Altova StyleVision 2007
XML Publishing Tool for Designers, not Developers
By Matt Dinovo
XML editors are a dime a dozen. Literally hundreds of niche and general editors exist in the marketplace to create, edit, and/or transform XML documents. From this vast landscape of XML editing tools from which to choose, the XML products from Altova, such as the venerable XMLSpy, have consistently been regarded as the best of the breed.
Altova s XML editor portfolio contains various editors to manage XML documents, create and edit schemas, perform XML differencing, and generate data mappings. Altova s entry for creating and editing stylesheets as part of this portfolio is StyleVision. More specifically, Altova StyleVision 2007 is designed to create and edit StyleVision Power Stylesheets (SPS) documents. The SPS format primarily is used to control the display and entry of XML documents in conjunction with a freely downloadable tool from Altova (named Authentic). However, a secondary function of the SPS document format is to specify the output of an XML transformation. So, in this way, one could consider StyleVision to be an XSLT editor, as StyleVision gives you the ability to save the XSLT file generated from the SPS document. However, I feel this is not its intended use, nor should you consider it as such.
The first thing you notice when you create a new StyleVision document is that you need to have a preexisting XSD or DTD schema, HTML file, or database from which to build. You can elect to create a blank SPS document with no source specified, but your available options are few. From these inputs, your toolbox of design elements is created. This is integral to the overall layout of the workspace. On the left side of the screen are the schema source pane, which is the node tree extrapolated from an imported file/database, and the design tree, which contains operations and properties of the SPS document. In the center of the interface is the design surface itself. This surface is a WYSIWYG editor of sorts that offers multiple views of the document as you create it (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Altova StyleVision s interface.
From the design surface you can preview the output in Authentic, HTML, RTF, or PDF format. However, one thing to note is that the PDF preview requires an XSL-FO (formatting objects) processor that you provide (there are several available on the Internet). Documents are created by dragging-and-dropping elements and attributes from the schema source pane onto the design surface. Additionally, you can enter other text, include pictures, and do some rudimentary formatting (bold, italic, etc.) using the built-in editor. There is a built-in style editor for more advanced formatting, though it should be noted that StyleVision is not a CSS editor. You can import external CSS files to use in your SPS project, but any embedded styles you create will not be exported as a separate CSS file.
It is also important to note that StyleVision does not exclusively work with XML documents. StyleVision also has the ability to connect to various database sources through ADO and interpret the database schema in much the same way it interprets XSD documents (as shown in Figure 2).
Figure 2: StyleVision s Select Table dialog box.
Once the selected tables have been analyzed, the row information shows up in the schema source pane. You can then drag database fields onto the design surface like you would with XSD elements/attributes. What is interesting about this database functionality is that when you drag over database fields, a row-navigator template is automatically created. When you view the published document in Authentic, you can navigate through all the records in an application-like fashion. However, in HTML view, all the records are written out. This is important, because if you publish a database-backed document as HTML, the data is static it is simply a snapshot of the data at the time of document creation. Viewing the document in Authentic is interactive, and you ll see the current data and not the data as it was when you created the SPS document.
This brings me to a critical point: StyleVision is, at its core, intended to be used in conjunction with Altova s Authentic product. Authentic is a standalone or browser-based form input tool that lets users fill in forms created from SPS documents. In this way, one can give users a structured user interface that contains validation logic; an advanced UI such as combo and list boxes that, when filled, results in a raw XML file adhering to a particular schema. StyleVision allows users to embed these advanced formatting and scripting features into the SPS document itself. Some of the advanced formatting can be exported to HTML outputs, as well, but I don t see much value in doing that unless you re going to use the generated output as a form in a Web application.
While ultimately I became comfortable with StyleVision, it took a long time to get me there. For a developer like me, using a WYSIWYG paradigm to create XML transforms feels unnatural. This is made worse by the dragging-and-dropping of elements. To get things formatted the way I wanted took multiple checks of my preview as I was creating a document to verify that I got the formatting or styles correct.
After using this product, it is my opinion that it is not a development tool, nor do I believe it is really intended for use by developers. This product is intended for designers who need to publish documents, because, at its heart, StyleVision is a publishing tool. If you have no need for Authentic (and quite a bit of the value proposition is diminished if you aren t planning to use Authentic) and are not needing to publish XML data in HTML, RTF, or PDF format, then this tool is not for you. StyleVision is not a general-purpose XSLT tool. You cannot transform to alternate XML formats, nor can you edit the generated XSLT you can view a read-only version through the HTML preview. If you need to do these kinds of tasks, then one of the many other, more developer-focused XML/XSLT editors is a better choice. However, if you want to publish raw XML data as a finished document, then StyleVision, after you get past the learning curve, is a capable tool to have in your toolbox.
Matt Dinovo is a Senior Solution Developer at Avanade Inc., a Seattle-based integrator for Microsoft technology that is a joint venture between Accenture Ltd. and Microsoft. You can visit his blog at http://mattdinovo.spaces.live.com.
Web Site: http://www.altova.com
Price: Starts at US$499