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And before you get too exercised, please read the post, date 9 Feb 2006, titled "All Tools Suck".

Thursday, March 23, 2006

DITA 2006: Questions from the floor, Part 1

I'm at the DITA 2006 conference today. I was in the first slot after the plenary, speaking about "Are you ready for DITA?" Most of the people in the audience were still trying to decide whether or not DITA would be appropriate.

One of the questions from the floor was "if you are a small writing group, how do you decide whether to use DocBook or DITA?". During my talk I had focused on the concerns of larger enterprises, where you can probably get the budget needed to design and implement a specialized DITA-based solution and where the ROI is probably pretty clear (because for example, you have lots of opportunity for re-use because you have lots of products or whatever).

But for small groups, the one- to six-person writing groups that are primarily focused on producing manuals--where things like online or Web-based delivery and re-use a secondary or minor consideration--the choice is less clear.

While the initial cost of entry for using DITA is very low, the cost of doing even basic specialization and customization of the supporting tools (for example, a custom print style sheet) is not free and may be beyond the very limited resources that a small group has, where your budget may be defined as "how many hours can you work on this without missing your deadline?".

By contrast, for doing books, DocBook's cost of specialization may be quite low, for the simple reason that it's a very mature system (it's been around for about 10 years now) and is focused specifically on doing books. At the same time, you can get a reasonable amount of modularity and reuse with DocBook by applying some discipline and by using the new XInclude support for including book components. For many small writing teams, this will be sufficient to meet their modularity and re-use requirements.

In my talk I focused on the need to make sober, well-informed business decisions about whether or not to use DITA. For larger enterprises it's pretty much a no brainer, because the benefits are pretty clear and the initial cost of implementation is relatively low compared to the existing documentation costs and potential savings.

For small enterprises the business analysis is driven much more by the cost of implementation because the value from re-use and modularity may not be as compelling simply because there's a much smaller potential scope for re-use and the added effort involved in doing modular authoring might exceed available resources.

So for small groups the answer will often be that in fact it makes more sense to use DocBook and apply modularity approaches as needed through discipline.

This is certainly the case today. However, one thing to keep in mind is that DITA is very new and its infrastructure is still being developed, so it doesn't have the same degree of maturity and completeness as DocBook's. But this will change over the next couple of years. In addition, DITA 1.1, currently being developed by the DITA Technical Committee, will add a number of features needed to make doing books with DITA much easier. So over the next couple of years the cost difference between DITA and DocBook for small groups focused on books will be reduced. Also, we can expect a formal and concerted convergence, or at least an alignment, of DITA and DocBook such that it should be more a choice based on whether your focus is books or modular delivery rather than DITA or DocBook, because both will provide the same core features of modularity and specialization, both will have similarly function free toolkits, and both will share the same core element types.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

This may be daft (I am new to this) but besides DocBook and DITA should you not have listed TEI?

5:45 PM  

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