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XPath Expressions for Data Reporting


In our earlier post titled Use XPath Expressions to Refine Data Selection, we described how to use XMLSpy to develop an XPath expression to select one table of data contained in a much larger data set provided by the US Department of Education.

An HTML report based on XPath data selection in StyleVision

We can reuse the work in XMLSpy to quickly create a StyleVision design for a report or an e-Form to communicate highlights from the data.
Read more…

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It’s Here – the Industry’s First Truly Portable XML Form


Hopefully by now you’ve downloaded the 2011r3 versions of the Altova product line released last week. We’ve introduced a bunch of new features and functionalities that put even more power into the hands of IT professionals. (Note: If you haven’t already done so, you can download the latest versions of all of the tools in the Altova product suite from our Web site.)clip_image004One of the features we’re most excited about is the new Portable XML Form (PXF) file for StyleVision and Authentic. The PXF is a file into which all elements required to support a StyleVision design including XML Schemas, database connections, images, etc. can be embedded. Imagine the possibilities! In this post we’ll take an in-depth look at the PXF file format as well as some use cases.

When you create a design in StyleVision and then save it as a PXF file, all design elements including XML Schema and instance documents, SPS design files, XSLT, images, and other external files are embedded in the PXF. The PXF file can be transported, downloaded, copied, and saved like any other data file, meaning that developers no longer have to send or install multiple files to support a design. This is especially useful for integrating Authentic electronic forms into your projects – and consequently great news for business users. Authentic electronic forms created in StyleVision allow business users to edit databases and XML files without wrangling with database and XML syntax. The PXF file makes developing – and using – these forms even easier. Take, for example, the bane of many a business traveler’s existence – the expense report. Fortunately for the IT professional using Altova tools the expense report is a snap – a developer can create an eye-catching report that meets the business needs of the client by taking advantage of StyleVision’s many design capabilities. clip_image002 Once the design is complete, creating a PXF file is as easy as selecting Save As and toggling the Save as PXF file radio button. clip_image003 When prompted to select files to embed in the PXF, remember to check the output formats that end users will be able to publish content in. clip_image004 With all design elements now embedded in the PXF file, you can distribute the form easily and efficiently.

  • Is the expense form going to be integrated into a larger project? Send the PXF file to the development lead, who will be delighted at receiving a single file rather than a bunch of individual files.
  • Do business users need to access the expense form online? Rather than saving the XML Schema, instance documents, SPS, images, etc., to the server separately, simply put the PXF file on the server – everything needed to deploy the design is in the PXF.
  • Ready for QA to test it? Email the PXF to the team. They will be able to deploy it simply by opening the PXF in Authentic, just as a business user would. The schema is embedded in the PXF so you can rest assured that XML and database content is being edited and updated appropriately.
  • Are you dealing directly with the end user? Email the PXF to him – the Authentic Community Edition is free and easy to install so a business user can distribute the form and all associated files and data to relevant stakeholders across the organization.

The PXF is a boon to business users as well as developers. Depending on how you deploy the expense report, business users can access it via Authentic Desktop or in their browser with the Authentic Browser Plug-in. As he would with any Authentic form, an end user simply opens the PXF file in Authentic Desktop and can immediately begin editing or adding data. The associated XML file or database is updated automatically to reflect the changes. End users accessing an Authentic form via the Authentic Browser Plug-in likewise update XML and database data by entering and editing information in the form. clip_image005 The value of the PXF for end users is the same as for the developer – portability. Because the PXF file contains all of the files necessary to support the Authentic form, including the instance document, the business user can enter his expense data, resave the file, and then send the PXF to the accounting department. He can even email the PXF directly from the application. clip_image006 The PXF file also provides business users with the ability to publish content in multiple output formats. In our example the developer clicked HTML, RTF, PDF, and Word 2007+ in the Configure Portable XML Form (PXF) dialog box. A business user can instantly create an output document in each of these formats by clicking one of the output buttons on the menu bar. clip_image007 Here we’ve clicked the PDF button, generating a document that a business traveler can mail to the corporate office, keep for his records, etc. clip_image008 Although the portability afforded by the PXF significantly increases the value of electronic forms by simplifying the process of getting critical business data into XML, Authentic forms in general are an easy sell to business users. In addition to comprehensive editing capabilities, Authentic enhances the business value of electronic forms through features that include real-time validation of input data, industry standard XML templates, project management support, and dynamic layout based on user input. In addition to all of the functionality and editing capabilities Authentic offers, the application can compete on price – the Authentic Community Edition is free. We hope that you are as intrigued by the possibilities offered by PXF as we are. By providing developers an easy way to integrate electronic forms into their projects and a simple (and free) way for business users to distribute and publish information, PXF could radically transform the process of creating and editing XML and database content. This is a truly exciting prospect. For those of you not yet using our tools, this is a perfect time to give them a try. Click here to download free, fully functional trial versions of our software. They’re good for 30 days!

