easyDITA: Newest version is truly an approachable DITA XML Editor

Today, TechWhirl is profiling Jorsek’s newest version of easyDITA. Promoted as “the world’s first fully collaborative XML editor”, the newest version of easyDITA is a remarkable release that combines ease-of-use, approachability for non-technical authors, and plenty of enhanced features for DITA XML power users.

Profiles like these almost always focus on DITA XML power users because most authoring tools come with a steep, “this-isn’t-worth-it” learning curve. Even if they’ve given a structured tool a try, non-technical authors often switch to less structured tools and all the issues that come with them (no re-use capabilities, no multi-channel publishing or automatic validation), because the existing structured authoring tools represent too large a change in methodology for them.

If you’re like me (card-carrying, non-technical author), easyDITA could possibly be the answer. Especially if you’re looking for the power of DITA / structured authoring, while yearning for a user-friendly interface that lets you understand 99% of the feature set.  Jorsek’s new release isn’t just pretty – it’s super-fast, and it provides powerful collaboration tools often only seen in unstructured tools like Microsoft Word® and Google Docs®.

But easyDITA never forgets its DITA roots – the team has provided a number of enhancements that power users requested. That means it’s still one of the most powerful DITA authoring tools available. Except that this time, you all get to have nice things like an easy-to-use interface and real-time collaboration.

Features for Everyone – Even you ardent Word® user: Long-Form Document Editing

A little background for the uninitiated – componentized content management and the systems that manage data do so, not at the document level (like Microsoft SharePoint®), but at more granular content level. To get to this level of information, DITA authoring systems break down information into maps (think outlines) and topics (specific information types such as concept, task, reference, and learning content). The combination of maps, content types, tags and the actual material allow for numerous types of documents or outputs to be created.

The componentizing of content allows teams to create the content once and then assemble the content in multiple ways. One time they’ll publish a manual, and the next time they’ll organize the content to publish to an online knowledge base. The separation of the content from the final design means that updates happen much faster, and teams can create many variations from a single source.

The challenge with many DITA structured authoring tools is that they make it ridiculously hard to see the entire document one is drafting. Most require the author, or more likely many authors, to draft each component in isolation and then hope that the voice and style are similar when assembly time arrives.

A tell-tale sign of docs drafted by most structured authoring tools is an almost total lack of flow from one section to another. The new version of easyDITA eliminates this issue with its long-form document editing approach. Now, author(s) can see the entire document as one entity simplifying the ability to create continuity and easier crosslinking.

For teams transitioning from Microsoft Word® or Google Docs® this doesn’t sound like a major enhancement, and that’s the point.

Real-time collaboration

In addition to long-form document views, easyDITA also features real-time editing by multiple users. Now users can work on the document and see each other’s work as a finished product online, rather than jumping between multiple screens, comparing printouts, or just guessing.

So, with easyDITA, authors get the “nice things” of an unstructured-like environment (Google Docs®), while getting the power of multichannel publishing and single-sourcing. According to the easyDITA team, this feature took the longest to research, design and implement. However, if you’re a lone structured authoring geek and not a fan of this feature, the team did confirm that it is possible to check the drafts out to allow for a quiet writing environment.

Drafting Modes: Editing, Suggesting, Commenting and View only Mode

Another clever feature available in the newest version enables assignment of different editing permissions to different users. Admins can assign editing, suggesting, commenting and view-only mode for individual or all users. This is another capability borrowed from easyDITA’s unstructured cousins.

With this multiple editing permissions feature, an author can share a draft (single-sourced) to a reviewer and assign them “Suggesting” mode to see their recommended changes. This “track changes” feature allows for wider distribution of materials for feedback and quality checks, while keeping final editorial decisions in the control of the owner.

Commenting and viewing modes are even more restrictive in that users can add feedback, but not actually remove the original text. Participants can collaborate in real-time with easyDITA, without the need to install a sharing server or attempt to import PDFs back into their system. The seamless process can certainly help adoption in companies looking to make the jump to structured authoring.

Simplified View for Reviewers

Structured authoring tools often intimidate non-technical contributors. Between inside baseball terminology like maps, metadata, and tags, and the need to edit in a special software, authoring teams are forced choose to share their materials in some more approachable software such as a PDF or Microsoft Word ® document, so non-technical users can review and provide feedback. I can’t imagine a less efficient way to manage reviews and feedback.

easyDITA eliminates this issue by providing a scaled down view for reviewers.

Now, reviewers can get the shared document, make their changes and not feel like they’ve been punished because they’re forced to learn an entirely new software that looks like it came from the last century. In easyDITA, users just click a link and review the materials.

Power User Enhancements

A majority of this profile does cover non-DITA specific enhancements of easyDITA, because this author isn’t overly technical. In fact, this is the first software profile I’ve written in years because most times I can’t figure out the tool well enough to provide any information other than profanity-laced tirades about lack of interoperability between software developed by the same company, or user interfaces so lazy I often want to give a warm hug to any technical writer I meet who says they use it.

easyDITA does have some really nice enhancements for the DITA power user, including world-class loading speed, autosaving, drag-and-drop topics in DITA maps and side-by-side editing, and robust keyboard shortcuts. Because it does more justice to these features than I can, I’ll recommend that you take a little time to watch their easyDITA introductory video. The easyDITA team dives into all of the new features for power-users.

Final Words

To me, easyDITA is a next generation XML authoring tool.

The Jorsek team has done a remarkable job making a DITA tool so truly unremarkable for non-technical users that they’ll actually be able to use it. Who knows, maybe with easyDITA they’ll want to use it. The software is fast and feature rich, while not sacrificing the enterprise publishing capabilities that made DITA the standard in this industry.

easyDITA is a partner of TechWhirl (look to the right and top of the screen), but frankly that doesn’t mean we always say nice things. For years, with old partners, we often chose to say nothing rather than something. ;) The net? We recommend you not take our word for it, but give them a try—they offer a 30-day free trial.


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