Tuesday, March 28, 2006

DITA 2006 - morning sessions from Day 1

As I mentioned before, I thought day 1 of DITA 2006 was a little "marketing" heavy, meaning most of the sessions dealt with the benefits of DITA and not much technical detail.

Keynote: The Business Benefits Obtained from Using DITA at IBM – Dave Schell

Dave’s keynote was a good overview of the benefits of DITA. Key benefits are the same as other structured markup benefits: increased consistency of content, content reuse, multiple outputs from a single source, faster and cheaper globalization and enabling personalization. What I thought was interesting, were the numbers he shared. A typical infocenter at IBM contains about 5,000 topics! He said the content is maintained primarily in their source code control and tied to the software builds. I think if you are planning to author large amounts of topics in DITA, a content management system is essential.

DITA is Ready for Prime Time. Are you Ready for DITA? – Eliot Kimber

Eliot’s preso was one of the more interesting, and controversial of the conference. I enjoyed it immensely. Eliot commented, “The more interesting question is why would DITA not be the right answer?” Some of these reasons may include: a small writing group that cannot afford some of the tools that help to author DITA effectively, such as an author-friendly XML editor (Arbortext or XMetal) and a content management system (such as Documentum, Ixiasoft, or XyEnterprise).

The most controversial part of Eliot’s preso was the comment that

“In order to use DITA effectively, you have to Specialize!”

Derived types can inherit processing defined for their ancestors. Industries can also create a set of specific types for their needs. DITA Specializations, by design, reduce the risk of creating customizations (where with a DocBook customization you have to be careful about maintaining your customization when the standard changes).

Eliot also discussed some of the hidden traps you can run into with DITA:

  • Inefficient processes – automating an inefficient process will fail to deliver the expected benefits and cost savings!
  • organizational boundaries – must focus on the enterprise bigger picture if it’s to be done right.
  • technology limitations – no OOB DITA solution. info analysis still necessary to determine additional specs, format analysis and stylesheet dev, legacy data conversion, integration with other tools (translation memory, DAM, CMS, etc.)
  • resource utilization – SMEs perform time consuming formatting tasks, indexing content, redundant content creation, maintenance of reused content, using expensive resources for copyediting and production functions.

My other favorite quote from Eliot:

“Do not underestimate the level of expertise and effort involved to implement DITA smoothly.”

Tony DiSilva also started the recurring question at the conference:

“How do you know when you should be using DocBook and when you should be using DITA?”

Specialization is essential for larger companies. The decision for smaller enterprises may be fuzzier between DITA and DocBook. With DITA, you will likely need a CMS (increasing the cost). DITA 1.1 is focusing on adding features to enable books. (front and back matter, indexing, etc.). This will make it harder to decide between DITA and DocBook.

How can they play together? Perhaps DocBook could adopt some form of DITA specialization mechanisms for fallback processing of customizations. The two standards could/should align some of the core element types in DITA 2.0/DocBook 6.0. For example, DocBook predates HTML, so those tags weren’t adopted. DITA started with the HTML tags.

IMO, if you already have your content in DocBook, there is no compelling reason to switch or migrate your content to DITA. As Norm Walsh has pointed out previously, with possibly one exception, everything that you can do in DITA can be done with DocBook. We have helped several of our customers do DITA-like implementations using DocBook. If your content is unstructured, and you are moving to a structured markup standard, the decision is on more equal footing. Key considerations are: youth of DITA vs. maturity of DocBook, robustness of markup and toolsets, ease of exchange with other partners or groups (what standard are they using? how portable do you need your content? what is the expected lifespan of the content? what is the current structure of the content, and how much rework will be needed as part of the migration?).

My Discussions with the founding fathers of DITA

One of the great things about this conference is access to the founding fathers of DITA! I had a chance to chat with Michael Priestley, Don Day and Rob Anderson about several topics:

Is DITA planning to use/provide RelaxNG schemas?
Don Day – not really. RelaxNG doesn’t have default attributes, and DITA relies heavily on attributes.

Do you see any tie between DITAMaps and Topic Maps?
Michael Priestly – they are very different. DITA maps are much more hierarchical and constraining, where XTMs focus on relationships and are non-constraining.

Looks like this post is getting a little long, so I'll split up my posts. Stay tuned for more DITA 2006!


Sunday, March 26, 2006

DITA 2006

I’m traveling home after attending the DITA 2006 conference in Raleigh, NC. In all, it was a pretty good conference. It was definitely the 1.0 conference, as the first day was primarily touting the benefits of DITA and a little lax on technical content.

Being able to chat with the experts like Michael Priestly, Don Day, Robert Anderson, Paul Prescod, Eliot Kimber, Norm Walsh and Bob Stayton was worth the price of admission alone!

