XML Developer Tip
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Here's an interesting new tool from David Webber, a well-known XML player and a familiar participant from OASIS (aka the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Systems). The organization is itself a notable force in open XML based standards and guidelines. The tool is called VisualScript XML.
You can find the VisualScript XML Web page at SmartDraw.com. There, I found some pretty darn interesting stuff, in terms of using visual programming tools and metaphors to create complex XML designs and documents. I didn't give the tool a thorough analysis, but I did like what I saw and played with very much, and recommend it to other XML professionals for a look-see. For those curious enough to want to follow in my footsteps, a free 30-day product evaluation is available online.
The product relies on the programming metaphor known as visual scripting, familiar to anybody who's worked with Microsoft's Visual programming languages, Visual Studio, or with other similar products from third parties that also take this approach. Creating an XML document (or document design) works a lot like drawing a diagram in Visio: users open a template file, then drag predefined symbols into the work area to create something that models real-world data organization, data flow, data transformations, and so forth.
VisualScript XML then translates diagrams into XML statements, by translating predefined symbols into equivalent XML markup and plugging user-supplied data into the markup as needed. Text-entry fields can be inserted at will, edited within the diagram, and used to solicit input data in the resulting XML output, which acts like a script to display requested data, manage user input, process results, and so forth.
The tool's designers envision that XML developers will play the role of adding to or customizing symbols available for those users who will ultimately use them to create visual XML scripts. This allows them to incorporate existing XML standards and accommodate new ones (or updates to old ones) as their data handling needs dictate, and makes it easy for users to create well-formed, syntactically correct XML documents without having master all the details involved in hacking XML markup from scratch. It's a nifty idea and one that's certainly been validated in other development areas and environments. It will be interesting to see how well the tool works for production purposes, and how well it's received in the marketplace. But it's certainly worth a look and some fooling around with for those interested in providing visual tools to non-programmers or to programmers not familiar with XML.
About the Author
Ed Tittel is a VP of Content Development & Delivery at CapStar LLC, an e-learning company based in Princeton, NJ. Ed runs a small team of content developers and project managers in Austin, TX, and writes regularly on XML and related vocabularies and applications. E-mail Ed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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