Altova’s Giving It Away: Drops the Price of authentic $0

Privately-held Altova GmbH, headquartered in Vienna, Austria with offices in Beverly, Massachusetts, is a leading provider of XML software development tools and a member of the World Wide Web Consortium. Altova's products include xmlspy 5, an integrated XML content-centric management system; authentic 5, a simple XML authoring tool; and stylevision 5, a tool for Web developers to build advanced Web sites using XML. Altova's products are getting industry-wide recognition as leaders in the XML-authoring revolution: The December 2002 issue of EContent listed Altova among the 100 companies that matter most in the digital content industry. The January 2003 issue of PC Magazine gave xmlspy its coveted "Best Product of 2002" award. It is amazing that an XML management tool would receive such attention unless you subscribe to the growing belief that content-centric XML is going mainstream in 2003. On February 17, Altova announced it is giving away authentic 5. That's right: free. This reduces the cost of entry into the revolutionary world of XML authoring to the cost of a download and learning to build an XML entry template or two.

Altova provides both Windows client and Internet Browser editions of authentic 5. The product lets authors who know nothing about XML create valid XML content via a forms interface, then generate valid XML when they save their work. If they choose, power authors can view side entry-helper panels for information about XML elements being used. The authoring process is smooth, and the result is achieved without a significant investment in tools or behind-the-scenes customizations. authentic 5 still doesn't look like (the all too familiar) MS Word or have a full complement of word processor features, but for many applications you don't need those anyway. Recently, Altova added a spell checker to this tool and I expect more word processor features to be added with each new release. Altova tends to distribute several minor releases each year as XML standards are updated or simply to add more features to its products.

What's the benefit of saving information as XML? Reuse and connection with databases and compatibility. Content-centric XML lets you create content once and reuse it in as many ways as you want, including use with applications you don't even foresee. As government agencies and industries develop standard document models, businesses will be able to transform a single office document into a data source meeting requirements for regulatory agencies, Web pages, or as feeds to or from database repositories. As XML support in mainstream tools becomes widespread, it will matter less and less whether you use MS Word, authentic 5, or another tool. Content will reemerge as king; tools as servants. Is Altova's announcement a reaction to Microsoft Office 11 recently announcing its own support for XML? Altova's marketing director, Larry Kim, told me "Absolutely, but we're not competing with Microsoft Office and don't want to. Altova is simply providing alternatives. authentic 5 allows editing via a Web interface and Altova could write templates for Microsoft XDocs. This would let users write XDocs without using Office 11."

So let's get this straight. You can do with authentic 5 much of what you will do with Word 11. Word 11 isn't free; authentic 5 is. While some might utter the cliché, "you get what you pay for"? I believe you can get significant value from this free product, and that Altova is crazy like a fox. I call this giveaway the razor-reader marketing strategy. Like Gillette giving away razors to sell razor blades, Altova is betting that businesses may purchase Altova services to develop document models, templates or other infrastructure to use with authentic 5. And by following Adobe's Acrobat Reader strategy, Altova expects businesses will also buy the companion product xmlspy. In my book, that's an authentically ingenious marketing strategy.