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NOTE TO TOOL OWNERS: In this blog I will occasionally make statements about products that you will take exception to. My intent is to always be factual and accurate. If I have made a statement that you consider to be incorrect or innaccurate, please bring it to my attention and, once I have verified my error, I will post the appropriate correction.

And before you get too exercised, please read the post, date 9 Feb 2006, titled "All Tools Suck".

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Some Tools That Suck Significantly Less

Having ragged on tools in general, here's a list of a few tools that, by my analysis and experience, I can certify as "minimally sucky":

- Antenna House XSL Formatter. An XSL-FO implementation that implements essentially every useful feature of the XSL-FO recommendation with a high degree of correctness, provides needed and useful extensions, has very high engineering quality, excellent support, pretty good API, decent documentation, good platform coverage, and it does Thai (which until recently was distinguishing).

- RenderX XEP. An XSL-FO implementation that is a very close second to XSL Formatter in all respects. It's just a little less complete and correct in its feature implementation but has very high performance and comparable support and documentation quality. And now XEP does Thai too, making things a little more interesting in the XSL FO implementation world.

To my mind, these two tools exemplify how standards-based software tools should be: they compete competently, vigorously, and fairly on value, providing tools that will serve their users well at a reasonable cost with minimal proprietary lock-in. They participate constructively in the standards process and generally make me happy.

In my many years of experience few tools have given me more pleasure and caused me less pain than these two products. Their existence has made it possible for me and my professional collegues to achieve remarkable success in creating sophisticated, affordable, sustainable publishing systems using XSL-FO.

My genunine thanks go out to the teams at RenderX and Antenna House.

Another tool that doesn't really suck at all is the Saxon XSLT engine from Mike Kay. Saxon is remarkable in being software of the highest engineering quality that supports essentially 100% of the relevant standards and is backed by exceptional support, especially given that it's just one man doing it and it's free, open-source software. I don't think it's overstating things to say that Mike Kay is a god among men and it's not within my power to meaningfully repay him for the value that Saxon has provided me personally. It's the only XSLT engine I use both for feature reasons (it's the only implementation that provides the collator extension support I need) and for quality reasons: it is as close to a bug-free piece of non-trivial software as I've ever worked with, and its fast. Wicked fast.

Thanks Mike.

There are a few other tools, maybe I'll mention them at some point. The fact that I haven't mentioned your tool doesn't mean that you don't suck less, but I'm hard pressed to think of any other tool that I depend on day-to-day for my XML-related work that has the same level of completeness and quality as these three pieces of software.

Arbortext Editor (nee Epic Editor nee Adept Editor) is also at the top of the list: it's a solid tool that implements XML and related useful specifications with remarkable completeness. It has good integration features and documentation. Support is usually pretty good. It's a powerful tool that can solve a lot of problems. It's level of suck is pretty low, but it does not quite achieve the level of excellence of the foregoing. It does crash occasionally (but almost never loses data or at least not a significant amount of data), it is a little spendy (reflective of its value but still spendy relative to its competition and what people want to spend).

Maybe next I'll discuss why all XML content management systems are, without exception, heinous piles of crap that should be avoided at all costs....


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I have introduced your blob in my Japesene blog (on 12 Feb.) and its English translation (today).

T. Kobayashi

7:16 PM  
Blogger Eliot Kimber said...

Can you provide a link to both versions of the blog?



6:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Concerning Epic, I agree with the quality and the really superb user support, but the attitude of the company shifted away from technical excellence to marketing.
As a result existing and loyal implementation partners became competitors from one day to another: in Europe at least.
I just wondered if you experienced the same in the US?

9:48 AM  
Blogger Eliot Kimber said...

I know that Innodata Isogen has had some stormy history with Arbortext but my relationships have been entirely with the technical folks at Arbortext and have always been friendly and productive.

1:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>Maybe next I'll discuss why all XML content management systems are, without exception, heinous piles of crap that should be avoided at all costs....

Can't wait for that one as I'm working with one of those right now.
We might move on to X-Hive Docato. Have you ever worked with it? How much does it sucks on your scale??

12:43 PM  
Blogger Eliot Kimber said...

I have not personally worked with X-Hive and Docato but my collegues at Innnodata Isogen have. As I don't have personal experience with the tool and therefore can't point to specific weaknesses or strengths, I don't really want to say anything, as anything I did say would be hearsay. If you contact me directly I can put you in contact with one of my collegues who has worked with it directly.

My collegue Brandon Jockman wrote a helpful paper for XML Europe 2003, "Hunting XML CMS AntiPatterns", which you can here: This paper can help you determine if X-Hive (or any other CMS) is a good match for your requirements.

6:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you when it comes to the Antenna House XSL Formatter. It's a rock solid no frills product which delivers exactly what it promises.

4:38 AM  
Blogger Hugh said...

The Jockman reference seems to be an HTML version of a ppt... which unfortunately is mainly white text on a white background. The ppt is at

8:32 AM  

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