Document Computing '94

Erik Paesmans

SGML BeLux, Vol. 2, N°1

From November 29th until December 2nd, Technology Appraisals Ltd. organised its 2nd International Conference on "Document Computing".

This time, the conference focused on "user environments" supporting the "control over all document content elements". As electronic documents become more and more important for the day to day operations of a company (keeping vital information up-to-date, reducing the cost of documentation, enabling the reuse of information) users need better tools for accessing these documents.

Document engineering solutions - what and how

The conference opened with the presentation of case studies in which different users' needs were identified. The use of SGML as a means of addressing these needs was emphasised throughout.

Mrs. Jeanne El Andaloussi (Bull - France) shared her experiences on migrating large documents sets to SGML. This migration to SGML was dictated by the need to achieve platform independency, to produce documentation on different media and in different formats, and to exchange information between Bulls' departments and partners.

Mr. Ton van Raaij (Consultant - Netherlands) discussed the effects new EU regulatory requirements will have on the required quality of technical documentation. Specific issues were considered such as how these regulations are to be applied, and how SGML may help in ensuring the quality and completeness of technical documents.

Mr. Eddie Nelson (British Airways - UK) explained the advantages that the Aviation Industry sees in using SGML as a common portable format for exchanging information between different suppliers and as a cost-effective means of having electronic documentation on board of planes.

Mr. Gregory Vaughan (Database Publishing Systems - UK) defended the idea of gathering in one single repository a master set of data allowing the versatile generation of documents in different formats.

Mr. Harry Summerfield (Zandar Corporation - USA) presented his company's solution for transforming an SGML document into a format supported by off-the-shelf wordprocessing software.

Documents and databases - making the right decision

Mr. Tim Bray (Open Text Corporation - Canada) discussed the requirements and the possible design approaches for document databases. At present, the lack of data sharing, reuse and inter-operability between document applications is the bottleneck in document engineering. He therefore compared the advantages of document databases using SGML, based on relational databases or object-oriented databases.

Mr. Tend Carrell (Information Dimensions - UK) presented his view on user requirements in terms of what a document is (components of different types in different formats, shared between several documents), what the possible document database tools are (file systems, RDBMS, OODBMS, groupware), what the possible applications are (publishing/knowledge repository), and what technical problems have been solved (validation) or still have to be solved (search tools, multi-lingual DBs).

Mr. John Chelsom (CSW Informatics - UK) explained how structured compound documents naturally map onto an object-oriented database model. While most current document databases are relational, advances which have been made in OODBMS standards and technologies (e.g. the OQL query language) are slowly resulting in integrated SGML document databases based on OODBMS.

Electronic information delivery

Mr. Wiegert Tierie (Adobe Systems Europe - Netherlands) compared the SGML and the Adobe Acrobat approach to electronic documents. Acrobat 2.0 provides an independent layer for cross-platform document delivery which maintains the layout of documents. According to Mr. Tierie maintaining the original layout is a key requirement for documents for which the appearance is a crucial aspect.

Mr. Wieger Mulder (Hollandse Signaalaparaten - Netherlands) analysed the constraints (documents coming from different sources) and requirements (on-board documentation, consistent modifications, easy search) which the naval and aerospace industry has for electronic documents. These constraints and requirements make the use of paper almost impossible, and he believed only IETMs (Interactive Electronic Technical Manuals) were capable of addressing these challenges.

Mr. Sandy Ressler (NIST - USA) spoke about the distribution of documents over the Internet and how discovery tools (WAIS, Gopher, Veronica,...) help the user in navigating though these documents. She discussed how the adoption of HTML, basically a very simple DTD, had allowed for the tremendous success of the World-Wide Web.

Mr. Eric van Herwijnen (NICE Technologies - Netherlands) explained that the growth of the World-Wide Web (20 million potential users, 40% growth in a year, 200 new servers per week) is due to its ease of navigation (following connections between documents).

Mr. Geoffrey Stephenson (Knowledge Exchange Technologies - Luxembourg) analysed the current and future needs for information exchange over networks with respect to the present technical situation. Current limitations are a result of the wide diversity in authoring tools and their lack of inter-operability and conversion support. But also the proliferation of new, incompatible document reading programs does not make it any easier to support information reuse and search by content.

New document concepts and their impact

Mr. Richard K. Moore (Oracle Corporation - USA) argued that collaborative document-centric work requires the use of live portable documents that can contain complex information and allow different views and operations on different platforms. He believed that an object-oriented approach will make possible such "live documents".

Mr. David Best (Touche Ross Management Consultants) explained how groupware can be used to support SGML document workflow. Using groupware it is possible to rationalize the different workflow processes and improve collaboration between document users.

Mr. David Weinberger (Evident Marketing - USA) compared two different views of a document: as an object or as a set of pages. The object-oriented view of a document improves the ergonomics and reusability of the document by making possible multiple access structures. He believed that the document object is to be considered as the human interface to the information contained within it.

Mr. Jean Paoli (Grif - France) introduced the concept of a DOI (Document Oriented Interface) as it is now supported by Microsoft's OLE and Apple's OpenDoc. A compound document is a collection of fragments (text, graphics, tables, links between documents) of different types, which can be accessed by different tools. According to Mr. Paoli, SGML can play an important role within the DOI model.

latest update: November 21 1995
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