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Thank you!



Avenue.Quark promises industrial-strength Web-based repurposing for XPress users - but it's still early days.

With thousands of publications produced with it every month, Quark XPress dominates the world of professional publishing, but it has an Achilles heel - the Web. All those high-end publishers are sitting on a vast wealth of material that they desperately want to repurpose. Quark spent millions trying to come up with its own proprietary solution but its bitmap-based Immedia technology was just not up to the job. Finally Quark bowed to the inevitable and provided basic HTML export in XPress 4.1, but this too was inadequate. Now with the release of the avenue.Quark XTension for the Passport edition of XPress, Quark claims to have cracked Web repurposing once and for all.

As the Web is built of HTML pages you might expect avenue.Quark to be based on producing HTML, but it's not. And for two very good reasons. The first is that HTML is just too limited for professional output - the handful of in-built tags just aren't capable of handling the infinite range of content out there. The second, ironically, is that HTML is just too relaxed. HTML was designed for easy authoring and the results are sloppy code that browsers have to try and accommodate - and which different browsers accommodate differently! In short HTML is hitting its sell-by date.

The good news is that its replacement is already clear - XML (eXtensible Markup Language). XML solves both of HTML's problems. To begin with, as its name makes clear, the language is extensible which means that you can create your own tags. Rather than being limited to HTML's <H1> and <address>, for example, you can create XML tags for <subhead>, <byline>, <pullout>, <street name> or whatever. Just as importantly only one form of the code is allowed so that there can be no possibility of misinterpretation - it's either correct or it's not.

It might not look like much but XML is the future of the Web.

These differences might not sound that revolutionary but they are. By marking up the structure of your content, XML lets you take absolute control of it. With address details marked up correctly, for example, XML can be used as the data exchange for e-commerce. Or you can pull out content to produce personalized pages. XML's markup of content structure is also important for design as it can be used as the bones for presentation - swap skins and you can instantly repurpose your content for any media. Even better, because the code is strict, you can be confident of your end results.

XML's credentials as the next-generation HTML are convincing, so how does avenue.Quark go about turning XPress publications into XML? Quark provides a simple tutorial based on a sample whitepaper to guide you through the stages. The first step is to load your XPress publication and to then select the new File>New>XML command. This lets you choose the XML DTD (Document Type Definition) that you want to base your document on. Each DTD is a definition of all the elements in a publication and how they relate to each other so that our sample whitepaper.dtd defines all possible tags such as the various levels of heading.

Once you've selected your DTD, the XML Workspace window appears showing all the DTD's mandatory elements in a hierarchical tree view. In this sample case that's just the main heading and body elements. You're now ready to map the XPress document to XML and to do this you hold down Ctrl and drag your main copy's text box onto the body element. And, er, that's it. You'll now find that you can expand the body element to see a whole series of body paragraphs and heading elements. To check your code you can use the Preview command and then save your XML to disk!

Publications can be converted to XML with drag-and-drop ease.

The obvious question is how has this miraculous conversion been achieved? The secret behind avenue.Quark is "tagging rules". Most users will already be taking full advantage of stylesheets to quickly and consistently format their publications. Tagging rules takes this a stage further letting you map any formatting-based stylesheet to an XML content-based tag. In the case of our publication this means that each "body text" stylesheet is mapped to an XML <parag> tag and each "main heading" stylesheet to a <head_L1> tag and so on. The beauty is that once the rules are set up they can be reused to make repurposing regular work virtually automatic.

It's all very simple. Suspiciously simple in fact and worthy of a bit more investigation. How for example are the tagging rules defined? This is managed through the Edit>Tagging Rules command. Select any elements defined in the DTD and you can then select a corresponding stylesheet to map to it. Character stylesheets are supported as well as paragraph stylesheets and you can also create rules for managing how italicized or emboldened text should be tagged within any other tag. You can also set up many-to-one relationships with multiple rules for each element. Or rather you have to set up such rules as, if you don't, unmapped text will simply be omitted.

Stylesheet based rule tagging makes future conversion automatic.

Another potential problem is the design-intensive nature of XPress documents. All local formatting is lost in the conversion to XML tags but that's not really an issue as print-oriented control is irrelevant to Web-based repurposing. What could be a problem though is the way that XPress page layouts tend to be built up of many separate text blocks. Quark has thought of this, however, and using the Sequences window you can create an ordered list of all the elements that you want processed and then drag this onto the XML Workspace Window.