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Have you used the PXF form yet? How did you use it? Please share your story with other Altova users by commenting on this blog post. Think it would make a great case study? Email us at marketing@altova.com. We’d love to hear from you!

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New Feature : Authentic® Scripting in StyleVision®


StyleVision has really benefited from some very cool new features in our past and current releases – absolute positioning, editable variables in eForms, global templates, and of course, charting, bring power and flexibility to your report generation and electronic forms designs. Now with our 2011 release, the addition of an integrated scripting environment expands on these features, giving you the ability to create robust data entry applications for Authentic users. Scripting functionality is embedded directly into the StyleVision design (SPS) so that Authentic end-users only need to open an eForm to start updating XML and database sources. Event handler and macro components can be written using supported scripting languages, JavaScript or VBScript, and you can also design input forms graphically using drag and drop functionality. To embed scripting functionality in a StyleVision design (SPS), open the Scripting Editor window via the Authentic | Edit Authentic Scripts menu command or by choosing Authentic Script from the Design tab context menu. stylevision_script The Scripting Editor provides an interface through which you can create any of the following four main components:

  • Global declarations – scripts that contain variables and functions that can be used by forms, event handlers, and macros.
  • Macros – scripts that are used to assign user-defined actions to design elements, toolbar buttons or context menu items.
  • Event handlers – scripts that can be associated with a variety of available events (OnSave, OnValidate, etc.) for user interface elements in an Authentic form. The return value from the script typically instructs the application how to continue its processing.
  • Forms – simple graphical components made up of text input fields, buttons, and so on. Forms are used to show dialogs or request additional user input within scripts that are used as event handlers and macros.

Global Declarations The GlobalDeclarations component is presented by default in every scripting project. Variables and functions are added using code fragments written in the scripting language (JScript or VBScript) associated with your project. An example function, StartChangingAddress, appears below: script1 Variables or functions created in the global declarations script are accessible to all forms, event handlers, and macros in your scripting project. Macros Macros let you create functions that are called from other scripts or event handlers. For example, the macro shown below uses the GlobalDeclarations, including the StartChangingAddress function, to create a form for adding information to an active XML document. script2 Macros can be specified and associated with StyleVision design elements using the Authentic group in the Properties window. Object events that are supported for macros are:

  • OnBeforeChange
  • OnAfterChange
  • OnBeforeLinkClick
  • OnClick
  • OnSetFocus
  • OnKillFocus

clip_image003 Macros are controlled in the right-click menu of the scripting project tree, where you can add or rename. clip_image004 Event Handlers Event handlers can also be defined by selecting the Events icon in the toolbar of the Properties and Events pane. Here, you can define the behavior that the application should exhibit once a specific action is initiated or completed. Events that can be controlled include mouse movement and clicks, drag and drop, key presses, and more. Authentic View event scripts added in Version 2011 include:

  • On_AuthenticLoad – allows Authentic to set up features before the user starts working with the file
  • On_AuthenticBeforeSave – lets you prevent saving if, for example, entered data is not complete
  • On_AuthenticToolbarButtonClicked – allows behavior to be extended/modified on toolbar click
  • On_AuthenticUserAddedXMLNode – lets Authentic load any child nodes or textual content to the newly added XML node, if necessary, so that the form is prefilled with data

The scripting editor provides a folder which contains the full set of events for which event handler scripts can be written. clip_image005 Forms The Authentic Scripting Editor lets you graphically build forms using a palette of objects such as text input fields, buttons, labels, and more. General form properties such as size, background color, font styles, etc. are defined in the Properties pane. clip_image006 The form object palette provides all of the objects that are available. Registered ActiveX controls can also be added by selecting the Add ActiveX Control command in the right-click menu. clip_image007 Once an object has been inserted in your design, you can specify its appearance properties – such as alignment, borders, scroll bars, etc. – in the Properties pane.

