Demise of D3 – Custom Tags vs. Markup Language

D3 from Microsystems has flown under the radar for years.  I mentioned it in a Technolawyer review of document assembly products several years ago.  It was a powerful “clause-based” system that enabled and integrated well with advanced Microsoft products, included Exchange Server and SQL Server.  It was sold by Microsystems out of Chicago and was popular with large firms looking to extend the power of macro-suite products without leaving the Microsoft environment.  The product was in fact embedded in a task panel in Microsoft Word.  Well, as you can see in the release below, copied from the Microsystems web-site, a recent change in MS Word has rendered the product inoperable, and Microsystems is withdrawing D3 from the market.  The reason, custom XML tags that a recent Microsoft product change (required by an anti-trust settlement with the European Union regulators) removed from the product, on which D3 depends.  This is not the first time that changed by a word-processing vendor caused document assembly products to “die”.  WordPerfect was notorious in earlier versions from regularly updating its macro language, rending macro-based suites based on one version inoperable on upgrade.

Microsoft Removes Custom XML Code from Office: D3 and Legal TemplatesPlus Discontinued

Downers Grove, IL – January 27, 2010 Microsystems announced it will discontinue development of D3 and Legal TemplatesPlus as a result of Microsoft’s decision to remove Custom XML code from Office. Microsoft made this decision following the ruling from the i4i infringement lawsuit.  DocXtools, Microsystems’ core product, is not affected by this decision.

Although D3 and Legal TemplatesPlus offered distinct competitive advantages and benefited from strong client demand and adoption, a significant portion of the functionality in both products was rendered inoperable in versions of Microsoft Office sold after January 10, 2010.

Microsystems evaluated various alternatives including redeveloping both products, but determined a feature equivalency could not be attained with the technologies and methodologies available today and the development work would likely result in an overall inferior solution for customers. In addition, it would require that little if any resources could be used to focus on our core product, DocXtools. Furthermore, no acceptable transition between existing D3 and Legal TemplatesPlus solutions and any new technology exists. This result would have imposed considerable migration issues on our customers.

Last year, DocXtools accounted for over 85% of Microsystems revenue. In contrast, licenses of D3 and Legal TemplatesPlus accounted for approximately 10% of revenue. As a result of these changes, development, sales and support staff related to D3 and Legal TemplatesPlus were reduced. Moving forward, DocXtools is supported by 45 people; 35 of those positions are comprised of development, support and document experts.

“Certainly we are disappointed about the difficult decision we had to make, but we are also energized by the ongoing success of DocXtools, a product that has been in the market for 11 years. In 2009, we added many new DocXtools customers and 93 customers entered into new or extended license agreements. In 2010 we expect to continue to grow our 249 firm install base as more organizations strive to improve efficiency and client service by deploying new DocXtools functionality out to lawyers and secretaries.” said Tom O’Sullivan, Chief Executive Officer.

The lesson and one to bear in mind:  close integration and embedding of a product into a word-processor, can have major consequences when the word-processing vendor “upgrades” or in the case of “D3” downgrades.  Far superior is the use of an interpreted markup language that is independent of the wordprocessor that is run through a document assembly engine that sits OUTSIDE the wordprocessor.  Exari, DealBuilder/Contract Express, GhostFill, DocXpress and HotDocs use such a markup approach. They can work with Word documents, as well as RTF documents.  Their approaches all differ in how they manage and store the component data.  But they all share the fact that they are NOT dependent on any particular version of the word processor and thus not subject to sudden obsolescence.

XML Based Document Assembly – D3 and IPManager

Office13, aka Office 2006, now in final beta, introduces a new format WordML, a Microsoft variant of XML that includes XML objects and proprietary Word formatting extensions.  XML has the potential to revolutionize document assembly, allowing for the creation of dynamic editable templates.  D3 and Perfectus make extensive use of XML encoding in Office 2003.  They present a case study in diametrically opposite approaches to the design of document automation software.

D3 from Microsystems and Perfectus IP Manager from Perfectus Solutions approach document assembly from opposite ends of the spectrum.

IP Manager has a sophisticated application builder with controls for laying out web-based interviews in a powerful GUI while XML tagging a family of templates.  It allows the family of templates to be “packaged” and shipped.  The system is modular with reusable components and definitions.  From a hosted server, multiple offices can access the document sets.  The system can be blended into a DocsOpen or WebDocs solutions with full workflow, or can manage its own resulting documents and answer sets.

D3, by contrast, merges SQL server database with Word objects that are “parsed” and uploaded into the database.  D3 is a powerful clause manager and document modeller.  It allows the users to pick and choose among clauses, and merge the clauses into a finished and styled product.  While a “document form” can be “imported” from another system, the best way to work with D3 is on-site.  When it comes to variables, the interview is relegated to a Side-bar with one variable displayed at a time.

