Toolmakers embrace XML
- By Johanna Ambrosio
Most developers already know about XML-based Web services, but the XML tools
category is actually much broader than that. It ranges from full-fledged IDEs to
point tools that do one thing, like edit and transform many different types of
schemas, for example.
Many vendors provide XML in some way or other, and more tools are in the
works. But because it is such a young and volatile market, XML tool suppliers
are being acquired, merging and otherwise morphing. And analysts expect this to
continue for quite some time
Nobody really tracks the entire XML tools market. Instead, analysts segment
XML tools into several smaller pieces -- creating XML-based content as either a
developer or end user, or doing integration that requires XML as the lingua
franca between otherwise incompatible apps. On top of these are XML-based IDEs,
which are usually lumped into the overall application development tools
But some of these lines are getting fuzzy. Ron Schmelzer, senior analyst at
ZapThink LLC in Waltham, Mass., expects more people to start thinking of content
as a service, and then delivering it as such. ''Among the parallels between
content and Web services,'' he said, is ''how do you componentize content so that
you can reuse it, discover it and then compose it into larger documents?'' If
this ''content as a Web service'' idea does come to pass as Schmelzer expects, the
lines between XML-based middleware used for integration and ''pure'' content
creation or development tools will become blurred even further.
Still, by 2006, the market for just XML content tools is expected to grow by
41.5%, according to a recent study by IDC, Framingham, Mass. Because XML is the
''de facto standard'' for sharing documents and other information, developers and
end users alike are clamoring for tools, say IDC analysts.
This is what is driving many companies to start switching to XML to connect
disparate islands of information. ''The only reason anyone ever buys any kind of
technology is to solve a business problem,'' said Steve Weissman, president at
Kinetic Information LLC, Waltham, Mass. ''XML is about facilitating enterprise
interoperability. It's present and it works.''
Weissman acknowledges, however, that there is some confusion about what XML
can do. ''I'm not sure people yet know what it's good for. XML can be both a
dessert topping and a floor wax, to quote that old 'Saturday Night Live'
commercial, and so people are using it for lots of different things.''
The notion of using XML to share information will get a huge boost with the
next version of Microsoft Word -- Word 11 -- which will create XML documents
behind the scenes. That is expected to both ''bless'' the market and create much
havoc in it.
In the meantime, here is a roundup of the types of tools that already
There are few native XML-based complete development
environments on the market. One, Stylus Studio, was originally from a vendor
called eXcelon, which has since been acquired by Sonic Software Corp., Bedford,
Mass., an operating company of Progress Software. Another IDE is XMLSpy from
Altova GmbH, an Austria-based concern with U.S. headquarters in Beverly, Mass. A
third player is Tibco Software Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif.
With more than 1 million users in 100,000 organizations, Altova's XMLSpy
claims market leadership. Version 5.0, released in September 2002, is aimed at
''programmers, developers and IT professionals trying to architect, build, test,
debug and deploy XML-enabled apps,'' said Larry Kim, Altova's marketing
The visual tool is broader than Web services, Kim claims, and is used for
integration and content projects. ''XML is language- and platform-neutral,'' he
explained. ''We want to be that utility belt that can plug into any environment.''
Along those lines, the next release of XMLSpy, which was scheduled for late
January, will have the ability to automatically generate C# code, include new
editing and server administration features for Oracle's XML DB, and provide a
new utility to document and publish a Web services interface, among other
Altova also makes Authentic 5, an XML authoring tool for end users, and
StyleVision 5, which converts HTML Web sites to XML-based sites.
To help seed the market for its products, Altova has been cutting deals with
larger software suppliers. It works with Microsoft to support SQL Server's XML
extensions within XMLSpy and has an agreement with Iona to bundle XMLSpy 5.0
with Iona's Orbix XMLBus Web services development infrastructure. It also has a
pact with Software AG to bundle XMLSpy with the Tamino XML Server.
Sonic Software's Stylus Studio is another IDE that includes visual XSLT and
XML editors, wizards for creating XML and XSLT documents from HTML and other
sources, as well as other features. Sonic plans to keep Stylus Studio available
as a separate product -- with regular enhancements to boot, according to Gordon
Van Huizen, Sonic's vice president of product development.
The company's original purpose with the acquisition was, and remains, to
integrate Stylus Studio into its SonicXQ middleware platform. But one move does
not obviate the other, Van Huizen said.