Scripting in Practice

Authentic View scripting gives StyleVision designers complete and flexible control over various aspects of the user interface. In addition, extensions to the existing COM APIs add more flexibility for scripting and interactive eForm design. For example: Interactive object-specific design elements – such as the click of a button, modification of form elements, focus change between fields, etc. – can be accessed through the Authentic interface. User actions include OnClick, OnBeforeLinkClick, OnBeforeChange, OnAfterChange, OnSetFocus, and OnKillFocus. clip_image008 Entry helper windows can be suppressed to ensure that Authentic end-user access is limited only to modification of the intended elements, attributes, and entities. Context (right-click) menus can be completely customized by removing existing or adding new commands. clip_image009 New toolbar buttons can be created and associated with macros, giving the designer the ability to add completely new commands to the toolbar. clip_image010 Custom and standard toolbars can be modified by disabling any buttons that the end-user should not have access to. clip_image011 The COM API has also been extended with new interfaces and additional methods and properties including:

  • AuthenticView (i.e. CreateXMLNode, EvaluateXPath, GetToolbarButtonState)
  • AuthenticRange (i.e. IsSelected, GetVariableValue)
  • XMLData (i.e. GetChildElement, InsertChildAfter)
  • AuthenticEventContext (i.e. GetXMLNode, SetVariableValue)
  • AuthenticContextMenu (i.e. CountItems, DeleteItem, GetItemText)

Check out all of this new functionality and more – download a free 30-day trial of StyleVision today!

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XML & Digital Textbooks


Last Sunday’s New York Times had an interesting article on the front page about digital textbooks for the K-12 market. The piece was undoubtedly partially inspired by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (he’s from California by the way) recently announced initiative that will replace some high school textbooks with digital versions. In fact, compared to standard printed texts, digital textbooks:

  • Can be more quickly and readily updated by publishers
  • Can often be purchased as individual chapters or a complete text
  • Are easier to store and transport, if downloaded to a portable computer
  • Can be combined with other digital materials, such as portions of other textbooks, periodical articles, instructor-provided materials, etc.
  • Can offer enormous cost-savings of because of elimination of materials, shipping and storage costs that are partially passed on to purchasers
  • Provide purchasing and procurement efficiencies
  • May feature learning tools content such as hyperlinks to related learning modules, electronic annotation by students, keyword searches, additional graphics and pop-up modules that furnish additional information

And so XML will finally have a chance to truly demonstrate its power in the K-12 market. For my part, I cannot think of a better example of the efficiencies of XML publishing than for education. Certainly most, if not all, of the major educational publishers are already using XML workflows internally because of benefits like validation, single source publishing, amenability to standards and metadata tagging, etc. XML also gives publishers the ability to easily manage multi-dimensional educational content. Educational content, like textbooks and other learning materials, is usually structured around a fairly simple content model using word forms such as titles, paragraphs, quotes, etc. The second dimension of the content is contextual information – footnotes, glossary terms, highlighting items – anything that may be necessary to target a specific audience. For instance, if a piece of content is to be included in a sixth grade textbook it would have different markup than if it were to be used for an eighth grade classroom. The third dimension of K-12 educational content is the standards dimension. Standards are in most cases on the state level and are used to ensure that teachers know exactly what topics they are teaching in a particular piece of the content, ensuring they are covering the complete set of standards for state aptitude tests, like the MCAS. The standards dimension itself has the potential for further layering as content producers adopt their own standards to guide teachers to other relevant standards and topics that the content is aligned to. XML is particularly well-suited to digital publishing of educational content for its ability to easily separate or layer these dimensions and repurpose it in nearly unlimited ways without the need for rekeying information. For example, one company in the article, CK-12 Foundation, develops free “flexbooks” that can be customized to correlate with state standards. Without XML, this would be a nearly (if not completely) impossible undertaking – with XML you can use many of the existing XML content creation tools to streamline the process. So what has taken so long for the K-12 market to embrace XML-enabled digital learning materials? Well, it appears that the issue is an economical one. We still live in a country where many students do not have access to a computer, and few school districts have the means to provide them. Perhaps in the near future there will be a solution for this problem – and perhaps, just perhaps, California has just taken the first steps to lead us in the right direction. So, where does Altova fit into this equation? Well, the Altova MissionKit offers support for intelligent XML content creation and editing for both technical and non-technical users. These tools give educational publishers and other content contributors the ability to work with structured XML content in a comfortable atmosphere, with easy-to-use interfaces, entry-helpers, drag and drop functionality, and a wide variety of options that make working in a team environment a flexible and even seamless process. Visit the Altova website to read more about the MissionKit – or download a free 30-day trial today!

