Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Another reason to learn about XML/DITA ...

Bernard Aschwanden's workshops are informative and entertaining. Aschwanden recently held an XML/DITA workshop at Northeast Ohio STC. Here is a review from NEO STC senior member Lori Neuman:

Software Saturday Beats Laundry, Chores and Carpool Any Day!

Lori Neuman, Senior Member
Rockwell Automation

Saturday morning. Early. I got up, got dressed like I was going to work, grabbed my coffee, and headed back to college. I left behind my sleeping family, and a laundry list of the usual Saturday chores. I was off to Tri-C to create in XML!

Bernard Aschwanden of BrightPath Solutions was better than I could have imagined. In addition to his vast knowledge, he provided the sort of witty repartee I don’t always get to indulge in my daily life. He was quick with the one-liners and sardonic humor as he dished out perhaps the clearest explanation of DITA and XML authoring I have ever heard.

For those of you new to the DITA camp, the acronym stands for Darwin Information Typing Architecture. It’s a set of XML-based constructs for authoring. Those of us (myself included) who work at companies embracing DITA know the justifications. Re-using content because it’s retrievable and reusable because it’s tagged with DITA elements. Freeing up writers to create technical masterpieces because we don’t have to spend time formatting. All good. But DITA is also cool because it’s XML, and, that, as we know, is the language of the Internet. It impresses my 13-year old stepdaughter (though she won’t admit it) to actually know someone who can author web content. I can tell because of the way she fails to hide her covert admiration when I toss out “BRB!” (be right back) in Internet-speak when I leave the room, or ROTFL (rolling on the floor laughing) when she says something funny.

Back to DITA and XML. After showing us what DITA looks like, and how it fits into the larger world of XML, Bernard got down to it. Although he used specific tools, never once did this session feel like he was shilling for a vendor. Bernard showed us how to author in both Adobe FrameMaker (Structured; V. 8), and JustSystems XMetal, two power players in the emerging DITA authoring world. Bernard pointed out strengths and weaknesses of each tool, and showed us how to go from one tool to the other. For those of us who ever believed that it was easy to convert Word files into something else, like FrameMaker, and were sorely disappointed, this was Nirvana. Because it’s XML, and because it used DITA constructs, going between one DITA-compliant software and another is truly painless. As it turns out, FrameMaker is great for authoring because of the simple authoring pane and tag view it displays. XMetal, on the other hand, is a great single-source engine, allowing you to dynamically create many outputs, including online help.

The day whizzed by, aided not only by Bernard’s swift, on-track delivery style, but by the boxes (yes, boxes!) of Starbucks CafĂ© Verona our Chapter hosts and hostesses provided. Cool authoring tools, my favorite coffee, and a break from the usual grind. Great way to spend my Saturday!

1 comment:

  1. Having spend some time chatting to Bernard, and seen his presentations a couple of times I'm sure his session was informative and funny.


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