Online groups, autumn 2009
One member has a set of XML-based topics that he wants to use to make reference documentation. He thinks that the DITA Open Toolkit (http://www.dita-ot.org) is suitable, except for some formatting problems with RTF.
The RTF output from DITA is considered to be only sufficient, not high quality. RTF output has many limitations. For high-quality output, you must do work to get what you want.
Possibly, PDF is a better option for client documentation. However, if requirements are not standard, expect to put much effort into the process. Advanced PDF output is supported in the DITA community. The best results come from the PDF2 plug-in (also known as the Idiom FO plug-in). The PDF2 plug-in requires the use of the commercial XEP rendering engine (www.renderx.com/tools/xep.html).
One member wants software to use at home for 3D illustrations for mechanical and electrical components. He wants to create exploded views, cutaways and ghosting effects (the outer surface is partly transparent).
Members recommended many tools:
- Adobe Acrobat 3D (www.adobe.com). One member uses Adobe Acrobat 3D to import 3D models into a PDF document that he sends to clients. His clients can view the 3D illustrations without special viewers. He is not artistic, and Adobe Acrobat 3D saves him much time, because he does not need to take photographs and edit them with graphics software. He renders what the designers previously modelled. If necessary, he uses Adobe Photoshop to add annotations to an image. The latest version of the 3D software is Acrobat 9 Pro Extended.
- Arbortext IsoDraw (www.ptc.com). If you are not an experienced illustrator, Adobe Illustrator will probably be frustrating to use for isometric illustration. IsoDraw has a 'CAD Process' option that lets you change a 3D computer-aided design (CAD) to 2D line art. The process is good at applying thick and thin lines correctly, and at removing unnecessary detail. The process keeps part information, such as part numbers and descriptions, from the CAD data. You can use the data for other purposes, such as for exploded parts lists.
- Autodesk Inventor (www.autodesk.com).
- Auto-trol Tech Illustrator (www.auto-trol.com). In 2005, this cost approximately the same as IsoDraw, but the user interface was not as good.
- Corel DESIGNER Professional SG (www.corel.com).
- CorelDRAW (www.corel.com). This is better at 3D manipulation than Adobe Illustrator, and it is cheaper than IsoDraw. However, CorelDRAW is suitable only for simple 3D views.
- Dassault Systèmes 3DVIA Composer (www.3ds.com).
Can agile methods be used to manage documentation projects? For writing tasks, one member wants technical publication sprints that are not related to development sprints. Stakeholders include the localization team, the development team and the quality assurance team. The development sprints do not let her be as efficient as she needs to be, and they are not suitable for the needs of technical publication experts.
One member works in an XP (Extreme Programming) environment. The basic principles are the same as for agile methods. Putting one technical communicator in each agile team is important. Make sure that the technical communicators work in a way that lets you track their work. Typically, use a small and equivalent method to the development team. For more information about agile methods and technical documentation, read the member's blog.