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Wrycan / NAVSEA Case Study



Overview

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, is a division of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), the largest of the United States Navy’s five systems commands. They approached Wrycan, an Altova partner focused on content-centric XML expertise, for help converting some of their legacy format technical manuals to XML based on the Navy ETM XML DTD and recreating them as PDFs. The shipyard had been given a mandate to start utilizing XML as their primary data and storage format and needed a low cost and reliable publishing solution that could be easily maintained by their in-house workforce. Wrycan had some experience working with the Altova MissionKit for XML development, as well as a broad expertise in XML technologies including XML, XSL:FO, and DTD. They chose to use XMLSpy, StyleVision, and Authentic as the development tools for this implementation because of their intuitiveness, ease-of-use, and low price tag.

The Challenge

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard needed to convert about 10,000 pages of content from a legacy format into XML that was conformant to their DTD. This included an automated conversion, manual review and cleanup, and a command line tool to publish the XML back into its original PDF format. As with any large publishing and conversion operation, the project required heavy QA review post-conversion, much of which could be done by non-technical shipyard employees if they had a mechanism to help them interpret and access the XML markup. In addition, because of the relative complexity of the documentation format, which included complicated page layout details such as a variable number of columns per page and different margin widths, callouts interspersed with sections and enumerated lists, as well as many large schematic models, some of which were on foldout pages, the XSL:FO coding promised to present a formidable challenge.

The Solution

Wrycan performed the bulk of the content conversion in-house using custom scripts and some manual processes, along with some technical QA. After the content was converted, Wrycan used StyleVision’s drag and drop design interface to create Authentic e-Forms for editing using the Navy ETM XML DTD as the structural component. Advanced stylesheet functions such as conditional templates and auto-calculations were inserted to facilitate QA and editing workflows. navsea_design After the content conversion, Wrycan implemented a command line processing tool that includes multiple steps such as:

  • Volume assembly from chunks of XML files
    For greater flexibility and usability, the Navy technical manuals were divided up into sections including Front Matter, Chapters, Back Matter, and image files. This enabled Wrycan to make certain parts of these files available for reuse. Components that appeared identically in more than one place within the manuals could be segmented so that changes made in one place would iterate throughout the documentation.
  • XML to XSL-FO conversion
    Wrycan used XMLSpy, Altova’s full-featured XML editor , to hand-code the advanced XSL:FO that was needed for the manuals. The complexity of the XML and PDF output can be seen in the following examples: Volume source, Front Matter source, Chapter source, and Final document (3.8 MB PDF).
  • Custom page formatting
    This project required various page sizes within one document, such as a portrait page followed by a foldout 11″ x 17″ landscape page. There are Naval documentation requirements specifying that different page formats have different printing requirements. For example, foldout pages are printed on one side only while other pages are double-sided.
  • Post processing steps
    There were also page numbering requirements, such as every chapter must start on an odd numbered page. If this causes a page to be blank, a message indicating that the page was intentionally left blank is placed on the page. These requirements are automatically satisfied by Wrycan’s processing tool.
  • PDF creation
    Wrycan integrated RenderX’s XEP software into the processing pipeline to convert the XSL:FO output, including all images and common content, into one PDF file.

The editing of the content is done with Authentic via Stylevision, which was recently upgraded to the most recent release for more advanced table support and authoring options. Below is a sample screenshot of one of the Authentic e-Forms for WYSIWYG XML editing that was generated for NAVSEA based on the StyleVision stylesheet design. navsea_doc

The Results

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard now has an XML publishing solution with native XML editing capabilities. They can reproduce their technical manuals in PDF using XML as the content source. They are now ready to move onto the next step, which is implementing a full scale content management system with workflow and custom publishing capabilities. Find out how Altova tools can help with your documentation and publishing challenges. Download a fully functional free trial of the Altova MissionKit today!

