DITA: One Size Fits All for Technical Publishing?

Back in June 2006 I wrote an XML Editors review article for EContent Magazine that covered a dozen desktop and web-based authoring tools for XML. That article was a bit too hard on both the writer and editorial staff, so we’re not likely to do it again soon. (I may publish a revised study on the web instead).

However, I am watching as those authoring tools add the particular kind of XML that supports what I call “assembly-line writing”–authoring topic-based content components that can be conditionally published in multiple formats targeting different delivery channels and aimed at different audiences in different languages.

Standardizing on DITA
The XML dialect of choice is the new DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture), developed originally by IBM and now an OASIS standard. Of the original twelve XML editors, eight now do DITA, and one new WYSIWYG XML authoring tool has entered the market that does only DITA.

The Arbortext Editor, formerly known as the Epic Editor, has been doing DITA as long as anyone, years before it became an OASIS standard. New owner PTC bought Arbortext because its major customers used it and they wanted to integrate the production of technical documentation into the product design process. PTC is “drinking its own champagne” as they convert their own documentation to DITA. They now also offer a ready-made DITA application that does 90 percent of the work of producing a fully-designed service manual.

XMetaL was the first XML editor back in 1996 and it jumped on the OASIS DITA standard, integrating the DITA Open Toolkit end-to-end publishing solution bandwagon early. They quickly earned DITA authors mind share and were acquired by Japanese XML publishing powerhouse Justsystems.

Adobe added a DITA application pack accessory to FrameMaker 7.2 and have now integrated DITA completely in FrameMaker 8. Most tech writers know this venerable desktop publishing application, but just a small percentage are of them are doing structured FrameMaker, which has supported SGML/DocBook for years, and now supports DITA.

Although Adobe came a bit late to the DITA party (they only recently added the UNICODE support needed for multiple language documents), they have made DITA a major part of FrameMaker and their new integrated Technical Communications Suite. Like XMetaL, they support the DITA Open Toolkit, and like Arbortext, they offer their own proprietary publishing path that gives you access to the high-quality PDF print output that Adobe is famous for.

DITA For Less
The latest XML editor in my 2006 study to add DITA support is SyncRO Soft, a tool popular in academic institutions because it is Java based and runs on all platforms: Windows, Macintosh, and Linux. It also helps that the academic edition is only $48 per seat and at $300 the enterprise edition is a fraction of the cost of the three leading DITA editors.

Syntext Serna is another multi-platform XML editor that, like Arbortext, has been doing DITA its own way for some years. Syntext’s enterprise license is also $300 and a personal use license is $89.

Even less expensive for freelance writers getting started with DITA is the XMLmind XML Editor. XXE is downloadable at no cost for personal use (enterprise license is $300), a perfect way for writers who want to join the content component assembly line to pick up topic-based authoring.

Another low-cost way is to join the DITA Users international organization ($100/year), which I founded in early 2007. Members edit in an online workspace with DITA Storm, the new web-based XML editor that does only DITA. DITA Storm was recently acquired by XML CMS vendor InMedius, which is expanding its experience with the S1000D structured information standard for the aerospace industry into technical publications with DITA.

We should mention that major content management systems that have strong publishing engines, like Astoria Software and XyEnterprise, integrate all the leading DITA XML editors and even support content creation in Microsoft Word.

Last week, I was a speaker on Bill Trippe’s Enterprise Publishing Technology panel at the Gilbane Conference on Content Management. The topic was “DITA: One Size Fits All for Technical Publishing?” When all the major authoring tools offer a DITA XML editing option, we can perhaps say that DITA is the right size.

At the end of 2007, DITA editing holdouts are Altova XML Spy, Cladonia Exchanger, Stylus Studio, and the web-based Xopus. If they are used in your publications department, you should ask them when they will offer DITA.

And if you want to follow the progress of DITA capabilities coming to XML editing tools, keep an eye on DITANews.com and subscribe to the DITA Newsletter. When I get together my revised review of all the DITA authoring tools, I will put them up on DITAReport.com.

XML.org Focus Areas: BPEL | DITA | ebXML | IDtrust | OpenDocument | SAML | UBL | UDDI
OASIS sites: OASIS | Cover Pages | XML.org | AMQP | CGM Open | eGov | Emergency | IDtrust | LegalXML | Open CSA | OSLC | WS-I