In-Depth

XML content creation: Danger ahead?

The notion of creating content that is XML-ready will get a huge boost with the next version of Microsoft Office, analysts say. In November 2002, Microsoft announced that Office 11, due in mid-2003, will allow users to save Word documents, Excel spreadsheets or Access databases as XML documents. Also, via a brand-new application called XDocs, customers will be able to create their own forms to mix-and-match XML-enabled information from around the enterprise, in effect creating their own XML schema.

This move is expected to both ''bless'' the market and create much havoc. In the long term, Microsoft's acceptance of XML will fuel a large market for repositories, content management systems and other types of XML-related software. In the short term, however, some standalone XML content creation software will likely fall by the wayside.

''This will obviate the need for some of the standalone text editors,'' said Susan Funke, program manager at analyst firm IDC in Framingham, Mass. These are the packages used to create and manage large and complex types of documents -- documentation manuals, repair tomes and that sort of thing. ''It's still a growth market,'' she said, but only the strongest will survive. Part of the problem, she explained, is that some of the biggest players in the content market are stuck in vertical markets.

Clearly, vendors will be taking diverse roads. Ottawa, Ontario-based Corel Corp., for its part, has no intention of doing anything differently with its XMetaL content-creation family. Part end-user tool and yet developer-friendly, XMetaL allows for XML content creation and editing within any Windows application, and can be embedded as a control into any browser or application.

Shawn Henderson, XMetaL product manager at Corel, said Microsoft is ''legitimizing'' XML with Office 11. ''[Microsoft] says you can use XML for more than just integration and Web services, that you can use it as a platform to create content,'' he said. ''All legacy content can move forward'' to take advantage of XML, he added.

Corel sees the XML content-creation market moving more toward vertical out-of-the-box solutions, say for applications like e-learning. Henderson envisions a situation where those responsible for a company's educational efforts could set up courseware and have tests created on-the-fly for specific needs or types of jobs.

Other big names in the XML content market include Arbortext Inc., Waltham, Mass., and Adobe Systems Inc., San Jose, Calif.

But not everyone is as optimistic as Corel's Henderson. Austria-based Altova GmbH, maker of Authentic 5, an XML content creation package, is changing its business model because of Microsoft's entry into this market. ''We'll be giving it away for free,'' said Larry Kim, Altova's marketing director; the company used to charge a minimum of $200 for the package. ''It's a very competitive market, and we want lots of companies to build new XML systems'' to drive demand for Altova's other products -- among them a full-fledged XML-based IDE called XMLSpy. ''We don't want price to be a deterrent, especially in this economic climate,'' he said. So the company will build its revenue stream on its other products and on its growing consulting and professional services offerings.

For its part, CambridgeDocs in Charlestown, Mass., believes it has a product that will survive no matter what Microsoft may do with Office 11. CambridgeDocs converts documents from old formats into XML, so that all documents can ''speak'' the same version of XML.

There are dozens of different XML variants, from those used in online publications to health insurance and financial organizations, and CambridgeDocs promises an ''intelligent'' conversion utility. ''We let you convert old documents to meaningful XML so that you know what's in each paragraph,'' said company co-founder Irfan Virk.

What Microsoft is doing may help users XML-enable some of their old Office documents, Virk said, but it will not do much for data in CRM, ERP or other applications.


See the related story ''Toolmakers embrace XML'' by Johanna Ambrosio

About the Author

Johanna Ambrosio is a freelance writer based in Marlborough, Mass., specializing in technology and business. Contact her at jambrosio@earthlink.net.

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