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Technical Brief: Streamlining Localization Processes with Altova Tools


Rapid globalization has had a profound effect on the documentation requirements of many forward-thinking companies. The need to quickly and accurately localize content for distribution to a host of different languages, while at the same time adhering to strict budgetary requirements, means that many companies have to rethink their legacy documentation technologies and workflows. XML and single source publishing have revolutionized content management, document exchange, and multilingual communications by separating content structure from appearance. An XML-based documentation system can greatly reduce costs through facilitating ease of conversion for delivery to many different data formats and types of applications. However, in order to take advantage of the full benefits XML provides, changes must be made in the traditional documentation workflow process. Throughout the documentation workflow, checks and balances are underway to ensure high quality content delivery. The single source concept ensures that these processes (i.e. conversion, edits, etc.) do not have to be repeated or reworked – that all content in the repository requires only minimal restructuring and promotion before being loaded to respective applications for delivery. In a global setting, where documentation needs to be simultaneously distributed to a variety of different languages, archival XML source documents can easily be translated by applying translation scripts as well as rendering scripts that can localize formatting attributes based on language-specific requirements. In addition, translation and maintenance costs can be significantly reduced by normalizing content for an international market.

XML Documentation

XML has long been lauded by the publishing industry as a cost-cutting solution to many process-related issues in content production and delivery. Having content converted to XML allows for enhancements in content organization, indexing, linking, storage, reuse and delivery/display. But just having content converted to XML does not allow it to reach its full benefit. XML and its associated technologies call for redesigned workflows to demonstrate their enormous potential. An optimized workflow for content publishers requires minimal process repetition. Once content is delivered, it is edited and converted to XML and stored in a centralized single source repository within the content management architecture. The XML files themselves will be minimally defined (tagged) so as to allow maximum flexibility. This repository now becomes the core storage mechanism for all deliverable content. It is on the delivery side that this process model demonstrates its primary benefits. Storing content in the single source repository transforms exporting the content to different formats and applications for delivery into a primarily automated process. There is no need for additional conversions or edits each time content is to be delivered to a different medium. In addition, any complications that arise will now be instantly recognized as process-oriented rather than data-oriented.

Translation

Legacy translation memory databases attempt to modularize content by segmenting source and translated text and storing it in a searchable database for reuse. Though these partially automated systems have been proven to reduce costs when compared to manual processes, the fact that translation is generally done at the sentence level means that is often taken out of context and therefore often loses its meaning. XML documents, on the other hand, are inherently modular and do not require the extensive parsing applied by traditional translation memory systems. In addition, XML assets can easily be encoded (with metadata, for example) and tracked throughout the translation process, ensuring that it remains closely associated with the contextual information often required by translators. An XML-enabled single source publishing model is designed to leverage content reuse, enabling organizations to save significant time and money through reducing or even eliminating repeated translations. XML gives publishers the ability to conceptually segment content assets for translation purposes, while at the same time keeping them closely tied to context. In the case of document frameworks, such as technical publishing, where text is often repeated in many different places, the ability to consolidate resources offers potentially enormous savings in translation costs alone.

Standards

A growing number of emerging standards are designed to aid in the localization of document frameworks. Methodologies for translation workflows and document exchange are designed to streamline content management architectures for multilingual environments. These include:

  • Translation Memory eXchange (TMX) – a vendor-neutral XML standard for the exchange of translation memory data between tools and/or translation vendors
  • Term Base eXchange (TBX) – an open XML-based standard for exchanging structured terminological data
  • Open Lexicon Interchange Format (OLIF) – an open, XML-compliant standard for the exchange of terminological and lexical data
  • XML Localization Interchange File Format (XLIFF) – an XML-based vocabulary for the exchange of localizable software and document-based objects and related metadata (XLIFF is also represented in the DITA Translation Subcommittee)
  • Translation Web Services (TransWS) – specifies the calls needed to use Web services for the submission and retrieval of files and messages relating to localization projects
  • XML-based Text Memory (xml:tm) – an open XML standard for embedding text memory directly within an XML document using XML namespace syntax

The extensible nature of XML lends itself to the creation of a wide variety of industry specifications, many of which enable businesses to streamline business processes and improving communication.

