Why AuthorIT?

As I mentioned before, we are planning to migrate content from FrameMaker to AuthorIT, staging the migration across two different product sets (and no small amount of time!). I’m in the process of evaluating AuthorIT for, despite having used it before, it has recently been overhauled with a spiffy new UI and some new features.

AuthorIT is a single source system, with content stored in a central database, which can publish to most (all?) of the formats that anyone would ever need. It includes an editor, supports multiple users, and has some additional add-ons for localisation and so on. Their website is very good if you want more information on their product.

After downloading and installing the trial version, which limits your import and publishing but otherwise has all the features available for use, I fired it up and was greeted with the new interface. Based on the ribbons used in the latest version of Microsoft Office, it is quite a shift away from the previous version and it took me a while to get to grips with. However it is a huge improvement over the old version and once you are used to it, like anything, it’s very nice to use. Yes I know there are still issues being dealt with, but I didn’t run across that many during my testing, so I’m happy.

During my evaluation I spoke to their Business Development Manager who was very helpful in delving into some of the issues I had around versioning and set my mind at rest. I’ll outline how we are going to handle maintaining multiple versions of documents in another post, once I’ve given it a dry run or two.

One issue that cropped up was the location and format of the supporting database. You can run AuthorIT on a Jet database either locally or on a network drive although that is particularly performant, or run it on a SQL Server. As we are a small team I did consider the Jet database but our situation suggests a server database would be better. Which introduced another problem, price. SQL Server isn’t the cheapest and we don’t have an installation in-house. Thankfully one of our IT guys suggested SQL Express (a limited free version of SQL Server) as a possibility, and after a quick check on the AuthorIT Yahoo Group, I’ve found that it will run quite happily on that database.

There is a limit of 4GB on the database size but as long as we keep our images elsewhere there is little chance we’ll hit that limit. Our total content at present, including images, tops out under 500MB for one version of the documentation. So we’ll actually be saving space on a server as we won’t be maintaining multiple versions of entire documents. Must remember to point that out to our IT guys!

Aside from versioning the only feature I was unfamiliar with was the batch runner, which allows you to run a batch file (.bat) as a scheduled task. Our current system runs at night, using Webworks to create a Javahelp file which is then included in the software build and AuthorIT will give us similar functionality.

Why AuthorIT? Well, quite simply it gives us what we need.

I spent some time at the X-Pubs conference last year, and throughout the presentations the underlying message was “get your requirements sorted before hunting for a system”. The premise is obvious enough, if you decide on a system first, you end up shoe-horning your processes around how it works rather than getting a system that works you way YOU work.

I also spent some time considering DITA but ultimately switching to an XML-based system is still too cost-prohibitive. AuthorIT is a compromise, allowing us to work how we want to work, whilst giving us single source benefits. We will use DITA as a framework for how we plan and write the content, but the simple fact is that AuthorIT is a much better value proposition than a bespoke system, both in monetary and resource terms. This makes the business case much easier to sell.

If you are considering single sourcing your content, then I’d strongly suggest you investigate AuthorIT as a possibility. It has limitations, including the oft-cited reliance on Word as a publishing engine, but for me the advantages outweight those.

And no, I am not being paid to endorse AuthorIT.