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May 17, 2005

XML-based authoring versus structured authoring has an interview with Mike Hamilton, formerly of Macromedia/eHelp/Blue Sky, now with MadCap Software.

The interview includes some information about Flare, the RoboHelp replacement tool that MadCap is developing. Flare is billed as an XML-based authoring tool. Mike Hamilton describes the competitive landscape like this:

There are a lot of XML tools and workflows out there, but they either fall into the “you better really know what you’re doing” camp of editors designed for programmers or they fall into the enterprise camp where it takes a lot of resources to set up a system, create custom/proprietary transforms, maintain the system, etc. Many small to medium sized companies don’t have the in-house expertise to build and maintain such systems. MadCap Flare is designed to fill that gap in between. Will MadCap Flare create XML files – yes, but the author doesn’t have to even realize this. Will MadCap Flare provide transforms to repurpose this XML content into other useful formats – yes, but the author doesn’t need to know what the term transform means, let alone have to know how to write one. MadCap Flare will be an affordable, shrink-wrap, turn-key solution.

Thus, we have a Goldilocks approach to XML tools: too small (for programmers and XML data), too big (scary enterprise tools), and just right (Flare). This misses a critical distinction. XML is a file format that provides a vendor-neutral way of exchanging content. In addition, XML’s file format supports structured authoring, in which you define a set of rules for your document and then enforce them. If you want to implement structured authoring for your organization, your authoring tool must support the definition and enforcement of your document rules. This is usually done with a document type definition (DTD) or schema file.

To provide structured authoring support, a tool needs the at least the following basic features:

  • Lets you create structure rules
  • Enforces structure rules in your documents (validation)
  • Lets you define and supply metadata for the document components

Flare will provide XML support, which means that it should be relatively easy to extract information from Flare for repurposing elsewhere. But I haven’t seen anything that indicates that Flare will support structured authoring.

For more on structured authoring, see our XML and Structured Authoring white paper (free, but registration required)

(Interview found at Keith Soltys’ Core Dump)