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The "Gillette Model" Strikes Again!

The "Gillette Model" Strikes Again!
Ed Tittel

Students of marketing the world over know the "Gillette Model" for generating sales. Back near the turn of the last century (from the 1800s to the 1900s, that is) Gillette made marketing history by giving away its newfangled safety razor, and selling the blades. This helped eliminate the use of more old-fashioned, but infinitely more dangerous, straight razors and was their first step toward today's triple-edged Mach 3 razor.

By this point, you're probably wondering: "What on earth do safety razors have to do with XML?" Well, I'm glad you asked, because there's a magnificent set of software tools built around a free markup development environment, called OmniMark, which adheres to the GNU General Public License, aka "copyleft." In plain English, this means the software is free, and can be redistributed for free, as long as all improvements are also free, and all license notifications remain in the code (and license requirements are followed).

As it happens, Omnimark supports all kinds of interesting markup handling and management capabilities. A quick visit to the "OmniMark Late Edition Tips and Trading Exchange, or omlette, Web site at lists a bunch of tools, with interesting names like xml2xsl and dtd2xsl, among numerous others, available for free at this site.

My current personal favorite among this bumper crop of stellar freebies is named rtf2xml. As its name should suggest, this tool converts files stored in RTF (rich text format) to "a paragraph structured XML document" that incorporates reasonably usable translations of MS Word styles to XML in its translation functions. Since I'm a writer by trade, and we post lots of content to our Web site, we stumbled across this tool as we were trying to figure out how to generate Web pages from Word for use in our online training efforts. Our problem was that we wanted to retain Word's nice abilities--that is, to create nice-looking printed pages, to permit us to track changes through the editing cycle, not to mention spell- and grammar-checking, and so on,--but we had no use for the extraneous markup that Word adds to .doc files when it translates them into HTML.

rtf2xml does a pretty good rescue job here as long as formats stay simple. In fact, the program even does a reasonable job of dealing with embedded graphics files (we, however, have learned to use Word's "link to file" option with external graphics files, because it makes the resulting output on the Web much easier to manage). Once the XML is emitted, a relatively simple XSLT program does a nice, clean translation job and we have little, if any, tweaking by hand to do.

Chances are rtf2xml can do the same for you. To run the program, you can download various versions of the program for Unix or Windows. You must also download OmniMark version 5 as well for this tool to work.

So what about those razor blades? Well, even though OmniMark is free, if you want access to a powerful plethora of "information, resources, libraries, utilities, and software not available elsewhere" (to quote from their promotional materials) you must sign up for an annual subscription to the OmniMark Developers Network (OMDN). This subscription comes in two flavors: a $995 per developer per year OMDN subscription that gets you access to the goodies and to quarterly mailings of the OMDN CD-ROMs, and a $1595 per developer per year OMDN Professional subscription that gets you the Omnimark Professional IDE (interactive development environment) a visual development and debugging tool that works with OmniMark.

According to the OmniMark Web site, lots of professional developers do their thing using only free OmniMark components (as we have, up to this point, but we're chewing on the price tag versus productivity problem right now). Thus, you aren't forced to sign up and spend to partake of the subscription's benefits, but those who have done so make some interesting claims about what this allows them to accomplish. Check it out for yourself, and see what you think!

Happy XML development in the meanwhile.

Ed Tittel is a principal at LANWrights, Inc.: a wholly owned subsidiary of LANwrights offers training, writing and consulting services on Internet, networking, and Web topics (including XML and XHTML), plus various IT certifications (Microsoft, Sun/Java, and Prosoft/CIW).

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