CMS/DITA Conference Session 7: The DITA Troubleshooting Specialization

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by David Kelly

This session was presented by Carolyn Inkster (project manager) and Dan Dionne (technical lead) from IBM. They were responsible for the development of the troubleshooting specialization that has been placed in the open-source keeping of OASIS. It is currently available as a separate download for integration with DITA-OT 1.4.

The need arose based on the variety of problem/resolution formats across IBM’s documentation set. More than once I heard that at one time IBM was the second largest publisher in the world, right after the US Government Publishing Office (or whatever it’s called). They did a business case and determined that clear, consistent formatting would save writers’ time and customer support time sufficiently to make the development costs worthwhile.

Development consisted of two months of part-time haggling over the architecture among the IBM team, and a few days of development for the DTD/mod files and the XSL for the toolkit.

Development went through the rigorous IBM process required to develop specializations. Boy, I sure love working for a small company!

The demoed pages and the description of the tagging looked like it would work for a basic, flat problem/resolution scenario. The XSLT provides standard labels for some of the section types, where for other section type(s?) there is a “label” tag that allows customized labeling.

For more complex decision-tree troubleshooting it would not work. Apparently this is Phase 2, currenlty under development, and Dan Dionne looked considerably more excited by the technical challenges in this phase than in the first phase. As he put it, “Specialization is absurdly easy.” Of course, he then followed this up with “Specializing DITA attributes is a shaky business.”

Hmm. Having just done same for a customer recently, I began to feel a little shaky.

One audience member opined that it would have been nice if IBM had removed the IBM-specific terms from the specialization before donating it to OASIS. The response was along the lines of “that effort did not fit into their business justification and they would applaud the contribution of anyone who wanted to expend the effort to make further sub- or up-specializations and donate it to OASIS.”

Well, sure, why not. It’s “absurdly easy.”

And that’s about it for tonight’s entries. I’ll try to catch up on today’s other four sessions tomorrow afternoon when the sessions have ended.

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