Learning the DITA Open Toolkit

Sarah O'Keefe / WebinarsLeave a Comment

(Scriptorium Publishing is a JustSystems Services Partner.)

Simon Bate’s webinar, An Overview of the DITA Open Toolkit, is now available. This event was jointly sponsored by Scriptorium Publishing and JustSystems. The recorded version is available here (registration required).

During the presentation, we did some audience polling.

Are you currently…
? (choose one)

  • 31%, Using XML
  • 32%, Transitioning to XML
  • 16%, Planning to transition
  • 17%, Considering a transition
  • 3%, Not considering it at all

If you answered “using XML” above, what content model do you use? (choose one)

  • 59%, DITA
  • 0%, DocBook
  • 1%, Other publicly available
  • 10%, Developed in-house
  • 3%, Not considering it at all

Probably not too surprising that DocBook scored 0% in a DITA-specific presentation.

I liked the last poll:

What formats do you currently or plan to publish to?

  • 50%, print
  • 92%, PDF for download
  • 49%, web site
  • 79%, online help
  • 18%, other

92% are delivering PDF. We very frequently have people tell us that they “don’t need print,” but it nearly always turns out that they do need PDF. We operate on the general assumption that all of our customers are going to need PDF at some point, even if they don’t think so, and I’m happy to see at least one data point that supports this line of thinking.

The problem, from our customers’ point of view, is that producing nice PDF from DITA content is really quite challenging. (From our point of view as consultants, this is not necessarily a bad thing.) What makes PDF so challenging? Basically, you are reverse engineering your layout engine (think FrameMaker or InDesign) in the XSL-FO programming language.

Simon’s presentation provides an excellent introduction to the Open Toolkit, which many find quite intimidating. This was apparent from some of the questions and comments that Simon got:

Is there a GUI for OT that could be used by documentation production staff rather than command line?

I haven’t typed a command into DOS in twenty years.

What’s the difficulty level of using OT to get HTML output that is more professional-looking, like a WebWorks HTML generation?

Can you please define the purpose of ANT files?

It’s worth noting that running the Open Toolkit is vastly less difficult than configuring the Open Toolkit. The person doing the configuration work will need to understand Ant, type DOS commands (!), and rework the default transformation templates to produce the desired output. The person generating output with the configured OT will need to type in one command or just double-click a batch file to start processing.

Many of our customers have turned to us for the Scary Configuration Bits. If you’re looking for help, keep us in mind.

This session was the second in a series of three webinars we are doing jointly with JustSystems. The last session, on September 23, will provide more details on customizing the DITA Open Toolkit. The webinar is free, but advance registration is required here. Hope to see you there.

About the Author

Sarah O'Keefe


Content strategy consultant and founder of Scriptorium Publishing. Bilingual English-German, voracious reader, water sports, knitting, and college basketball (go Blue Devils!). Aversions to raw tomatoes, eggplant, and checked baggage.

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