
I have seen "XML editors" that rely on the insertion of line breaks and
indentation with whitespace to format documents on screen. This is just
bad. For one thing, when you open a document created in another XML
tool, there may not even be any line breaks or indents in the document.
Editing a 300 kB XML document that appears on a single line in an editor
is no fun.
Most of the discussion in this thread has been about XML editors from
the point of view of developers. Quite natural, I suppose. This isn't
the xml-author mailing list. However, it seems to me that from a users
point of view, the average quality of structured authoring tools have
been lowered in recent years. The best XML authoring tools are those
that have been around since the days of SGML. There are only a few of
those left. The new generation tools just is not as good.
Rounding off the rant by widening my perspective a bit, I am aware that
there are advantages to the newer tools. Price is one thing. Portability
is another, because many of them are written in Java. However, if the
tools aren't good enough for everyday use, portability does not matter.
(I still haven't found a really decent XML editor that runs under
I believe that looking at text editors and IDEs, and using them as a
basis for creating XML editors is the wrong thing to do. It would be
more useful to look at the current leaders in XML editing, i.e. XMetaL
and Arbortext Epic, and figure out how to beat them.