21 June 2011

XMLMind and DocBook

Following on from my recent post about choosing the right tool for the job, I thought I’d share a little of what I’d recently been through doing just that. Imagine, if you will, a software company that doesn't employ a technical author. Most of the time, they write their own documentation (for a fairly technical product set) and bring in someone when major changes are needed, to pull everything back into shape. So far, the majority of the user documentation had been written using FrameMaker - a suitable tool for the job. Unfortunately, there were two big problems:
  1. They were using FrameMaker 7.x, which is not compatible with Windows post-XP (Windows Vista or Windows 7).
  2. You could guarantee when someone wanted to update his or her section of the documentation, someone else was using the 'FrameMaker' machine.

Someone within the company had some experience of using the DocBook schema to write software-related materials, and I was asked to investigate the options available to them to produce all of their documentation in that format. After going through the schema, trying out a few different products myself, and sending links for my client to download trial versions if they so chose, I settled on XMLMind.

Why did I choose this one, and not one of the many other good tools available? Well, it has a reasonably good interface if, like me, you have a preference for the keyboard over the mouse. That doesn't mean you can't use it with a mouse: you can, but I found I soon felt a tad frustrated at so much scrolling and clicking to get to the command I wanted. At the end of the day, as long as the tool selected enforces the DocBook schema so that the same files can be edited in some other way, the tool is irrelevant. I tried that out, moving from one application to another...even dipping into Notepad++ to make sweeping changes.

All that's OK as far as it goes. The one thing that really made the difference, though, was the support. You get access to the support forum, and some of that support is provided by more expert users BUT (and it's a big BUT), your questions are answered promptly and courteously by someone within the company. Not only that, but what really impressed me was that responses were tailored to match the technical content of the question - so newbies like me weren't drowned in technospeak, while the more experienced users got the level of detail they needed. Hussein, take a bow.

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