There is a need for both, he said, because ''working with XML is fundamentally
different than writing Java or C. XML is very function-oriented; you're not
writing a great deal of logic. You're creating sophisticated expressions and
then debugging them, and code-oriented IDEs just don't handle XML very
In fact, because they are so different Van Huizen predicts a ''fundamental
split'' between XML and ''traditional'' application development over time. Perhaps,
others have speculated, business users will be more XML-oriented and traditional
programmers will retain the keys to the different language kingdoms.
In the meantime, Sonic will do more to integrate the IDE with its own runtime
environment, Van Huizen said. ''The first example of that will be a version of
Stylus that works with the repository in our integration bus, so you can create
maps and drop them into the directory.'' A future version may ''create an XML
expression, write the rules for the expression and test it without leaving the
IDE,'' he said.
The third vendor in this space -- Tibco -- is better known for its middleware
products than for its XML-based IDE. But TurboXML creates, validates, converts
and manages XML schemas, XML files and DTDs. It also includes XML-specific
project management tools, according to the company, and it is deployed in
'thousands' of customer sites around the world. As part of Tibco's Extensibility
product family, other products in this line include XML Validate, XML Transform
and CML Canon/Developer for storing, managing and distributing XML.
Many of the traditional middleware vendors play
in the XML arena -- as does Tibco. WRQ Inc., a Seattle-based middleware company,
and IBM with its MQSeries have also incorporated XML into their respective
products. WRQ, for example, sells Verastream Integration Broker, which helps
transform legacy code into Web-based apps. This includes Web-based Java and XML
integration tools. For its part, IBM's MQSeries can now use XML as a trigger for
applications to start different workflow processes, and also as a means to start
In addition, there are some new middleware vendors that are XML-only. These
include New York-based XML Global Technologies, which bases its technologies on
the notion of an enterprise service bus (ESB). Like many ''traditional''
technologies, it is based on message-oriented middleware. But while others have
a central repository at their core, the company takes a more distributed
approach with content-based routing.
XML Global's scheme also includes data transformation -- mapping structured
data from one format to another.
''People often want the mapping -- from one format to the other -- but they
don't necessarily want to take an entire broker and plunk it down on a server,''
said Bryan Baker, XML Global's vice president of product marketing. 'They
already have their own infrastructure and just want to embed the tools,' he
said. Another plus is that 'you need not pay for an entire business process
modeling tool. If all you're doing is just a few point-to-point integrations,'
it may make sense to start small.
That said, XML Global does sell a repository, a business process management
tool, a native XML database management system and a SOAP-based messaging
There are also some point solutions available. XML Architect from Popkin
Software in New York is a graphical XML schema editing tool. Formerly called
Envision XML, it supports Microsoft's BizTalk and DTDs, with other schema
support planned for future releases.
Another schema tool is XSLWiz from Induslogic Inc., Vienna, Va. With a
drag-and-drop interface, it maps XML documents from one schema to another, and
then automatically generates XSLT script.
Be careful out there
The XML tools market is both young and
fast-moving, and some vendors that are here today may not be tomorrow. To make
sure you do not get stuck with an orphaned product, check out the supplier's
market share. If it is a leading product in its niche, chances are it will be
supported even if it is bought by another company.
Another option is to check with your computing infrastructure supplier. Most
of them -- IBM, Sun, HP, Microsoft and others -- have an XML initiative ongoing.
Some have more than others, but it is worth checking; some are even working with
the new players described here.
Also remember that whatever your company is doing with XML today will likely
morph at some point. A 'simple' integration job could become a corporate mandate
for every document to be XML-compliant. While that should not stop you from
looking for that point solution today, it is something to point out to the
higher-ups. Just getting them to articulate an XML strategy might help you
figure it out.
Above all, keep in mind that a primary job right now is to educate your
business users about why XML is important to them, and what it will let them
For example, CambridgeDocs' Virk shared this anecdote: ''We were talking to a
government type the other day. He's a tech guy, and he was talking about how
they were going to implement XML in the agency. He went to talk to his business
groups -- and they don't know about XML, but they do know about needing to
dynamically create training documents and other types of content. He was
surprised they could do what they needed to do with XML, and said he'd need to
go back to his business users to explain it to them and get their buy-in.
Sometimes we forget that not everyone knows the benefits of XML, and we think,
''Of course you can do that.''
See the related story ''XML content creation: Danger
ahead?'' by Johanna