By Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler

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It’s a fact: Microsoft Word is a word processor. Two more facts. Microsoft has not marketed Word as an XML editor. And, they don’t plan to. Why? Because MS Word is not an XML authoring tool, no mater what your IT team—or you—may believe. While Word may indeed understand and use some XML, it doesn’t use XML in the way technical communicators need it to. Instead, it uses XML to transfer information back and forth between MS Office products. Useful? Yes. Structured XML authoring? Not even close.

That said, it’s also a fact that XML authoring tools like XMetaL and Arbortext can do what Microsoft Word alone cannot (even in the newest version of MS Office for Vista). But that doesn’t mean you have to switch to a totally new XML authoring environment in order to enjoy the benefits of XML. Nor does it mean that your staff will need to continue creating documentation the old-fashioned way. A new breed of tools – called XML word processors – can help you develop structured XML content (even DITA content!) without the need to switch to a new, unfamiliar XML authoring environment.

One such product is XPress Author for MicroSoft Word, an authoring tool that empowers writers to create structured XML content by providing a “guided authoring” environment inside the familiar MS Word interface. XPress Author, created by Microsoft partner, In.Vision Research, hides the scary stuff from authors and minimizes changes to the content creation process. The software provides authors with a sense of familiarity and security by leveraging the power of the familiar Word interface.

Authors who don’t need to be down in the XML trenches will undoubtedly find the product easy-to-use. Because the authoring environment is Microsoft Word-based, the change management issues normally associated with moving to XML authoring are minimized.

Tools such as XPress Author provide organizations with the ability to leverage XML across the enterprise. Everyone in the content production food chain—from administrative assistants to CEOs—can create XML content without ever learning about things like DITA, XSLT, and ANT.

Given the sheer volume of knowledge workers who use Word around the globe, there’s likely to be a HUGE market for a tool like XPress Author for Word. If you’re interested in learning more about the tool for use in your organization, let me know. We’re hosting a free, one-hour webinar later this winter that should help you better understand your XML authoring options.