Product Review: easyDITA Adds More Awesome and Becomes a Top Contender

Author’s note: I was given a trial instance of the new release of easyDITA to evaluate for this review. I received no remuneration from easyDITA to write this review. I was not encouraged in any way, either directly or indirectly, by Jorsek, the owners of easyDITA, to provide a positive review. These are my actual, professional opinions.

easyDITAeasyDITA-logo has been a middle-of-the-pack contender in the DITA CCMS field for the last few years. They offered attractive pricing options, with seductive simplicity and the kind of easy-to-master usability that made wonderful selling points. But to many DITA adopters, easyDITA just didn’t have the functionality to make it the first choice.

I had the great privilege to take an early look at the release preview for easyDITA 2016, their upcoming new release. With this version, easyDITA proves that they are stepping up their game: the same great quality, and impressive usability, and now with the kind of functionality that make them top contenders.

Enhanced and Customizable Workflow

In the last release, workflow was simple. So simple that, unless you were particularly strict about using it, you would inadvertently make it useless to yourself. So easyDITA beefed up the workflow functionality while trying to retain the simplicity and ease of use.

Assignments, tasks, notifications—anyone familiar with workflow will recognize that the basics are all covered. More important, there’s a way to tie one or more maps and topics to the workflow, set due dates, and assign workflow tasks to others easily. More importantly, easyDITA lets you extensively customize the workflow for your own requirements.

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I’d like to see even more improvements in this area, such as the ability to to set multiple dates for a particular assignment; access to a project management view of one or more workflows (with an eye to creating reports); and giving the buttons more intuitive names. If you select Close assignment on a workflow task, does it end the workflow or complete the activity? Most of us likely would guess wrong a dozen times before getting it right, while trying to remember the difference between workflow, assignment, and activity.

Translation

By definition, a CCMS won’t translate content for you, relying instead on capabilities to store, track, and manage multiple languages (including managing dependencies between them, so, for example, when an English topic changes, the already-translated-to-20-languages relevant topics are flagged for translation). Support for translation management has always been one of the major areas of savings for organizations with any DITA content that needs translation to one or more languages. easyDITA initially decided to focus on other advanced features, so translation management and localization were good but didn’t meet the needs of those large companies with signification translation requirements.

However, easyDITA has recently announced a partnership with XTM Cloud, a web-based translation management system. This will make easyDITA a major player for DITA adopters who have translation management needs. I haven’t seen this functionality in use yet, but expect great strides in functionality as this partnership gains traction.

Usability

The new filter options make finding content easy.

The new filter options make finding content easy.

easyDTIA made some substantial changes in the way you access your work, your workflow action items, and your files.

My favorite change has to do with findability. One of the major issues for new adopters of DITA revolves around suddenly facing the difficulty of tracking, storing, and finding hundreds or even millions of small files—topics and graphics.

Many CCMSs do not correctly leverage the versatility of XML, from a retrieval sense, to simplify finding specific topics and maps for authors. easyDITA nailed it. The new filter options are fantastic; a great example of how a DITA CCMS can leverage metadata to the utmost to make finding topics, graphics, and DITAmaps quick and easy.

I look forward to seeing even more improvements in search and retrieval, with the ability to filter by DITA attributes and values, to create and manage your own taxonomy, and to provide authors with taxonomical drop-down lists. Metadata is one of the most powerful aspects of DITA, not just for authors to use but also for authors to leverage on behalf of project management, workflow, and end-user filtering. Let’s leverage it (and automate it) as much as possible.

The rest of the interface has become a bit more complex. The Dashboard is less intuitive than I would like, focussing on workflow and products (whereas I would focus on saved searches and bookmarks, to pick up exactly where you left off), and the various panes take some practice to show and hide at will.

These usability changes steepen the learning curve slightly. To put this statement in its proper perspective, in the last release you could pick up easyDITA in a manner of minutes, if you were already familiar with DITA and the concept of a CCMS. The new version requires a couple of hours to get comfortable authoring, searching, navigating, and publishing—and the upload functionality took me two days to find! Nonetheless, it compares very favorably to the learning curve for the more expensive CCMSs on the market, where you can expect to take weeks or even months to get up to speed and become really productive with the system.

easy_topictypesDITA Functionality

Many CCMSs (and some WCMs and ECMSs) claim that they support DITA, but easyDITA is one of the few systems that was actually built for DITA. That means they built it to grow as DITA grew. They offer out-of-the-box support for topic types that some other CCMSs are still struggling to provide (or charge you extra to leverage).

In addition to what’s pictured here, they are also providing the new DITA1.3 Troubleshooting topic. If you have specialized topics, those are also possible to add (with some help).

They didn’t change what was already awesome

easyDITA was smart about planning this new version, choosing not to fix what wasn’t broken. Some of the most awesome aspects of easyDITA remain:

  • SaaS: Offered as a service, bringing one of the most expensive aspects of DITA adoption within reach for many with tighter budgets. It can, however, still be installed on site for IT departments that have strict security requirements.
  • Web-based interface: I can’t wait to see Chrome and IE supported as browsers. In the meantime, the interface being in any browser (Firefox) creates such a usable, flexible environment that, for me and my writers, it’s absolutely worth it.
  • Interoperability: Use SharePoint, push to another system, pull from another system? No problem. These guys do their utmost to link their system to your other software repositories, opening up the doors to open connections from otherwise discrete applications.
  • DITA specializations and constraints: More and more companies are creating specialized topics, and sometimes even enforcing guidance on authors by limiting the elements available. easyDITA can customize its offering to match your content strategy. This is work the company does for you (rather than you digging in and doing it yourself), and this kind of flexibility becomes another huge selling point. So if you have a flavor of DITA and your current content management just isn’t cutting it, don’t despair—this tool’s for you.

Overall

In a nutshell, easyDITA’s new release is more complex and less easy. However, less easy is really a good thing, when it results in more flexibility, greater customization, and higher levels of productivity. I, for one, am looking forward to using easyDITA in many projects to come. I also can’t wait to see what pleasant surprises the next release will bring, because this company is definitely headed in the right direction.

Remember, determining which CCMS is the right one for you involves three key steps: 1) identifying your requirements; 2) prioritizing your essential business goals for successful DITA adoption; and 3) matching requirements and goals to a CCMS that offers what you need. easyDITA, like other CCMS vendors, offers a set of functionality that can address most, but not every single business goal you might require. Do your requirements gathering upfront to ensure that you purchase the CCMS that best fits your needs.

Jacquie Samuels

Jacquie Samuels is the owner of Writing Wise. She endeavors to help everyone create documentation that is stronger, faster, and smarter. You can connect with Jacquie through her Google Plus page.

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