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Catching Up on the Latest Online Information Technology
1997, August (June 05, 2008)
By Melissa Powell, Newsletter Web Page Coordinator. You can contact her at fmpowell at mindspring dot com.

Fellow communications professionals, how many of you publish or plan to publish books or other large documents for online use? Can you expect all the people in your audience to use the same hardware and software platforms? Did you go to the STC Carolina Chapter meeting on June 12th? If you did, have you been thinking about the best way to publish your online information? I have. If you didn’t go to the meeting, then it’s time to power on and catch up.

At the chapter meeting, Al Stefan from Inso Corporation spoke to us about the DynaText Professional Publishing System. The DynaText system is a set of publishing tools, including a software developer’s kit, that lets writers use their existing publishing tools to create electronic documents for distribution on CD-ROM, LANs, intranets, and the World Wide Web. Inso brought this powerful online publishing system into its Electronic Publishing Solutions line of products upon acquiring Electronic Book Technologies in July 1996. (Al was one of the acquired assets.)

To evaluate the DynaText system, first take a look at what you do now to put your large documents online and keep them updated. How many publishing tools do you use? For printed documents, you might use Adobe FrameMaker. For online versions of the same documents, the list might include FrameBuilder, FrameViewer, FluidView, or FrameViewer Retrieval Tools. For Portable Document Format (PDF) versions, there’s Adobe Acrobat.

For your company Web site, you can convert to HyperText Markup Language (HTML). Several conversion tools are available. But wait. What Internet browser does your reader have? Which browsers support HTML 3.2? Which browsers support eXtensible Markup Language (XML)? Remember, you'll need an HTML editor with good search and replace features to clean up the converted files.

Say your document has been converted successfully. That’s great — for today. What happens when you need to distribute an updated version? You get to go through the whole manual process again! (No pun intended.) How long will it take to get the changes out to your online readers after the writers have finished updating their files?

Are you in enough pain yet? Conversions ad nauseam, with manual fixes. Multiple copies of your document files. Several tools provided by several companies, with dissimilar interfaces and logic. Technical support from multiple locations. Licensing agreements from multiple companies. Let’s look at the DynaText Professional Publishing System. With this system, your objective is to write your documents once, load or convert them into an SGML-tagged document database, and automatically publish these documents in a variety of formats on a variety of platforms. Your document can be published on CD-ROM, the Web, LANs, and intranets. It can be printed in type or Braille. It can also be output to other database programs.
With the Dynatext Professional Publishing System, your objective is to write the document once ... and automatically publish it in a variety of formats on a variety of platforms.

To create a DynaText book, you follow a three stage process, the last of which is not necessary once you’ve created a similarly formatted book to be published on the same platform:

(1) During the first stage, you create the book using Microsoft Word, Interleaf, FrameMaker, or an SGML editor, such as ArborText’s ADEPT Editor. It’s important during this stage to use word processor styles to format each and every document element and to apply these styles consistently.

(2) During the second stage, you use the DynaTag program to convert these word processor files, along with their embedded graphic files and media objects, and build an SGML-based repository in a DynaText database. Here you set up conversion templates, which can be used to automate this conversion for similar documents or updates of the same document.

Also in this stage, you use the DynaText Indexer to automatically build an index that is used for full-text searches, a dynamic table of contents, cross-references, and dynamic lists of tables, figures, and footnotes. If your book’s source files are in SGML, conversion isn’t necessary, but you still need to run DynaText Indexer. The end result of this stage is a DynaText E-book.

(3) During the third stage, you define online presentation behavior. Using InStEd, DynaText’s Interactive Stylesheet Editor, you generate stylesheets for the different views you want to have available for your online readers. With these stylesheets, you control color and format. You can also control visibility of conditional information. With dynamic filtering of conditional document elements, you can display information specific to a skill level, a set of tasks, or a security clearance.

Once these stylesheets are created, they can be reused any number of times for similar types of documents. Once the DynaText E-book is created, the publishing begins. As an online publisher, you distribute the E-book in a compressed DynaText repository database, the stylesheets for the views you want your reader to be able to see, and perhaps a viewer or browser. If you publish on CD-ROM, you can include the DynaText Browser or a custom browser created by your software developers. If you know your readers have specific viewers or browsers, just include the stylesheets for those views. If you publish on the Web, you can set up a DynaWeb server. DynaWeb is the Web server component of the DynaText system. The DynaWeb server automatically determines the reader’s browser, formats the requested document with the appropriate stylesheet, and transfers only the parts of the document the reader asks to see.

DynaText books are fast and dynamic. When a reader wants to view or search a DynaText book, only the information specific to the user’s request is converted through the appropriate stylesheet and sent to the user’s browser. This information is displayed quickly because the entire document is not downloaded to the reader’s system.

When it comes to delivering large online documents, the DynaText Professional Publishing System can save you an incredible amount of time. Online delivery can be almost instantaneous once writers have completed an update. Where you need to anticipate investing large blocks of time is in the setting up of conversion templates (used in Stage 1) and presentation stylesheets (used in Stage 3). After you are set up, the DynaText system converts documents on the fly.

What happens when the next version of Netscape is released? Create a new Netscape stylesheet (Stage 3). What happens if you must alter the user’s guide for your company’s new notebook computer to make procedures for novices available without displaying expert information? Identify the new conditional information in the document’s source files (Stage 1), edit the conversion template used for the document, if necessary (Stage 2), and create a new novice stylesheet (Stage 3). No new conversion tools are needed in either case.

Of course, we have to ask how much clean up is required after conversions to and from SGML. Al told us during the meeting that if writers can consistently stylize their documents, the process is much smoother with the DynaText tools. The stylesheets you create with InStEd can convert logically as well as literally.

The DynaText system is an online document delivery system, with “delivery” being the key word. The DynaText system is not a system for helping writers create the original source files. At the Carolina Chapter meeting, Al asked Diane Peterson, from ArborText, Inc., to speak briefly about the ADEPT Editor, an authoring tool that creates pure SGML document source files. With a product like the ADEPT Editor, you can avoid the conversion to SGML that is required to create a DynaText E-book. As you work in ADEPT, the editor constantly checks the SGML document type definition (DTD) to keep you from inadvertently generating erroneous SGML code. Version 7.0 of ADEPT Editor is due out in September and is very similar to Microsoft Word. You can find out more about ArborText and the ADEPT Editor on the Web at http://www.arbortext.com/.

As technology and streamlined budgets make changes to the norm, more and more of us face the task of putting our documents online. If you’re interested in doing some exploring on your own, look around the Inso Web site (http://www.inso.com). This site is filled with information on Inso electronic publishing tools, including good descriptive information on the DynaText Professional Publishing System.

Editor’s Note: For additional information about the tools that are mentioned here, read this article on the Web at http://www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/Heights/4870/dyna.html. In the Web article, you can click on all listed URLs to visit the entioned Web sites. Stay tuned for more Web-based articles from the Newsletter Staff! End of article.

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