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Stylus Studio 2007 XML <st1:City><st1:place>Enterprise</st1:place></st1:City> Suite

Sophisticated XML Editing on a Budget



Stylus Studio 2007 XML Enterprise Suite

Sophisticated XML Editing on a Budget


By Mike Riley


XML file editing has certainly come a long way from simple text editors like Notepad. Along with the complexity associated with schemas with deep hierarchies and the variants created to handle data integration and transformation, unassisted hand coding of complex XML today is reserved for patient geniuses and berhackers. For the rest of us, products like Stylus Studio make the process considerably less painful, and even, well, fun at times.


Having reviewed and used for years Altova s XML Spy (Stylus Studio s fiercest competitor; search for reviews of several versions of the product on, I had high expectations of what an advanced XML editing experience should entail (Stylus Studio is a product of the DataDirect Technologies division of Progress Software). Secretly I had hoped that Stylus Studio possessed some killer innovation that would propel it far past the competition. Although I never encountered anything as such, what I did discover was a solid product that addressed criticisms with XML Spy I ve harbored for some time. About the only area that Stylus Studio lacked competitive parity was its lack of add-in support for Visual Studio (or even Eclipse, for that matter), thereby keeping XML editing within the confines of the Enterprise Suite.


Figure 1: Multiple window panes can quickly sap away valuable desktop real estate, especially when working on a low resolution display.


The interface, although not exceptional, was a step above the competition. It flowed more easily and had a more intuitive approach toward working with XML. In other words, it rarely got in the way of the work at hand. The UI also didn t have an obnoxious chrome tube look, though it does default to abnormally large toolbar icons. Fortunately, these can be readjusted to normal size. Even so, I m puzzled by why these commercial XML editors are compelled to live within non-standard Windows application interfaces. Why they simply can t emulate Visual Studio s look and feel is something I haven t quite figured out. At the very least, tools such as Stylus Studio should provide users with a classic Windows layout for nit-picks like myself who prefer to work in familiar environments with a minimum of gaudy graphics.


Beyond the UI, Stylus Studio s XML support is stunningly comprehensive, practically covering the entire gamut of meaningful XML formats. This includes XQuery and XSLT editing, mapping, profiling, and debugging; XPath version 2.0 support in the form of an XPath Evaluator and Express Generator; and something the company calls Sense:X support, an IntelleSense-like behavior for XPath syntax editing.


Figure 2: Document wizards provide step-by-step templates for starting new projects.


The product also features Document Type Definition (DTD) visual editing and validation, EDI integration to EDITFACT and X12 formats, built-in XSL:FO transformation to HTML or PDF, XML Schema and XSD documentation generation, and an HTML to XSLT stylesheet designer that rapidly accelerates the creation of abstracted presentation layers. The WSYWIG XSLT editor is better than what I ve seen, but still is not quite as easy to use as, say, Adobe Dreamweaver for simplicity and design elegance. In fact, a Dreamweaver-specific plug-in in future editions of Stylus Studio would be extremely welcome to assist with the construction of more attractive XSTL designs. At the very least there should be an easy integration between the two via a selectable external design editor mechanism.


Figure 3: Stylus Studio includes a built-in XSLT:FO processing engine for XSLT output analysis.


Product documentation is comprehensive and well organized. And somewhat related to documentation is Stylus Studio s Web site, one of the most comprehensive product sites I ve seen. The site is packed with extensive drill-down coverage that documents each of the numerous features, as well as screencasts demonstrating many of these capabilities. The screencast videos serve a dual purpose of educating customers and potential customers. It s a good marketing strategy that more programming tool vendors would be smart to employ. The patient student willing to view all the presentations on the Stylus Studio site will be well educated about the main attractions the program has to offer, as well as be able to apply them to various XML development scenarios. A fully functional trial version of the product is also available from the Web site.


Stylus Studio offers Web developers and XML gurus a comfortable set of features to accomplish sophisticated XML editing objectives. Although not quite the nirvana I was hoping for, it gives the more expensive, albeit entrenched, competitors something to worry about. If you are looking for a useful, comprehensive XML tool but are budget-challenged, or are not interested in additional features found in competing products that will go unused, give Stylus Studio a test run. You may be as pleasantly surprised by its power and accessibility as I was.




Reasonably priced.

Lack of integration with Visual Studio or other external design products.

Excellent XPath and related technology support.

XSLT editing could be better.


Mike Riley is an advanced computing professional specializing in emerging technologies and new development trends. He also is a contributing editor for asp.netPRO. Readers may contact Mike at mailto:[email protected].



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Price: US$895



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