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Another quick look at XMLSpy

A review of the new XMLSpy and its lower cost alternative.

About once a year or so, I step back from the day-to-day details of crafting XML, understanding new XML specifications, or working with various specialized markup languages, to look around in my toolbox and see how what I'm using stacks up against what's available. Having seen an e-mail last month that Altova had released a new version of XMLSpy -- called XMLSpy 2004 -- I decided to wander over to the Website and check out the product.

I've always thought highly of XMLSpy since I was first exposed to it about four years ago. I've used it from time to time since then, especially when I need to juggle markup from XML Schemas, XSLT, and forms markup within the context of a single document. A quick look at XMLSpy 2004's feature matrix should convince you that this product hasn't lost any of its reach, and that its advanced editing capabilities match its broad support for many XML applications.

In addition to basic well-formedness (XML syntax) checking, the product can read DTDs or schemas and validate documents against them. It also internalizes such meta-data to help users select appropriate elements and attributes when creating document content. New features to 2004 appear in red in the feature matrix, and show some useful new functionality:

  • Advanced editing features include context sensitive entry suggestions, a bookmarking and annotation scheme, plus a super new XML-aware find and replace tool that also understands grep-like regular expressions.
  • Document display capabilities (which already presented accurate "as-rendered" views of content) now include a tool to show cursor position in an open XML document, as well as providing a mechanism to suggest or supply data entry values at runtime.
  • Database and EDI mapping capabilities now include support for electronic data interchange (EDI/EDIFACT). Likewise, data mapping and transformation for relational databases (including new items IBM DB2, Sybase, and MySQL, as well as old standbys Oracle and SQL Server) are also included.

Add enhanced XSLT support, and generation of visual stylesheets from databases and you've got a great product that's gotten even stronger and more capable than previous versions. There's even a free home edition (not intended for commercial use -- see note about Authentic for those seeking commercial freeware) available for those learning XML and hobbyists.

At about $1,250 per user (including one year of support and maintenance, or SMP in Altova-speak) for the Enterprise Edition (which includes a stylesheet design and mapping packages) or $625 for the Professional Edition (likewise with one year of SMP), XMLSpy does not come cheap. But it does deliver great value for the purchase price. If you're serious about building or using XML, this is one of a handful of products worth working with daily.

Please note also that a freeware version of XMLSpy whose license permits commercial use -- known as Authentic -- is also out in a 2004 version (I wrote a tip about this product in April 2003). For those on tight budgets who must work with XML, this product offers a pretty decent subset of what you'll find in XMLSpy for free.

Ed Tittel is a writer, trainer, and consultant based in Austin, TX, who writes and teaches on XML and related vocabularies and applications. E-mail Ed at

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