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Subject: RE: [dita-adoption] Alternative for DITA Help Technologies Guide

Dear Marc

Your mail was very interesting, and you've raised some good suggestions. I'd like to clarify some things you mentioned relating to the DITA Help Technologies Guide (DHTG).

The DHTG is the product of the DITA Help Subcommittee, rather than the DITA Adoption TC. The DHTG is entirely focussed on providing guidance to Help authors wishing to use DITA for the creation of Help systems for software applications. It is therefore looking at the delivery of documents, rather than the authoring of documents. The DHTG makes no attempt to evaluate tools, so that Pandora's Box might have to be opened by the Adoption TC! In your mail, you seem to have tied "tool comparisons at the back of a book" to the withdrawal of the DHTG from the approval process, which is not the case. So, just to confirm, the DHTG has no tool comparisons, no table at the back of the book, and no tool evaluations or recommendations.

Moving on to the Adoption TC's "Beginners Guide"... I think that a guide for new adopters that only speaks in abstract terms about tools is not going to be particularly helpful. I agree with you that a good approach would be to concentrate objectively on features or capabilities, rather than more subjectively on reviews or evaluations of tools. The "features and capabilities" approach may also form the backbone of some sort of "certification" or "five star" scheme, so that adopters could better understand what it means when a tool claims to "support DITA". 


Tony Self
Chair, DITA Help Subcommittee

-----Original Message-----
From: mspeyer@stilo.com [mailto:mspeyer@stilo.com] 
Sent: Thursday, 2 April 2009 1:37 AM
To: dita-adoption@lists.oasis-open.org
Subject: [dita-adoption] Alternative for DITA Help Technologies Guide

Hi All,

Since I am quite new to the OASIS contributor process as a member forgive me if in this not the right way to provide my view on some of the past discussions.

The final word on the DITA Help Technologies Guide has gone out and the focus of this group is now on a Beginners Guide for Getting Output from DITA (JoAnns favorite title). I think this is very good and a very much needed. 

The problem with a guide that tries to evaluate tools is that it may never get it right, quickly becomes outdated or unintentionally favors certain vendors. Such a guide also postulates the view of the persons who have done the evaluation: what requirements did they use and how where they prioritized? Whatever the answer is, it is probably different from a DITA adopter. We have all seen these tool comparisons in the back of a book and I have found them mostly of limited value. In all I think dropping the DITA Help Technologies Guide was the right decision.

On the other hand we could be missing something by not providing any help to DITA adopters on technologies and tools.  After all isnt it the available tools - both commercial and open source  that determines whether a standards becomes widely accepted and used? Isnt it is the broad tool support that make organizations decide to go ahead with a proprietary or open standard? So without any help from the Adoption TC we leave it to the DITA adopters to make the right choice which is unlikely without a good background in DITA, XML and previous experience with tools. As a safeguard some organizations devise an evaluation process, often using poor selection criteria and loaded with a lot of political burdens. In this case it is advisable to get a consultant in to help steer the organization through the difficult tools selection process. Once the decisions have been made and the tools have been acquired the integration starts, a risky undertaking especially with the maturity of DITA today. If I was about to adopt DITA I would feel very uncomfortable especially if I was an SME with limited budget.

Probably a safer way we can help DITA adopters is by providing a list of important selection criteria which they can use as a guidance for finding out what is important and what to look for in tools. Selection criteria can be objectively constructed. A criterion could have as a short label, a longer description, why it is important and what level of support to look for if you want to achieve certain goals. To give an example: in a recent project with a customer it was realized that the decision to standardize on MathML for equations has an impact on the authoring tool, the storage solution and the publishing engine. Unfortunately neither the authoring tool nor the PDF rendering engine have support for MathML. Sure there are plug-ins (from the DITA Yahoo Users Group) that render MathML into SVG but with the DITA-OT on every authors desktop the organization is now facing increased support. If this organization knew when to use MathML and what level of tool support is needed for it, they would probably have chosen other tools.  I also think in addition to the selection criteria we could also to provide some test DITA content of different levels of complexity which DITA adopters could use to benchmark their own situation and the tools they require.

Although it could take quite some work to develop a selection criteria toolset I think it addresses many of the issues that were identified when we discussed the DITA Help Technologies Guide.

Best regards,

Marc Speyer
Stilo International plc

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