The key difference really is the target.  D3 is designed for the “trusted user” who is likely an attorney, giving him or her access within a few strokes to “data sources” in their network (Outlook, Billing, Client Lists etc.) and to a comprehensive and structured clause bank.  The user chooses the “objects” and brings them into the document, then runs a filler which looks for unanswered variable fields.  Because the fields, generally with a 1 to 1 mapping (no collections), are XML encoded, the trusted user can change the “document” and then have the fields refresh based on changed data.

IP Manager is targeted towards the “untrusted user”.  Like other document assembly systems, HotDocs, GhostFill, and to an extent DealBuilder, the “templates” are locked in a developer controlled application.  The developer – knowledge worker has determined what provisions are appropriate based on the appropriate response to a series of questionst, grouped into pages or dialogs in a structured interview.  The focus is on the questions, not the words of the documents.  The “untrusted user” is typically found in a corporate environment where a corporate counsel is deploying standard forms across a disparate sales force.

LegalTech 2006 – Document Assembly

Another year has come and gone … LegalTech New York … The largest annual technology show.  Despite the emphasis on Litigation support systems, there were some notable participants at the conference presenting document assembly solutions.  HotDocs was there as part of LexisNexis’ Total Practice Management initiative; DealBuilder with it online document assembly system powered by a unique “relevance engine”; Perfectus Solutions with its browser-based IPManager document creation and delivery system; iXIO with its innovate online document modelling solution (Q-Shift); and Microsystems with its Word-ML basis document creation system (D3).

I met with each of the vendors.  Several of the products are ones that we support.  DealBuilder, DealBuilder, GhostFill, Time Matters and Perfectus.

We were impressed by the level of energy and innovation in the document assembly space.  This is not meant as a review of these products.  That will come later.  But rather, a recognition that there is some serious programming talent coming into developing document assembly solutions.  There are more tools than ever, and more powerful tools that ever to help firms and corporations provide document creation services.

HotDocs is working on HotDocs 2006. … Under the hood are dozens of new features for “true” application developers.  When the new HotDocs 2006 comes out we will review it.  For now, to see what can be done with HotDocs, please view the link below and take a tour of some of our videos.

MicroSystems, a new entrant in the space, brings D3.  This a cross between a knowledge management capture tool, clause picker and Word-ML based document assembler.  It doesn’t fit the classical document assembly template environment, being tied closely to Word-XML and SQL database engine.  It is very flexible in handling a number of the features typically handled by major Macro-packs like SoftWise, or numbering and metadata cleaners like those from Payne Consulting and Levitt & James and WorkShare. It strength is as a Word add-on, and clause management structure.  However, it is weak in handling complex logic and dialog scripting.  Rather than presenting dialogs, the D3 assembler presents the “document” as a living editable template, and then steps through the document, presenting questions seriatum as the user walks through the document.  These fields are stored as WordML tags which can be “reassembled”.  Viewed this way, it is more of an enhanced document builder tool, rather than an interview-driven document assembler.

DealBuilder just announced the release of DealBuilder 2.7 which brings to market more than 500 new features.  Key new features include a new web-based data reporting application, enhanced end-user experience on DealBuilder questionnaires, expanded use of mark-up within DealBuilder Master Documents, additional Administration features and a new, easy to deploy DealBuilder.Server installer.  We will be announcing shortly a major DealBuilder online system which we designed and built.  It is a world-class product with even more power.  It’s relevance engine is a major benefit for those authors who have not mastered (or choose not to master) dialog scripting.  The system does however, handle incredibly complex rule structures, and resolves them to determine and ask only those variables relevant to the current answer set in use.

Perfectus has a recently released new build.  It is has a powerful GUI for building Interviews.  It has powerful template set, work flow, and document management tools built into the product that make it a total out of the box on-line solutions. The tools are all .NET and XML and fully addressable.  There is a great GUI with drag and drop development.  Simple templates can be built rapidly.  More complex business logic can be built into the system.  The one drawback is that each unique rule has to be tagged and named.  Since it is using XML tags instead of a put text markup as GhostFill and HotDocs currently do (or as the DealBuilder author supports), the developer is limited by the way XML allows tags to be named.

iXIO’s Q-Shift is like an online version of D3.  It’s has a document parsing tool that takes a Word document and turns it into an on-line document model.  The paragraphs are turned into entries in a master clause banks that can be pulled together on the fly.  Clauses can be conditional, or required, at the designers election.  You can preview the clauses and build your document from the model.  Like D3 q-Shift lacks support for Dialogs … it presents the variables in single-variable dialog boxes as it runs through the assembly, and has limit support for complex business logic.

For additional information, please visit our document assembly videos where we showcase a number of applications of these products. Video Tours