Formatting

In today’s global marketplace, organizations are often challenged with having to produce content in a variety of different languages. In a traditional documentation workflow model, this is an extremely arduous process. Legacy publishing software such as Quark, PageMaker, FrameMaker, etc. require expensive and resource-intensive desktop publishing and engineering processes for repurposing. In addition, these page layout applications are generally not well suited for delivery to multiple output formats. XML is inherently extensible, offering an infinite number of ways to define and structure markup. This flexibility also enables it to handle arbitrary data structures and convey information for both human users and machines for processing. In addition, XML also provides broad support for Unicode characters, enabling the automation of text normalization processes and making it natively accessible to multilingual environments. An XML documentation framework offers significant productivity enhancements to the localization workflow. The separation of content from structure and appearance that is inherent to XML gives companies the ability to translate text while at the same time maintaining the document structure dictated by an XML Schema or DTD. Any additional formatting that is required can also be simultaneously implemented through the application of XSLT and/or XSL:FO stylesheets.

Altova Tools for XML-based Single Source Publishing in a Global Environment

There are, of course, several different methods for internationalizing content with XML technologies. Included below are just a few of examples of how Altova tools can be used to streamline global publishing workflows. Multiple Output Formats
StyleVision is a graphical stylesheet design tool that enables users to create one design for simultaneous output to HTML, RTF, PDF, Word 2007 (OOXML), and Authentic electronic forms. stylesheet_designer Language-specific Stylesheets
StyleVision also supports user-defined parameters that allow designers to maintain the modularity of their XML assets through the application of variables. This enables publishers to add unlimited new languages to their documentation by importing language-specific stylesheets and leaving XML content untouched. Design Overview Of course, this approach to multi-lingual publishing can lead to the creation of an enormous number of stylesheets that are increasingly difficult to maintain. SchemaAgent, Altova’s XML-based file management system offers advanced support for managing XSLT (as well as XML Schema and WSDL) document relationships in a large publishing environment. xslt_component  XSL Lang() Function
StyleVision also supports the XSL lang() function, which pulls the correct translation from XML source document(s) based on the xml:lang attribute. In this scenario, the translations could be stored together in one XML instance as specified in the xml:tm standard, or stored separately in language-specific directories. Properties WYSIWYG Authoring Tool
Authentic gives content contributors the opportunity to edit XML directly through e-Forms based on the stylesheet design created in StyleVision. Authentic is available through a free license so that it can be deployed to an unlimited amount of users without increasing costs. This enables translators to work directly with XML, rather than having it transposed at a later date for publishing. Authentic e-Forms tool Authentic also includes a multi-lingual spell-checker that references built-in dictionaries in 18 different languages and vocabularies, allowing writers and translators to ensure the accuracy of their work. Spelling options

Conclusion

Single source publishing calls for the creation of a centralized store of content that can be accessed, reused, and deployed to a variety of different mediums. This enables the integrity of the content to be maintained throughout an infinite number of iterations. In a large documentation localization pool, the ability to adapt to different language and formatting requirements provides significant business advantages. There are several different approaches to maintaining single source content for a global audience. A careful and informed approach to preparing and storing content assets can ensure a variety of benefits including increased quality and consistency, reduction of translation costs, and increased longevity of translation investments. In addition, the XML-enabled single source publishing model facilitates document repurposing for delivery to a variety of different formats, making it accessible to end-users in HTML, RTF, PDF, Word 2007 (OOXML), etc. Incorporating this system within organizations documentation workflow processes enables the presentation accurate, consistent, and standardized information. XSL transformations apply format-specific processing instructions while ensuring that document content and structure remain intact. Migrating content to XML-based single source publication workflows requires some initial planning and technology investment, but the rewards are numerous. Cost reductions in translation and type-setting, faster time-to-market, and the ability to adapt to new language and data structures requirements in the future make the relatively small investment worthwhile. Discover how single source publishing can optimize your global documentation workflows with a free trial of StyleVision.  Please note that StyleVision and the other products mentioned above are available as part of Altova’s software bundle, MissionKit, which offers XML and data management tools for distributed publishing environments.   This technical brief and other resources are available in the Altova Library.

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