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Eclipse: creating a rich, interactive and compelling Web experience

By Rich Huff, Pat Turocy and Kelley West

In the Web world, "stickiness" is an intangible quality that keeps customers on a Web site. When competitors are only one click away, a sticky Web site is an invaluable asset to an e-business or e-commerce initiative. But how does an organization add that quality to its Web site?

Dynamic and personalized content is one way to ensure that consumers stay on your Web site and remain loyal to your organization. With its recent release of Eclipse 1.0, Chrystal Software delivers a content management solution designed to provide rich user experience on Web sites. Chrystal's vision is to enable the addition of real-time interactive content without disrupting the environment.

The company is no stranger to content management. Its flagship product, Astoria, is an authoring support system designed to provide a collaborative authoring environment with access control, versioning, reuse and distribution in multiple formats.

Now, with Eclipse, Chrystal provides a complete Web content management and publishing system with links to popular authoring tools for importing content, Web servers for delivering content and e-commerce systems.

Visitors to Eclipse-powered Web sites have highly personalized online experiences. Their Web browsers request pages from Eclipse, which assembles the pages from various content sources, transforms the content to XML, adds formatting and style, and delivers the page back to the Web server. To select content to deliver to users, the software leverages full-content searching and searches the metadata that is applied to content when it is originally placed in the database. The content is refreshed for each request based on visitor input. Visitor profile information is used for personalization.

Behind the scenes

Eclipse is an XML content management engine with the ability to dynamically publish content to the Web. It supports any data type, but provides unique assembly and delivery functionality for XML content. To manage content, it provides library services, including check-in and check-out, indexing, version control and document histories. Metadata for indexing can be applied at an element level, and all elements are full-text indexed automatically at check-in using the Verity engine.

The offering consists of several components:

As both the database and the repository for XML content, the content management engine stores content and metadata, and delivers content based on requests from the assembly engine. It is built on an Excelon ObjectStore database and runs on Windows NT or Sun Solaris.

The assembly engine receives and processes requests from Web servers or external applications. A request might require interaction with multiple content servers, personalization engines and external content repositories. The assembly engine runs on Windows NT or Sun Solaris and supports Apache, Microsoft IIS and Netscape Web servers.

The navigator is a Windows Explorer-like interface for browsing content and metadata in the repository.

Eclipse is integrated with a number of popular XML and HTML authoring tools, including Arbor Text Adept Editor, EPIC and LE (Light Edition); Soft Quad XMetal; and FrameMaker + SGML. Bridges appear as an additional drop-down menu within the editor and provide Eclipse-specific functions, allowing Webmasters to build the dynamic Web sites based on content in the repository.

Managing the content

Eclipse stores content in a cabinet and folder structure. It defines all attributes of the content, including the version, at the tag level. That allows content authors to update content without versioning the entire document. In addition, Eclipse allows each piece of content to have its own history and version number. Each piece is stored in only one location and reused throughout the system as required.

The system allows users to search for different object types and limit the scope to certain cabinets. Webmasters can define and save searches that combine content, context and metadata.

System administrators are able to define security to users, groups, cabinets and folders. The application uses the operating system security for validation and can be integrated with LDAP. It supports a MAPI-compliant interface for messaging and notifications. It also provides an automated tool for batch import/export of content.

The software provides a user-friendly environment for Webmasters, authors and content contributors. The Webmaster interface is an additional drop-down menu within the XML editing application. Webmasters use an XML authoring tool to modify existing pages, or they can create new pages with the additional tags and components needed to display content from the repository. Eclipse can access page layouts, style sheets and graphics (borders, logos and images) to be used on Web pages.

When authors and Web publishers need to search the content database, the Chrystal Navigator displays the content in a hierarchical format. Navigator is available as a desktop or Web client, although the desktop offers more functionality.

With Navigator, users can drill down through the cabinet and folder structure to view XML content and document type definitions (DTD), along with all of the other content stored in Eclipse. Metadata is displayed as columns, which can be turned on and off. For XML content, the metadata is defined in the object. For non-XML content, the metadata applies to the file and is part of a systemwide structure. Once users select an item they can see its entire version history.

Content authors can develop content in HTML, XML or other applications that can be converted into XML, such as Microsoft Word. Authors can check in and check out content. Eclipse automatically collects revision information at check-in, and if the editing tool is connected via a bridge, it will request check-in when the author saves the item. A full-text auto index is conducted using the Verity engine when an object is checked in.

Looking forward

Eclipse is a great solution for organizations that want to add personalized and dynamic content to their Web sites. However, there is room for improvement. For example, it currently supports only Excelon's ObjectStore database for the application. This presents a problem to organizations that have standardized on other databases or have personnel that are not familiar with ObjectStore. Eclipse does come with database management utilities, so users can quickly familiarize themselves with it.

In addition, the Navigator component has limited functionality over the Web. The product does not provide for remote administration via the Web. That feature is critical in this era of home offices and distributed organizations, and is already provided by other Web content management vendors.

Of course, Eclipse is a 1.0 release, and we expect to see many enhancements in future versions. The product is off to a solid start and helps organizations build a competitive edge through dynamic Web content.

Rich Huff and Pat Turocy are senior analysts and Kelley West is a technical writer with Doculabs, 312-433-7793, e-mail info@doculabs.com.

---Spot check Overview

Eclipse is a Web content management tool designed to help organizations maintain dynamic and personalized content on their Web sites. The product links authoring tools, Web publishing engines and e-commerce systems to the content management engine to provide an end-to-end solution. The system is flexible and requires few additional resources to deploy, because it integrates with many familiar tools and applications.

Platform support

With Eclipse, content authors use Windows or Solaris, while visitors can use any browser. Server support extends to Windows NT and Solaris, as well as NES, IIS and Apache Web servers. Database support is limited to ObjectStore.

Strategic value to organizations

Eclipse is a great fit for organizations that are already building Web sites and need to make the site (or part of the site) dynamic. By integrating with existing authoring tools, Eclipse fits easily into a Web strategy without forcing the replacement of familiar tools or sites.

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