RE: Flare vs X-Metal

Subject: RE: Flare vs X-Metal
From: "Peter Meyer" <pmeyer -at- elkera -dot- com -dot- au>
To: "'TECHWR-L'" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 23 Nov 2006 11:09:06 +1100

XMetaL and Flare are entirely different products designed for different
purposes. A side by side comparison is meaningless.

I am not an expert on Flare but, broadly, it is an comprehensive approach to
the production of Help outputs. Hence, it is on the list of HATs. In a sense
its true that it uses XML because it uses XHTML. This is a single kind of
XML that is best described as presentation oriented and not structural XML
like, say, DITA.
Flare combines authoring, content management and publishing functions in an
integrated package designed for specific purposes (mainly help). Flare does
not, currently, let you create other kinds of XML such as DITA.

XMetaL is a general purpose XML editor. It is not designed as a help
production system, but it may be a component of such a system.
XMetaL can create any kind of XML, such as DITA, XHTML, DocBook, S1000D or
your own schema/DTD.

When you use an XML editor such as XMetaL, you are not buying a help
authoring system as you are with Flare. To create help and other outputs
with XMetaL, you will likely need a content management application and
publishing tools.

We are used to the concept of a word processor (Word or FrameMaker) that
provides integrated editing and print publishing functions based on
proprietary file formats. Some XML editors work like this (FrameMaker) but
many do not (XMetaL, Arbortext Epic, Syntext Serna etc).

The very specialized nature of XML editors is both good and a problem and is
often not understood.
This can be good because the whole idea of using XML (particularly
structured XML such as DITA) is to let you create the outputs needed for
your application. You may want many different kinds of outputs (web, help,
print etc) and you may want a very high level of automation and quality.
There are many different publishing tools to do these jobs. The idea is you
pick the one you want for your needs.
The flip side of this is that you may have to glue together different tools
to do the job. This can be hard work. You would only do this if you need
this kind of flexibility.

To try to overcome this problem, the XML editor vendors increasingly bundle
the editors with publishing tools to make the integration easier. However,
there is always the question of whether the bundled application is the right
tool for your needs.

XMetaL for DITA is just one instance of XMetaL Author. This version of
XMetaL supports the specific features of DITA (map files, conrefs,
references, specialization etc) that don't come with normal XML standards
support. Because DITA employs unique (but now standards based) models for
managing and processing topic based information, there would be a very large
amount of work for people to build their own applications. The DITA
developers have created the DITA Open Tool Kit (DITA O-T) to provide all the
automated processing of topics and map files to create a more conventional
XML document that normal XML applications can work with. They have also
added XSLT components to produce XSL-FO, HTML and various flavors of help.
XMetaL, like many other XML applications now ships with the DITA O-T. Thus,
if you plan to use DITA, you get a set of foundation applications. Other
vendors do similar things.

This is a good thing because it is taking a lot of the hard work out of
traditional XML application development. Superficially, it is making the XML
editors look more like some of the HATs.

However, there are big differences because you will still need to
plan/develop/acquire a content management component (even if you use the
file system for simple applications) and do quite a lot of development work
to create just the right outputs for your needs. In the end, you may decide
to use the HTML and Help outputs, with suitable modifications but choose to
use another print publishing application that provides better quality
outputs than is available with FOP in the DITA O-T. As a general
proposition, the requirements that would drive you to use Flare or decide on
a solution that uses a structured XML authoring tool such as XMetaL are very
different. Thus, the starting point is your requirements, not the features
of various applications.

Peter Meyer
Managing director

Elkera Pty Ltd
Email: pmeyer -at- elkera -dot- com -dot- au

> -----Original Message-----
> From:
> techwr-l-bounces+pmeyer=elkera -dot- com -dot- au -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
> [mailto:techwr-l-bounces+pmeyer=elkera -dot- com -dot- au -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- c
> om] On Behalf Of Dana Worley
> Sent: Wednesday, 22 November 2006 4:22 AM
> Subject: Re: Flare vs X-Metal
> On Monday, November 20, 2006, Kapoor, Shelly wrote:
> > Has anyone on the list used X-Metal. Do you know how they compare?
> XMetal is a DITA-based (a type of structured XML) tool that
> currently outputs only to PDF or HTML (AFAIK). Flare uses XML as
> well, but supports output to DotNet help, HTML Help (CHMs),
> WebHelp, Word, and Framemaker.
> Both offer trial downloads on their web site. Also, check out Char
> James-Tanny's site for a comparison of Flare to
> other tools in the industry (excluding XMetal -- they are not
> listed).
> Regards,
> Dana W.


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Re: Flare vs X-Metal: From: Dana Worley

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