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OpenDoc Open for Business

In the past, TidBITS has discussed OpenDoc and the promise of component software, but I think this year's recent Macworld Expo in San Francisco marked the turning point for OpenDoc as a useful technology. The Component 100 set of booths showcased numerous OpenDoc parts, now known as Live Objects, and many developers banded together to sell differently configured bundles of Live Objects. Prices were universally cheap, and - interestingly - most of the developers were previously unknown small companies. Those last two facts speak to the fulfillment of the OpenDoc promise; it remains to be seen if companies relying on OpenDoc can become an industry force.

I admit that I haven't yet used many of the available Live Objects. The reason is simple - I always have a tremendous amount of work to do, and it's almost impossible to justify trying a new way of working unless I have a reason to abandon my previous systems. I suspect this sort of personal inertia will be the primary hurdle the OpenDoc development community must overcome. The solution to this problem, I think, is to offer Live Objects that provide features hitherto unknown. Just as users gladly switch to new programs when there's a clear advantage, so they will switch to OpenDoc when they see clear advantages to OpenDoc solutions.

To give you an idea what you can do today with OpenDoc, I collected information from many of the Live Object vendors at Macworld Expo. I'm sure this isn't a complete list of available Live Objects, but it highlights some interesting products you can buy today. A more complete list is available at Apple's OpenDoc site, and other OpenDoc sites of interest include CI Labs and Component 100.


I don't list prices for any of the Live Objects below because you can generally buy them in a dizzying array of bundles, one of which will probably fit your needs. Most of the bundles I saw ranged from about $25 to $100. A number of the bundles are listed on the Hutchings Software Web site, and it's worth checking out individual sites for other offers.


WAV -- One of the most talked-about Live Objects was WAV from Digital Harbor. At its heart, WAV is a word processor, but thanks to the flexibility of OpenDoc, it integrates well with the Internet via Cyberdog. WAV provides basic word processing tools along with some interesting features like the ability to click and start typing anywhere on a page. For additional high-end features, you plug in other Live Objects. WAV provides component folders for third-party Live Objects, accessible via tabs at the top of a WAV window. You can also create tabs for Project Folders, which hold URLs, Live Objects, text, and graphics for use with a specific project.


Nisus Writer 5.0 -- The powerful Nisus Writer 5.0 word processor was one of the first well-known applications to support OpenDoc. It's only a container for Live Objects (not a Live Object that can itself be embedded elsewhere), but if you already use Nisus Writer 4.x, upgrading might be a good way to start experimenting with OpenDoc.


C-Table, C-Graph, & C-TextBox -- One of the most favored tools in a word processor is the table tool, but many table tools are, shall we say, lousy. Corda's C-Table Live Object has received good word of mouth for its feature set and integration with other Live Objects, including C-Graph, another Corda Live Object that makes graphics from data taken from C-Table or other sources. Corda also makes C-TextBox, which enables you to make text boxes in any OpenDoc container, complete with stylized text, auto-sizing, drop shadows, and numerous border and fill options.


Canopy Outliner -- If you need an outliner, there's now a Live Object for you. Canopy Outliner from Eclipse can embed other Live Objects within the outline, and it can be embedded in other Live Objects. It can organize any type of data in outline form, has unlimited levels of undo, can auto-number items, and link to interactive content.


Lexi -- Of course, where would any word processor be without a spelling checker? Even better, wouldn't it be nice to have a single spelling checker available in all applications? A variety of utilities have done this over the years, and now it's available for any Live Object that supports Word Services extensions, such as the forthcoming Cyberdog 2.0, WAV, Canopy Outliner, and others. You can also use SoftLinc's Lexi in stand-alone mode, where it can check the spelling of any text document or any piece of text imported through drag & drop or copy and paste. Lexi includes a 212,000 word dictionary, an 185,000-synonym thesaurus, a user dictionary, a translation dictionary, and a conjugator.


Dock'Em -- MetaMind's Dock'Em provides the basic functionality and interface of page layout and presentation tools but works primarily with other Live Objects. You can embed other Live Objects in Dock'Em documents, and you can even embed Dock'Em documents in other Dock'Em documents. MetaMind describes Dock'Em as a document construction kit, and with the wide variety of options offered by other Live Objects, that seems like a fair description.


Adrenaline Numbers and Charts -- So far, I've mainly mentioned word processing technology, Internet technology, and page layout and presentation technology. But, there's also spreadsheet technology, provided by the Adrenaline Numbers Live Object. It's a Microsoft Excel 5.0-compatible spreadsheet, and is backed up by Adrenaline Charts, a charting tool that can take information from Adrenaline Numbers. Both provide, to judge from their feature lists, all the basic features that spreadsheet users would need, especially in conjunction with other Live Objects.


PartBank, Internet Search Service, & WinMenu -- Kantara Development has created a Live Object called PartFinder that works with the company's PartBank Web site. PartFinder enables Live Objects to locate other data-compatible Live Objects. For instance, a spreadsheet Live Object could locate and download charting components automatically. Kantara Development has also written Kantara Internet Search Service, which enables Cyberdog users to search within a number of Web search engines and Web catalogs, along with PartBank itself. Also available is Kantara WinMenu, which provides a Windows menu for each OpenDoc document.


Rapid-I Button -- Last among the Live Objects I saw at Macworld Expo, but certainly not least, is Hutchings Software's Rapid-I Button, which enables you to put a wide variety of buttons in your OpenDoc documents. For a better sense of Rapid-I Button and Hutchings Software, read on for Charles Wheeler's interview with Rapid-I Button's programmer, Brad Hutchings.


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