Semantic Editor Application Search

15:10 Sun 08 Apr 2007
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I’m still searching for semantic authoring tools, and spent some time yesterday trying out Vex and WYM editor. Both look promising, but neither does enough of what I want.

To recap, what I’m really looking for is something that behaves mostly like a word processor but outputs minimalist, clean, XHTML (or, say, DocBook XML), or some other plain-text format that is focused on structure and semantics rather than presentation. HTML with presentation controlled by CSS would be ideal.

Vex is based on Eclipse, which brings the advantage of access to plenty of Eclipse tools, but does make it quite heavy, and the Eclipse environment is much less friendly for single-document creation than your typical word processor. It’s not easy to customize, either, and making it use my typical white-on-black writing mode proved too difficult for me. (This is probably user error.) It doesn’t appear to do curly quotation marks, something that I didn’t think would be a problem—I could just insert them myself using the Alt-0147/Alt-0148 shortcuts, which I’ve been using for years. But that doesn’t work, because Vex (or, perhaps, Eclipse) doesn’t ignore the keystrokes coming from the numeric keypad when Alt is held down, so instead of “ I get 0147“. That minor glitch is a big deal for me. Combined with a kind of general kludgy feel (and the fact that my cursor kept disappearing), I couldn’t see myself using Vex as my everyday word processor. Furthermore, active development on it seems to have stopped, which is a shame, because it’s a good idea, and it’s not like there’s a wide array of semantic editors out there to replace it.

Next stop: WYM editor. This is an in-browser editor, so presents some immediate problems, because I want something to edit local files, not something to aid entry in Web forms. Still, like Vex, it’s a good idea and a promising start. Their demo looks good, if primitive. Issues here include a lack of keyboard shortcuts (an editor where I have to click on a toolbar to make things bold, or to create new elements, is not going to work for me) and the fact that there’s no loading or saving that I can see. It just manipulates whatever is in the textarea. I can’t use it as an everyday word process. But, it’s written entirely in HTML and JavaScript, so I could help it along. That’s a promising possibility, and I will definitely look into it. That wouldn’t hurt my JavaScript any, and I could try to push development towards something that could be used as a local editor as well as an online one (although there may be significant technical challenges there, around loading and saving).

The idea of working on it gave me another idea, which is to look at the possibility of writing an editor myself in XUL, the UI markup language used by the Mozilla suite of products. Since I want to output XHTML, and look at XHTML, and use CSS to control its appearance, an engine built to do just that seems like a good starting point. I have absolutely no idea how difficult this would be, although I suspect “very”. Still, that would be a very worthwhile project, I feel. Time to add that to the to-do list…

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One Response to “Semantic Editor Application Search”

  1. Brandon Says:

    I know this post is years old, but given the topic I think it’s appropriate…

    “Your search – site:tadhg.com TeX – did not match any documents.”

    I think it’s odd that someone looking for document preparation in a “plain-text format that is focused on structure and semantics rather than presentation” – a programmer no less – would not find just what he wanted in TeX. You can even process TeX documents into HTML (or rich text format for your WYSIWYG friends, or just about anything else).

    Revising my above search term to ‘latex’ reveals a few hits.. so I guess you have considered it. Consider it seriously.. It seems like TeX is much more powerful than XHTML.

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