The conversion of text is well catered for, but these days most documents also contain images. XPress doesn't have a FrameMaker-style system of anchored images, so these must be managed manually. Thankfully it's pretty straightforward. Right-click on any existing element in your XML hierarchy and you can add any permissable child or sibling element. Add an <image> element, assuming your DTD includes one, and you can then Ctrl-drag a picture box onto it and the image's filename is added to the XML stream. If the namespace has been set up correctly in your DTD, Internet Explorer 5.x will recognize this and display the image.

Images must be added manually.

Disappointingly there isn't any way to set up automatic image format conversion or resizing - though this should be possible with external processing - so it looks like you are currently limited to using size-for-size GIFs, JPEGs and PNGs. Overall the conversion process certainly isn't as painless and transparent as it seemed at first, but with a bit of initial set-up and manual fine-tuning it's still straightforward. Even better, the conversion has the potential to be set up as a two-way street with the ability to import tagged XML into document placeholders - though the promised free download to enable this has yet to appear.

So far so good. The obvious next step is to begin applying the XML extraction process to your own XPress publications. To do this we first need a DTD that suits the project. Click on File>XML>New, however, and you'll find that the sample whitepaper DTD we used earlier is the only one provided. OK, it's probably better to use a DTD tailor-made to your project in any case so presumably you can create your own? Well yes and no. You can produce a DTD in any text editor but it's a complicated and demanding business in which the inter-relationship of all elements must be fully expressed. And, apart from an introductory chapter in the avenue.Quark manual, you're on your own.

Avendtd.png: avenue.Quark offers just one sample DTD

In fact the problem with DTDs goes deeper than this. It's essential that you get the DTD absolutely right before you begin as all the benefits of XML-based control spring from it and changing DTD midstream is a potential nightmare. To get the full benefit of XML it's also important that every publisher doesn't come up with their own DTD. The eventual solution will be officially-endorsed specifications for separate publication types such as scientific papers and eBooks. Numerous bodies are currently working on these, but few are up and running not least because the current DTD syntax is itself being rewritten to make it XML-compatible.

It's not just before you begin your project that XML runs into difficulties. Obviously the whole point of repurposing is for Web browsers to be able to view your content. If you try and load the XML we created earlier into Internet Explorer 5.x, however, it will refuse. If you comment out the internal DTD reference it will at least load, but it's just a stream of undifferentiated and unformatted paragraphs. This is hardly going to take the Web by storm.

In fact this lack of inbuilt formatting is one of XML's strengths as it allows dedicated styling markup languages to be applied. By linking your XML to an external CSS (Cascading Style Sheet), for example, you can produce one design for normal Web viewing, while linking to another will instantly repurpose the document for viewing on a handheld. Again though quark.Avenue takes no part in this, leaving it to the user and third-party utilities - you even have to add the link to the CSS file manually.

With styling languages such as CSS, XML can be instantly redesigned and purposed.

And again avenue.Quark's lack of in-built styling support is only the beginning. Yes you've guessed it - CSS is also in the process of being rewritten to make it XML-compatible this time in the form of XSL (XML Stylesheet Language). And while CSS is only supported patchily by Internet Explorer 5.x, XSL is still only on the drawing board. In short, current Web users simply aren't going to be able to view your laboriously repurposed XML at all! In fact Quark recommends a solution for this in the form of Vignette StoryServer which can take your XML master and convert it to HTML. However it's a hell of a lot of trouble and expense to end up back within the limitations of HTML.

Suddenly avenue.Quark is looking a lot less attractive. Rather than an exciting two-way street, the road appears to be blocked at both ends. However it would be wrong to blame Quark for this as the complications with both original DTD and final formatting/viewing are outwith the company's control while the XML extraction process it is responsible for is relatively smooth. More importantly both sets of complications are issues which are currently being addressed and with powerful solutions on the way. XML is definitely not a dead-end.

So what's the final verdict? It's important to realize that you can't buy avenue.Quark on Monday and post all your repurposed legacy material on Tuesday. XML is an advanced solution that will take some time to mature and even longer to implement successfully. As such, most Quark users will be happy to wait, especially as the technology will almost certainly be bundled with Quark 5. On the other hand it's difficult to overestimate the potential of XML-based repurposing and avenue.Quark allows corporate publishers to begin planning for the future.

XML and XPress are an excellent combination and by bringing them together Quark could well dominate high-end Web repurposing as it currently dominates high-end print.

Ease of Use
Value for Money

ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

April 2001

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