The Granddaddy of the Web

The Defense Department was one of the first adopters of interactive publishing and browsing technology

P> Boeing Corp. literally had more than a plane-load of written material on its 777 airliner that it needed to store and retrieve. The documents weighed more than the plane itself. These crucial information assets were supposed to be stored on a variety of media, from CD-ROMs to local area networks and the Internet's World Wide Web. Who did the Seattle company turn to when it wanted to navigate these potentially turbulent technologies? Electronic Book Technologies, a Providence, R.I., maker of electronic information delivery tools.

Using standard generalized markup language, or SGML, which is the grandfather of hypertext markup language, or HTML, developed by the Department of Defense as an international standard for electronic publishing, Electronic Book Technologies created one electronic document that could be used on any of those platforms. SGML is a meta-language -- an array of conventions and syntax from which a content creator can develop any markup language.

Introduced in 1986, it receives considerably less media attention than HTML. But its uses are manifold, particularly in the DoD, which has been an early adopter of hypertext technologies to help digitize the millions of technical manuals needed to support sophisticated weapons.

Another major user is Novell Inc., based in Provo, Utah.

But public relations concerns, publishers, computer companies and those in government, manufacturing, aerospace and the legal industries all have publication groups responsible for maintaining information assets and supporting product or service marketing. "Anyone that has large amounts of information that are an asset, and wants to treat that information like an asset in a vendor-independent platform, can use SGML," said Kent Summers, vice president of marketing at Electronic Book. "You can create dynamic, cross-platform electronic books. From a publisher's perspective, you can create one document, and it can be read on everything from Mac to Windows to UNIX."

The company's technologies -- Dyna-Text, FIGleaf and Dynatag -- were developed through research in hypertext and electronic books at Brown University. These products convert word processor documents to SGML documents -- at the click of a mouse -- or enable users to view the products in any format.

HTML is document type definition for the Web. DTDs enable different companies to share data on common platforms. SGML lets you create these DTDs easily. In SGML, the content of the information is stored in a separate file from the format. This is not the case with HTML. "This is a subtle point, but it really is the most important feature of SGML," said Summers.

Electronic Book Technologies was formed more than six years ago, after evolving from several projects in the computer science department at Brown University. A product was first shipped in 1991, and the company doubled in size every year for several successive years. Presently, Electronic Book Technologies employs 150 and has $14 million in sales. The first thing the company focused on was the transition from paper books and documents to electronics. "We also have a tool that allows you to create a customized browser, similar to the Netscape browser, on top of the electronic book that you've created," Summers said. "Our browser, in fact, goes out on 35 percent of the world's computing platforms. Nobody knows about it though, because it goes under the customer's name."

The company also employed technologies adapted from the computer-aided design industry, which enables graphics to be read by browsers on any platform. "These are standards-based tools for information publishers," said Summers. "If you spend a good deal of money on your information publishing, and want to reach as wide a variety of standards as possible, you should use SGML."

Contact: Electronic Book Technologies, (401) 421-9550, or via e-mail at

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