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Office Pets. Part II: Blacky and Felix

This is the second (and last) part of our blog series about office pets. This time, we show off Blacky and Felix, two brothers. They are six years old, curious, and always hungry. more ...

Check if or check that? Or: Have you tried turning if off and on again?

How often do we read or write that we should check something? Example: "Check if the computer is connected to power." Clear message, no misunderstanding. But what if it says: "Check that the computer is connected to power." more ...

Ten questions for Ines Lasch, intern at parson

Ines Lasch just finished her vocational training as a technical writer and is doing an eight-week internship at parson. We asked her ten questions. more ...

Vocational Training for Technical Communicators. How Does it Work?

Anja Schiel, trainee, and Ulrike Parson, CEO of parson AG, offer their insights into the vocational training for technical communicators. more ...

Make Technical Documentation Intelligent - From Content Management to Content Delivery

In this article, Martin Kreutzer and Ulrike Parson describe how you fill content-delivery portals with intelligent information so that users quickly get the right answers to their questions. more ...

Technical Writing with oXygen

For oXygen I have to thank my colleague Mark. He was looking for an XML editor for script programming and downloaded a test version of oXygen. Soon we found out that with oXygen we could easily create XML documentation in common standards like DITA or Docbook. We bought a floating license for the oXygen XML Editor, which we intended to share.

At the same time, some of our customers requested oXygen. We started to use the program productively for authoring. Poor Mark was left with nothing – our floating license was now constantly in use by me. Fortunately, you can always buy more licenses.

Versions

In addition to the full version, oXygen offers two limited versions: XML Developer is suitable for things like schema design and XSLT development. XML Author provides all functionality for writing XML-based documentation. Those looking for a tool to only create standard DITA files, should go for XML Author.

Learning Curve

Technical writers, who have used Word or unstructured FrameMaker so far, may find it more difficult to switch to oXygen. They are probably not familiar with the basic principles of XML-based documentation, such as:

  • Separation of layout and content
  • Thinking in elements and rule-based content structures instead of paragraph styles
  • Variant management and output control using attributes
  • Topic-oriented authoring (not really an XML principle, but used in many XML environments)

Technical writers who have already worked with XML will quickly feel at home. They will also be pleased that they won’t have to install a number of plug-ins or edit configuration files before they can produce a first result (hello FrameMaker!).

Instant Output

What I liked straightaway: I could open a DITA map that I had created in FrameMaker in a default oXygen installation – and at the click of a button, produce a web help and a PDF file. Of course, the results are not yet suitable for publishing. They have to be adjusted to corporate standards. But they are good for a review anyway.

Mouse vs Keyboard

oXygen offers flexible views and handling. Authors who are used to WYSIWYG editors will prefer the Author mode where they can completely hide the XML tags. Authors with a more technical background might use the Text mode that displays raw XML. In both modes, you have many possibilities to add elements and attributes, for example, auto completion, pop-up menus, or catalogs .

Oxygen_DITA

1 – DITA Maps Manager: Lets you edit the map in the tree structure.
2 – Outline: Hierarchical content view, similar to the structur view in FrameMaker.
3 – Editor in the Author mode: Lets you configure which XML tags you see or hide the tags altogether.
4 – Elements Catalogue: At the current position, invalid elements are displayed in grey.
5 – Transformation Scenarios: The currently configured output format.

Perfect Layout?

If I have the choice to edit DITA files in FrameMaker or oXygen, I go for oXygen. The only fly in the ointment: You cannot easily adjust the PDF layout. FrameMaker lets you create templates grafically with onboard tools. oXygen requires knowledge in XSLT or CSS to customize the layout. Plus, you cannot manually manipulate page breaks and the like before printing. But if your focus is on automation rather than a perfect layout, you should be all right.

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