SoftQuad released version 1.0 of XMetaL in 1998. At that time, it was the only dedicated XML editor on the market. Today XMetaL offers a more intuitive product and a powerful set of tools that can be used to create, edit, and save XML and SGML content on par with Arbortext’s much more expensive Adept Editor.
Unfortunately, as is true with most XML editors, you still need to have some knowledge of XML and the document structure to work efficiently in XMetaL. The interface, although intuitive with some knowledge of XML, does not look like Word or any other popular word processor. The interface is divided into three panes.
- a pane that illustrates the tree structure
- a pane with the content
- a pane that contains a list of elements or attributes allowed in a document if you are authoring against a DTD
XMetaL provides three views for authoring in the content pane.
- plain text
The plain text view shows the XML mark-up as if you were working in a text editor. The tags-on view graphically illustrates the beginning and end of elements with arrows. The normal view allows you to edit and insert content without any knowledge of the XML syntax. The normal view can be difficult to author in when creating highly structured documents because it is difficult to tell what element your insertion point is in and therefore what other elements you can insert if you are working against a DTD.
The tags-on view is a useful compromise between the normal view and the expert plain text view. The tags-on view displays the position of tags while retaining the layout of the page. The structure view feature improves the usability of the product by creating a structure similar to a Windows help file, which simplifies navigation in a long document. Most users will find that using a combination of all views is necessary to author content.
Although XMetaL can be a powerful and inexpensive tool for authoring XML content, it may not be the best tool for users without some XML training. Intermediate to advanced XML users, however, will find XMetaL to be intuitive and easy to use.