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Company looks to capitalize on free XML tool

Austria-based Altova hopes that a free authoring application will help it stand out in the booming Extensible Markup Language software market.

SAN DIEGO--While computing giants such as Microsoft and Adobe Systems look to claim a chunk of the booming Extensible Markup Language market, a small Austrian software maker has its own strategy--free software for the masses.

Vienna-based Altova makes an array of developer tools for working with XML, the fast-spreading standard for exchanging data between disparate computing systems.

But the company also gives away a full-fledged authoring application that enables nondevelopers to create XML documents. Altova's Authentic software--which has been downloaded by more than 500,000 users--dresses up raw XML with a slick interface that makes unwieldy chunks of code look like a spreadsheet or a word-processing document.

"We try to provide tools for everybody in the organization to work with XML," Trace Galloway, corporate sales manager for Altova, said Tuesday at Microsoft's TechEd conference here.

XML-based capabilities have been Microsoft's main selling point for Office 2003, with the software giant touting the ability of XML-based documents to share data with Web services and server-based systems.

Altova isn't looking to knock Microsoft Office out of the market; the bare-bones word-processing capabilities in Authentic were only recently expanded to include a spell-checker. But Authentic does provide an alternative for companies that want to experiment with the benefits of XML without investing in the latest productivity software, Galloway said. Use your old software for plain old memos and Authentic for stuff that benefits from XML formatting.

Authentic has proven particularly useful for producing simple interactive forms, Galloway said, an area Microsoft has targeted with its InfoPath application. "There's no doubt Authentic competes with InfoPath," he said.

Free distribution of the basic authoring software is part of a razors-and-blades business approach, Galloway said. Get workers to produce more and more XML-based documents, and IT guys will need tools such as Altova's Mapforce and XMLspy to manage the resulting data.

"The back-end guys who control the servers love this, because they're getting data handed to them in standard XML," he said.