From Free to Three(100K)


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Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) XML structured publishing solutions, like content management systems in general, run the gamut in cost from free to millions of dollars for some of the largest implementations in big corporations, such as Adobe, Autodesk, BMC, EMC, IBM, Nokia, Salesforce.com, and Sybase.

The toolsets alone can run to hundreds of thousands of dollars when a fully automated publishing solution is integrated with an XML CMS, such as those from Astoria, Vasont, and XyEnterprise, or integrated editing, styling, publishing, and CM systems from PTC Arbortext.

Significantly, however, where free content management solutions have been driven by the open source community—who built the leading CMSs such as Drupal, Joomla, and Plone—the free structured publishing option for DITA is the gift of one of those large corporations: IBM.

IBM actually gave the intellectual property rights for the DITA standard to the leading XML standards organization, the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Systems (OASIS).

The heart of free structured publishing is called the DITA Open Toolkit (OT). It is managed by IBM, not by OASIS, which is responsible only for the standard, not particular, implementations. Most implementations are based on the OT, with the early leader in structured publishing, Arbortext (now PTC), opting to develop its own DITA publishing implementation.

The OT was initially released by IBM as a technical demonstration of XML publishing with DITA. But Toolkit software continues to be developed by a team in China (more than one-quarter of the IBM work force is now in Asia). An advanced version of the Toolkit drives IBM’s internal structured publishing efforts, with a subset of that advanced version released from time to time as the open source version, now at release 1.4.1.

Since 2005, when IBM posted the OT to SourceForge.net (the place to go for all open source software), the DITA OT has been downloaded more than 50,000 times, indicating the level of interest around the world in structured publishing solutions. The Toolkit transforms DITA content (maps and topics) into publishing deliverable formats for web (XHTML), print (PDF), and Help (CHM and Eclipse).

All you need to get started with structured content is to download and install the OT and get yourself a DITA XML editor. Judging by the traffic on the technical communication community mailing lists (i.e., STC and TECHWR-L), there is hardly a technical publications department anywhere that does not have someone studying DITA to see if and when it will be adopted.

I am very involved in structured CM, as those following my column well know. Four years ago, I was one of the founders of the content management professionals organization CM Pros. We had a small but strong group interested in structured publishing, and we put an early version of the DITA OT up on a web server so members would not have to install it themselves.

Technical writers are typically good writers but poor techs, and IBM’s gift is easy to install only for programmers. Besides, installing the OT on a laptop or a desktop limits its use to one individual. When the OT is on a web server, many writers can share it, and their publishing deliverables can be seen immediately on the web. This is the SaaS (software-as-a-service) model for highly scalable content publishing in the future.

Last year, I formed a new DITA Users organization (www.ditausers.org), which now has more than 400 members in 24 countries. I joined OASIS, and I am now a member of the DITA editorial board.

One of our earliest CM Pros activists, Anna van Raaphorst, with her husband Dick Johnson, authored the extensive documentation for the DITA Open Toolkit. The OT User Guide is available from van Raaphorst's firm, VR Communications, and also from SourceForge.

Thanks to quiet support from some of the key DITA vendors, our DITA Users organization provides free access to the online DITA OT and a copy of the Inmedius DITA Storm WYSIWYG XML Editor. Each member gets an online workspace folder with multiple sample projects, including the files from the only DITA textbook: JoAnn Hackos’ Introduction to DITA.

Our DITA Tools from A to Z section on the DITA Users website lists every software and service up to those $300,000 publishing solutions. But our policy of free member access to online tools means that anyone anywhere in the world can at least get started (our membership fees range from free to $100 a year).

We call our approach “DITA from A to B,” authoring to building and, of course, publishing structured content.