Now, Text Really Knows How To Travel

It's 1992, do you know where your information is? Sure, you say, it's in the computer. Yes, but where exactly? All those memos, letters, and reports--they're just sloshing around in there, a formless pool of text and graphics. There's no index, no organization. And what if you switch computers someday? Will your new system be able to use all that old information?

It's issues such as these that are driving companies such as IBM, Boeing, and Westinghouse Electric to adopt the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML), a set of electronic codes that's doing for documents what standards are doing for computer programs: making it easier to move them from one computer to another. SGML can help all sorts of editing, indexing, and printing programs work on the same documents, without the usual compatibility problems.

PROFIT SPEEDER. What's the payoff? Software maker Frame Technology Corp. is using SGML to help drugmakers speed up the process of getting a new drug approved by gathering notes from many researchers' computers, indexing them, and packaging the final result on an mptical disk. That helps Food & Drug Administration workers analyze the data by computer, rather than poring over paper. As a result, Frame says, drugs get to market quicker, and profits come sooner. IBM now codes its technical documents in SGML, so a single master copy can yield both printed and electronic versions.

Several years ago, the Pentagon enlisted SGML in its fight against paper. Now, civilians are using it, too. Sales for SGML products should hit $550 million by 1995, says market researcher InterConsult Inc. Networking-software producer Novell Inc. and workstation maker Silicon Graphics Inc. now distribute SGML-coded technical manuals with their wares. As their customers start using them, SGML will spread--and infoglut may begin to ebb.