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In this issue, we will begin with additional coverage of the editorial arena, including detailed discussions of the DTI and SII implementations of InDesign plus notes on how other vendors are treating the Adobe product. We'll also cover other editorial issues.
We'll follow with news on the advertising front, where acquisitions and deals were among the news of the day. SII acquired CompuText to gain its advertising component. Geac took Cybergraphic, including editorial as well as advertising modules. Unisys was reported ready to acquire PPI, although that deal so far hasn't materialized. CCI showed a deal with Neasi-Weber that was short of an installation.
SII teams with Associated Newspapers
As we noted in our last issue (see Vol. 28, No. 20), SII was one of several companies launching completely new editorial systems. Called Insiight, the new product is interesting for several reasons:
* It is the first totally new editorial system from SII since the introduction of its Tandem-based products. SII's approach with Insiight is quite different from its approach with the Tandem systems, where the editorial atmosphere was very different. SII has endeavored with Insiight to provide a system that is as open as possible and uses as many off-the-shelf components as possible.
* It's the first large-scale product to be based on Lotus Notes. (NewsEngin and Dalai are among the companies building smaller systems around Notes.)
* It incorporates Adobe's Copy Edit and InDesign software for editing, layout and composition functions, as was announced at IFRA last October, in conjunction with Associated Newspapers. SII also will support Quark's CopyDesk and Xpress software, although that development wasn't shown at Nexpo. Under the current plan, the SII user will have a choice of two totally integrated systems built from off-the-shelf components.
Associated's role. Although the SII product will be a new offering, it is based on a product that has been running for a couple of years at Associated Newspapers in London, which publishes the Evening Standard and the Daily Mail. There are some key differences between what Associated Newspapers is using and what SII will bring to the market.
One difference is that Associated Newspapers has a front-end editorial system based on Notes, but its composition and layout are handled by a completely separate QPS system that is interfaced to the front end. Although this system works well, SII needed to address the market at large with a more integrated solution for layout and composition.
Another difference is the choice of editing software (see below).
The role of Notes. With the cooperation of Associated, SII is trying to integrate the base-level Notes editorial functionality and the database of the Associated system with the modern layout tools of InDesign.
SII incorporates Notes as the communication tool, both internally and for dealing with remote clients and Web output. In other words, Notes provides the foundation for all database access, E- mail communications, scheduling of personnel and products to be published. It produces alerts (via pagers, phones, terminal displays, etc.) and provides access to and from remote terminals and output to the Web itself. This was fundamental to Associated's dream of having one terminal and one user interface (at the desktop level) for all writing and editing activities, regardless of what applications are being used. However, SII doesn't try to impose its user interface within dedicated applications such as editing and layout, where the Adobe products will be implemented with the familiar Adobe user interface-the one that is common throughout Photoshop, Illustrator and other Adobe products.
At the desktop level, however, Notes is in control. This is an important distinction that we will elaborate on later.
Editing software. Another important difference between the current Associated installation and the product to be delivered by SII is the editing software. Associated Newspapers uses Notes as both the communications desktop layer of the product and as the editing program. SII has taken a different approach because of its feeling that the Notes editing capabilities are not as appealing in an integrated newspaper marketplace as the industrial-strength products developed especially for word processing-such as Microsoft Word or the integral editors developed for InDesign (Adobe's Copy Edit) and Xpress (CopyDesk for the QPS system). Therefore, SII's offering, described here, will not use Notes as the editor. Instead, it will use the yet- to-be-released Copy Edit editor that is a subsystem of InDesign.
Although that development strategy reflects SII's overall plan, we believe that SII may offer an alternative system in certain markets that is basically the system installed at Associated Newspapers, including its Notes editor. This may be offered in situations where it is desirable, particularly in Europe.
Architecture and NewsGrams. Insiight is being developed around an NT client, but SII probably will offer a Macintosh client as well. The server currently runs SQL Server under NT, but since the plan calls for the system to be compliant with the Associated system, a Unix-Oracle version will be developed in parallel. The schedule points to NT first, with Unix close behind.
Like the foundation in use in London, story content is stored in a Notes Domino database. But unlike the Associated Newspapers approach, which doesn't integrate pagination and production functions into the editorial environment, SII will use the server for all nonstory and page-oriented content. It will store what SII calls NewsGrams, or messages, in this database. SII has developed the concept of a "universal" messaging system that can carry information from homogeneous components of the system (such as the interrelationships between stories and pages) and between heterogeneous systems to accommodate input from subsystems such as third-party ad-layout and display ad management tracking systems.