By far, my favorite sessions were: Eliot Kimber's "Are you ready for DITA?", Norm Walsh's "Reflections on DocBook and DITA", Jennifer Linton's "Developing DITA Maps", and Michael Priestly's "Specialization"

Stay tuned for a series of posts with a summary of the sessions I attended, and a few pics thrown in for fun! I did try to moblog throughout the conference, but apparently Raleigh was not as friendly to T-Mobile, and my posts never made it to blogger.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

New DITA XML.org Focus Area

The OASIS DITA TC has officially launched a Focus Area site at: http://dita.xml.org/

The site features three main sections:

  1. DITA Knowledge Base, which provides a technical and educational background on the standard, as compiled by the site's Editorial Board;
  2. DITA Today, which serves as a community bulletin board and directory; and
  3. DITA Wiki, which enables the public to dynamically collaborate on documents and add new pages.

Check it out!

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DocBook to SCORM conversion

Sasha Philippov has announced the release of a free command-line tool for DocBook to SCORM 2004 conversion. It is the command-line Ant-based java application intended to generate SCORM 2004 compliant packages from DocBook 4.4 sources. It's free to use but not open source. It uses XSL stylesheets from DocBook project on SourceForge to generate HTML resources.

You can find more information on the tool at: http://pyxx.org/DocBook2SCORM/overview.html

Michael Smith reported an "Unsupported major.minor version 49.0" error with Java 1.4.2, so you may want to use the latest version of Java.

I am also doing some work with clients on authoring eLearning content in DocBook and exporting to SCORM, so I will definitely be giving this a try! Will post my results later...

Update: Sasha has recompiled the converter to support JRE 1.3 and higher.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Doctor Who: The Next Regeneration

My wife and I were pleasantly surprised to see the Sci-Fi Channel carrying Doctor Who! We've been looking for a new show, as Battlestar is getting a little too dark, and we can't seem to stay on top of Stargate (time-commitment, as opposed to not understanding plotlines). The show will be part of Sci-Fi Fridays.

My friend Cam first introduced me to Doctor Who through the boardgame (Doctor Who: The Game of Time and Space) and also the TV series starring Tom Baker.

I'd lost touch with Doctor Who, since I also liked classic Buck Rogers, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, Star Trek:The Next Generation, and more...

When I saw the series promo on Sci-Fi, I thought it was new! Turns out after research on Wikipedia, that the series being broadcast is from 2005, starring Christopher Eccleston. There is already a new Doctor, David Tennant.

From the two episodes we saw this past Friday, starring Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper, we are very excited to watch!


Monday, March 13, 2006

My Favorite Martian

Check out what Google just released! Google Mars! I've always dreamt about going to Mars, but this is the next best thing to being there...

I thought it was also cool that the MRO (Mars Recon. Orbiter) entered orbit around Mars on my 10th Anniversary on Friday! Details on this mission are here: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mro/. This mission/spacecraft should give Google Mars some GREAT images to use!


Friday, March 10, 2006

Ten years of wedded bliss!

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Today, Dawn and I mark ten years of marriage! We are planning a trip to Scotland this year to celebrate. Tonight we are getting together with many of our original wedding party. It will be fun to see everyone again. For those not with us, we will be thinking of you!

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New DocBook releases

Norm Walsh has published the following new DocBook releases:

Version 4.5CR2. This is the Committee Specification version of DocBook V4.5 with a minor bug-fix to citebiblioid. The reference documentation has also been updated.

Version 5.0b4. This incorporates a number of changes including a new "cover" element, a fix for title-ordering in info elements, a few minor renamings, and a build fix to correct the totally unusable XSD files distributed with b2 and b3. The reference documentation has also been updated.

Simplified DocBook V1.2CR1. This fixes a bug in 1.1 that requires a caption on an informaltable. It is also based on 4.5CR2.

The schemas are available here: DocBook 4.5CR2, DocBook 5.0b4, Simplified DocBook 1.2CR1

Thanks, Norm!


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Agile Publishing with XML

Michael Fitzgerald (of XML Hacks fame) has written an interesting article on Agile Publishing.

Agile publishing shouldn't need to worry about common tools, as long as everyone on the project is using a common format (XML) and common schema/DTD (e.g. DocBook). Each person could work on whatever section of the document they want using the XML editor of their choice (vim, jedit, Arbortext, oXygen, you name it!) as long as there is some validation prior to checking it back in!

What is desperately needed are more XML editors that support RelaxNG. Thank you oXygen! However, we need the more author-friendly tools to support RelaxNG. (Psst! That means you, Arbortext and XMetal!)


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

DocBook specialization made easy

Jirka Kosek has created a most excellent summary of how to easily create a custom specialization of DocBook, using the DocBook v5.0 spec. Check it out at:
http://xmlguru.cz/2006/03/easy-docbook-specialization. As Jirka says, "Dumb easy!"

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