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Can DITA Authoring and Publishing be Done Completely using Open Source Tools?

SundarNSundarN Posts: 3
Although our customers have not asked for the work that we do for them to be authored in a DITA environment, we want to adopt DITA internally to improve our delivery process. The tools that are commercially available are quite expensive and unless my customer sponsors buying of these tools we may not be able to afford the same. 

So my question to the community is this: Can DITA authoring and publishing be done using open source (free or less expensive) tools? 

Has anyone tried the same? What are your experiences? 


  • Jacquie SamuelsJacquie Samuels CanadaPosts: 38
    That's probably not the right question to ask even though I know what you're getting at. Tools (and budget for tools) are the last things you ought to consider (although I know it's tempting to go straight there). If you switch it around, you can ask yourself more important questions first, like 
    • what are your business requirements?
    • what are your goals (what will make adoption a success for YOU)?
    • where do you expect to get your ROI (even if it's just effort to customize solutions)
    • what is your desired end user experience
    • how do authors and reviewers need to work
    • and a lot more
    Then determine if the tools at the lower end of the spectrum (free, open source, or budget-conscious) can meet your requirements.

    There's no point in putting hours of work in on customizing an open-source tool if it still can't meet your requirements--thus making all that effort for nothing; you don't gain the benefits you need.

    It's important to note that there are tools that you can "buy" monthly on a subscription basis that make the initial cost less overwhelming...but of course you'll end up spending more in the long term on these ones (assuming this is a long-term initiative)--and they may or may not meet your requirements, which is really the litmus test for any tool of any price.

    Your requirements and your desired user experience should drive everything else, even if you have zero budget.

    But to actually answer the question: Yes, some people have used open-source or free tools to author, store, manage, and publish DITA content--it's a lot of work, a lot of time, and you have to be able and willing (have the time) to code, customize, etc. those tools. Conversion generally requires at least FrameMaker (and then you're still doing it the slow way). As an example (not one I'm necessarily recommending mind you) you could use: XMLeD (https://code.google.com/p/xmled/) plus SVN plus the DITA Open Toolkit plus a website of some kind with a search (and preferably MUCH more). You need skills in CSS (for HTML) and XSL:FO (for PDF) to make this a viable option.

    Generally speaking, in my experience over the last 9 years, I've rarely seen a case where the tools didn't pay for themselves in 3 years or (far) sooner, but getting that message to the person holding the budgetary purse strings can sometimes be quite a challenge.

    Jacquie Samuels
  • SundarNSundarN Posts: 3
    Hi Jacquie,

    Thank you for the detail drill down on my question. I agree with you that start with the cost of the tool is not necessarily the right approach. The selection of the tools should be a result of a detailed understanding of what I want to accomplish and what the end result should be. 

    I was expecting that going the fully free way might not actually turn out to be "free" once I factor in the time required to get all the free tools to work together to close the loop in DITA implementation. Thanks for confirming that. 

  • Jacquie SamuelsJacquie Samuels CanadaPosts: 38
    Correction to free XML editor: That one on google code is defunct. Try this one instead: http://holloway.co.nz/doctored/

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