In these situations, subsystems will have a component extending their interface to a common messaging architecture that allows them to communicate easily with the SQL database in real time. For Managing Editor's Ad Layout System, for example, this means the Universal NewsGram will carry ad layout (dummying) information from the results of the ALS program to the pagination store within the SQL database. For the Ad Trace ad-tracking system, SII will dynamically carry instantaneous status changes in display ad makeup to the pagination database.
The same concept is planned to be expanded "enterprise-wide" with the idea that it will be possible to tie into this architecture subsystems for billing and circulation, in addition to SII's new WorldClass advertising system. (The existing advertising system acquired from CompuText doesn't comply with this Universal Architecture, but SII plans to enable its successor to do so.)
Status. What exists and what doesn't? It's difficult at shows to assess how much of a new system is real and how much is "smoke and mirrors." In today's world, sexy user interfaces often are substituted for solid systems at shows. But it is somewhat easier to sort this out in the case of SII, since we have had a chance to see the foundation operating with more than 500 terminals at Associated. From that knowledge, we can say that the Notes portions of the system are not only deliverable, but in daily use at a major newspaper site.
This means that the concept of Notes as a communication layer- with the ability to schedule literally anything via Notes-is there. The ability to capture and route wire stories and photos is proven and solid. In fact, SII now has a leg up on most vendors in its ability to take either wire feeds or reporter copy and, with minimal layout intervention via templates, publish the copy, including graphics, almost instantaneously on the Web.
What SII didn't show at Nexpo was the ability to do this with the InDesign editor, which is the part of the system that is farthest from being ready. More on that later.
Another part of the system that is solid is the Domino story database. Here again, it is proven as a result of its daily use in London. It includes customizable directories as well as full- text searching. What a full-text search will produce when the copy is generated by the InDesign editor remains unknown, but the searches have been demonstrated to work with wire copy that was created with an external program, so InDesign shouldn't be of much concern.
The Universal NewsGram architecture and SQL database were being used in the demos at the show for other interfaces, such as to access graphics from an asset management system. (SII's preferred asset manager, the Mosaic system from Pine Tree Systems of Denmark, was demonstrated at the show, but SII claims it is willing to interface with others.)
From what we could determine, this concept is effective, although only a live site will indicate the level of performance. In any case, we think it is fair to say that the SII approach has made it easy to integrate components without requiring that vendors modify their programs substantially or reinvent key components. The use of NewsGrams to integrate ALS and Ad Trace demonstrates how SII is able to offer quite complete functionality (e.g., showing editors up-to-the-second display ad status) without taking the lengthy time that is usually required to integrate third-party products.
The part that isn't finished is that which relates to InDesign and Copy Edit. The user interface and the communication between InDesign and the database exists, but the final user interface to perform queries and the optimum use of screen real-estate to display multiple directories, stories and pages is not. This is somewhat dependent on Adobe and its schedule of deliveries, which may be part of the reason for the Quark agreement.
We believe it is SII's firm intent to complete the project in time for anticipated initial deliveries in January, using InDesign and Copy Edit. We also believe (hope?) it won't be long before Adobe releases the items needed by SII. (We're more optimistic about InDesign than we are about Copy Edit.)
In the event that Adobe delays the introduction of InDesign much beyond its current target of around Sept. 1, we wouldn't be surprised to see the initial implementation of Insiight be based on Xpress, now that SII was able to convince Quark to license its CopyDesk editing program and Xpress H&J engine. This is one area where SII has an edge over DTI and other developers dependent strictly on Adobe for InDesign.
The bottom line. The hard part for SII is finished and demonstrable, thanks in large part to Associated Newspapers. The other part, including some areas that remain smoke and mirrors for SII, could be problematic. However, given a choice of which parts of the system we'd rather see developed first, we'd choose the foundation, the database and its architecture-with a proven customer already established. The sexy interface to demonstrate at shows is of far less concern at this stage. The other item-the critical element that still depends on Adobe-now has a backup plan, Quark, which should help SII keep making progress toward a release. The IFRA show in October should provide a good chance to size up the situation.
Atex Omnex gets ready for first site
After years of uncertainty over how Atex would finally replace its historic J11 systems, Nexpo '99 provided the answer: Omnex, an editorial system built around XML, a standard Oracle8 database, Bitstream's NuDoc composition technology and an XML editing program developed by Atex. In addition, in two deals that were negotiated just before the show, Atex announced alliances with FutureTense and Digital Collections to provide Omnex with tightly integrated Web publishing and asset management components, respectively. There will be a common Atex user interface …