Serna XML WYSIWYG Editor
V. Kappel, February 2004, send
to the web site
(single user, single platform), $374.00 (single user,
dual platform), $45.00 (academic educational)
wrong, very wrong! I made assumptions before going in and
using the Serna XML Editor program from Syntext and assumptions
can cloud your judgment and cause you to view and evaluate
something incorrectly. At the same time though, Serna was
exciting, interesting and somewhat educational to try.
some basic definitions out of the way, eXtensible Mark-up
Language (XML), is a specification developed by the World
Wide Web Consortium (W3C). XML is a pared-down version
of Standard Generalised Mark-Up Language (the foundation
of HTML and the world wide web), designed especially for
Web documents. It allows designers to create their own
customized tags, enabling the definition, transmission,
validation, and interpretation of data between applications
and between organizations. An example of XML customization
was implemented in 2003 by the U.S. House of Representatives.
A committee issued a list of XML tags to be used for Web
forms on Member Web sites and other Web sites that send
e-mail to congressional offices. The purpose of these forms
is to enable correspondence management systems (CMS) and
other software to easily identify and process types of
information such as name, city, state, zip code, issue,
etc., which will help make the software more efficient
and more effective. The tags will help CMS vendors that
do not currently offer the ability to process incoming
e-mail provide this feature.
I went wrong partly because of Serna's description: “Syntext
Serna is an XML Documentation WYSIWYG editor that allows
casual users and professional authors to create and maintain
complex XML documents as easy as in a conventional word
processor [...] Serna removes this obstacle by hiding XML
behind the familiar façade of a wordprocessor, making
XML editing accessible not only to professional technical
writers, but also managers, clerks and non-technical users
in fields as diverse as law, finance, government, manufacturing
Hey, this is
great! I'm a writer and can do words on a page and I
cut my computer writing teeth on a single disk
WordPerfect floppy. I have used word processors of all
kinds for years. I can create web pages in HTML text and
have done so from the early days of the Web. eXtensible
Markup Language (XML) is hot technology, text based, and
here they have a What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG)
editor for the causal user - me! Serna can't be that hard.
I don’ need no steenkin' user guide, short quick-reference
guide, or developers guide (all provided free on the product
web site - all of which should have been a clue).
Yep! I was wrong! I blissfully opened the program and
sure enough, there was a wordprocessing style of interface
and more, much more. I played with it and tried to use
it and opened the samples provided and tried to create
a simple page on the fly without the help files or the
manuals. It didn't work. Serna is not, to me at least,
an intuitive work-without-reading-the-manual kind of program.
I opened a sample document and down the left side of the
screen was what appeared to be an outline in a tree form.
In the center of the screen was not code or text, but the
WYSIWYG page created from the information in the left frame.
I use outlines quite often to write my articles and reviews.
I could do this. I knew this. Well, not the way this program
works, albeit strangely close.
Word processors use templates. Web creation and display
programs use style sheets. Serna, and I'm going to walk
cautiously here, claims to use open publishing standards
during the whole authoring process and not templates or
style sheets. I opened a beautiful article sample with
the tree already created and an outlined page in the center
section waiting for the context of the article to be added
(typed in, copied in, dragged in). I typed a few paragraphs
pretending to write an article. It sure looked and acted
to me more like a style sheet than a template. It also
felt cramped, as though I was filling out a form. That
feeling may stem more from my word processing background
based on writing a document in whole and then formatting
it afterward. In this case the document was already formatted
and I had to insert my writing. As I said, interesting,
educational and strangely familiar, but different.
I didn't create a document from a blank page - from scratch.
I couldn't figure out how to do it without going to the
users guide or quick reference guide, which I did. I was
to my horror immediately pulled down into an XML programmer's
world. Words such as XML Schema, DTD, document metadata
and writing scripts began on page one. What happened to
the easy-to-use part?
Okay, I was
getting a little disgruntled with the program. This isn't
going to be as easy as I had assumed (marketing
pople take note: watch your language!). Here’s a
partial quote from the 1.2 users guide (not the programmers
guide): “Serna uses (unmodified) GNU Aspell spell
checker that is coming with GNU LGPL license - the spelling
library aspell-*.*, located in bin directory of the installation
and to files residing in spell/data files.” I was
looking for instructions on how to start with a blank page
and step-by-step instructions for using the program. Information
was there, but certainly not in the form that I desired.
I printed out a few of their not-templates and not-style
sheet examples and these looked great. I'm sure a programmer
created them for the company. I would love to be able to
create nice looking documents easily with a wordprocessor-like
XML program. I do believe it is the future of document
creation. I just couldn't do much with this version of
If I had the time to learn XML programming, I'm sure that
Serna would make a wonderful tool which would serve me
well. But I'm not a programmer. The Serna documents sure
looked great and - sigh - I would love to be writing this
right now with their program, but I'm not. Here is where
I finally realized my assumptions were wrong. This wasn't
designed for the casual user. I'm certain the major market
for this software is experienced XML programmers looking
to make their work easier.
If you know
programming, XML or otherwise, and can use a program
like this to make your work easier and faster,
then download the trial and give it a try. Do it especially
if you work in a business environment where XML is becoming
priority and important. This program could be a real time
saver and make writing XML documents much easier, once
you know how. Me, I'm afraid I'm going to have to wait
a while. My word processor’s newest version says
it can save in XML. I'm going to check that out next.
Letters to the Editor are welcome and occasionally abused in public. Send e-mail to: email@example.com