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Corel software gets Smart on XML

The Canadian software maker releases a set of tools, Smart Graphics Studio, part of the company's push to derive earnings from tools using XML.

Corel has released a new set of tools for creating enterprise application graphics that meet industry recommendations.

The struggling Canadian software company on Monday released Smart Graphics Studio. First announced in December, the software is part of Corel's push to boost earnings with tools for use with XML, or Extensible Markup Language, a World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recommendation for creating industry- or task-specific markup languages and writing documents more easily read by machines.

The studio is development software for creating graphics written in the W3C's Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), an XML--based graphics creation standard.

SVG, most recently updated in January, is a standard way of creating vector graphics, or images composed of lightweight mathematical descriptions rather than the bandwidth-intensive pixel-by-pixel bitmaps that form most of the Web's images.

The de facto standard in vector graphics, against which SVG has made only token progress, is San Francisco-based Macromedia's proprietary Flash animation software, also known by its file format .swf.

SVG's sluggish adoption is due in part to Macromedia's sizable head start, and also due to the difficulty of coding SVG by hand and the rarity of specialized SVG development tools.

Corel says, and at least one analyst agreed, that the Smart Graphics Studio represents a first for the market.

"If you're talking about an end-to-end XML framework, there really is no direct competition," said Rob Williamson, Corel's product manager for the Smart Graphics Studio. "You can use alternatives for graphics--HTML works for some--and there are illustration environments for creating nonintelligent assets in any SVG authoring tool, including Corel Draw. But for making that SVG intelligent without hand-coding, there isn't an alternative on the market today."

By "intelligent," Corel means the ability to associate a single image with changing data such as a thermometer graphic whose temperature and mercury rises and falls according to information gleaned from a database.

One analyst agreed that Corel had the market for an SVG tool all to itself--for now.

"There's no competition insofar as there really isn't any other company that's has a development studio for SVG graphics at this point," Rikki Kirzner, analyst with IDC, said in an interview. "You could convert .swf to SVG, so you could work in Macromedia. But there is not a product that has this level of capability by anybody else. I think if this does well, it won't be the last."

Corel is touting its new studio as a way for developers of intranets, extranets and Web sites to automate the creation of data-driven graphics that can communicate easily with a number of XML-based specifications.

XML is the basis of not only SVG but a number of Web standards associated with the emerging infrastructure called Web services through which enterprise applications can share information automatically.

"The XML aspect of this is what's going to be compelling for people using Web services," said Kirzner. "It lends itself to a lot of the emerging Web services standards, so it will be interoperable with Web services tools."

Corel's studio handles not only SVG but also another W3C standard called Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations (XSLT). That specification translates the data taken from a database into something that the SVG graphic--and the JavaScript applet that displays it--can understand.

Corel said that Ford Motor was a pilot customer for the studio and that consulting firm Wipro Technologies had signed on to use the final product.

Corel's studio can be downloaded now from the company's Web site for $1,049, or starting in June bought through resellers for $1,199.

Corel, struggling to turn a profit and stop a freefall in its stock price, last month acknowledged it was looking for a buyer, shortly after Microsoft said it would sell its stake in the company at a loss of about $100 million.

Corel has stepped up the pace of product releases. Two weeks ago it released a new version of its WordPerfect word processing software and its Painter digital drawing and painting application.