About the Updated List of DITA-optimized Editors

DITA-optimized XML Editors
DITA-optimized XML Editors

It’s been almost year since I last updated this list (back in late-January 2014), and you will see a few additions as well as some subtractions from last year’s list. This list is intended to help those who are looking for an XML editor that comes with some optimizations designed specifically to help those who are working with DITA XML. The full list can be found on this permanent page on the DITAWriter website; this article focuses on what “DITA-optimized” means. For those who read my recent rant about how some vendors make it hard to find relevant information about their products, I also explain some of the criteria used for including the XML editors in this list to help people looking to compare relevant product features.

What is DITA Optimized?
DITA is XML, so any XML editor can be used to write DITA code. But that doesn’t mean that every XML editor is best suited for the job of producing DITA. As DITA has grown in popularity in the technical writing field, the market has matured and a number of XML editors have appeared that are optimized for authors using DITA.

There are many different ways in which editors are “DITA optimized”, including:

  • Providing a visual way to manage DITA Maps
  • Can work with the conditional processing mechanism via ditaval
  • Create, edit and properly resolve/display the content of conref links
  • Automatically creates unique or easily-customizable IDs for related links, xrefs, conrefs, etc.
  • Can produce output to the DITA-OT directly from within the editor.

Any or all of these features would qualify the editor for inclusion in this list. What all of these features have in common is some fundamental understanding of how DITA works in a way that provides convenience features for writers using it.

Exits and Entrances
The DITA editor market this past year has seen firms exit the market while others enter it.

From the original list (2012), the following editors are no longer included:

  • InMedius DITA Storm Desktop
  • InMedius DITA Storm Developer
  • RocketSled

Additions over the original list (from 2012) include:

  • Adobe FrameMaker XML Author
  • AuthorBridge
  • Altova Authentic Browser Plugin 2015
  • Altova Authentic Desktop Enterprise Edition
  • Codex
  • DITAworks Cloud
  • DITAworks Eclipse
  • DITAworks Pro
  • DITAworks Webtop

Renamed due to company/software buyout:

  • CORENA Studio (formerly Serna XML Editor)

In all of the cases where vendors dropped support for DITA it was in order to concentrate on the less-crowded S1000D editor marketplace. As for the new entrants, it is good to see firms with considerable heft (Altova and Adobe) introduce new editors aimed at the DITA market, and there is clearly still room for smaller players like Codex who have found a nice niche market for themselves in coming up with a lightweight editor aimed not just at technical writers but engineers and managers. Similarly, the still to-be-released (due out April 2015) AuthorBridge from Stilo is aimed squarely at Subject Matter Experts rather than technical writers.

In the 2015 update I have also added significant variants to existing products, mainly for non-desktop related XML including the various DITAworks products, XMetaL XMAX (an ActiveX-based editor which has been around for a while), and oXygen XML Developer along with the more familiar oXygen XML Author and Editor. FontoXML has branched out an now offers the specific “FontoXML DITA Edition” to differentiate it from other XML-related versions of its product. I have kept SDL’s LiveContent Create in the listing, though these days it appears as though SDL are focusing on selling the full suite version of their product, SDL Knowledge Center.

Which DITA?
While all of the above editors are capable of working with DITA, not all of them take into account all of the more complex features built into the latest DITA 1.2 specification. Not working with the latest DITA 1.2 features is not necessarily a bad thing, and depending on your circumstance the reduced complexity may be preferable.

Where possible though I have gone through the marketing materials and feature lists for each editor and have tried to determine the type of DITA support that is offered, where “Partial” is always less than full DITA 1.2.

In some cases I am going by what the marketing material claims – from personal experience I suggest that if full DITA 1.2 compliance is important to you that you get a demo version of the product—usually readily available for the asking—and put it to the test yourself.

Types of DITA Editors and Integration
While most people are likely familiar with standalone editors, there are an increasing number of editors which work within a browser as Software as a Service (SaaS). Some of the products are available in both types of configurations, and they are noted in the listing. In addition to standalone/SaaS DITA XML editors, there are also other editors that allow you to use Word as a front-end for producing DITA XML content.

New to this list are the types of integration that are readily available, either with web browsers, Component Content Management Systems (CCMSes), output engines and more. Where information on this is publicly-available, that information is included here.

Software Version and Available DITA Views
Another thing I hope to accomplish with this list is to provide people with a handy reference as to what the latest version of their XML editor is, so I have also added–where I can find such information online–the latest release version of the editor. The only exception to this is easyDITA, which operates as SaaS and so does not have a release version per se.

I have also included information as to whether or not WYSIWYG and Tag-level views are supported within the product. I was pleasantly surprised to find that all of the editors had some sort of WYSIWYG view, which certainly makes things easier for those either just starting out with DITA or who simply don’t want to know what is “under the hood”. For those who are interested in working with things at the tag level, I have a separate column which distinguished the editors that do provide a code-level view.

Pricing
Again where possible I have added information as to pricing of these editors, all of which are current as of the time of publication (mid-February 2015). In this case a lot of the firms ask you to contact them directly for pricing info, and in all cases I like to relevant pricing and/or contact page for more info. As time goes on I hope to update this list with any major price changes, but in any event don’t rely on my figures, go to the manufacturer’s pricing page for the latest, most accurate pricing info.

What’s Not in the List
There are a number of products I have left off of this list since I was unable to confirm from the information on their website that they were optimized in any way for DITA. So the following were all considered and investigated, but no DITA optimizations were apparent:

  • Stylus Studios X15 Editor
  • Sun OLT
  • UltraXML 4.3
  • WebLNX
  • Xword

I’ve also left out Madcap Flare since while it can be used to edit DITA content, my understanding is that material cannot be “round-tripped”; so while you can export content from it to DITA you cannot read in that same DITA content you exported and continue working on it. Another type of editor excluded from the list are those DITA editors which are tied exclusively to a particular CMS. There are also free editors such Notepad++ or Eclipse which can be used for writing DITA code, but have no significant convenience features from what I can find.

Where to Go from Here?
If you are looking for a DITA XML editor, start with this list and compare features. Where possible, download a trial copy of whichever software seems to best suit your needs and give it a try. Take advantage of any videos which may exist demonstrating how to use the product. I’d also recommend checking out various forums on DITA-related forums on LinkedIn and Yahoo! And ask people what their experiences of a given XML editor has been. Only when you are reasonably sure that the editor is what you are looking for, contact the manufacturer and take it from there!

While I hope this list manages to cover everything that is out there, if I have missed anything please let me know!

Also, a big thank you to Bradley Shoebottom, who helped me greatly in the construction of this list.

About

"DITAWriter" is Keith Schengili-Roberts. I work for IXIASOFT as a DITA Specialist/Information Architect. And I like to write about DITA and the technical writing community. To get ahold of me you can email me at: keith@ditawriter.com.

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6 thoughts on “About the Updated List of DITA-optimized Editors

  1. Hi, I’m a technical writer in the UK and I am just starting to learn DITA. I wondered if you could recommend a freeware DITA editor or one that costs under 200 US? I want to learn and would like to see what can be achieved with more feature-rich editors, but I have no commercial need to use DITA…yet. I’m tempted by Oxygen, but the price is a bit high for me, considering that I would get no return on the investment at any point in the near future.

    1. Look at Oxygen again. SyncroSoft recently introduced a personal license that may be more in your price range.

  2. I used Author-IT for a number of years. In fact, Author-IT’s DITA output was my introduction to DITA. If DITA was not available, Author-IT would be my tool of choice.

    It’s been about five years since I used Author-IT. At the time, Author-IT was in the same boat as Madcap Flare: round-tripping was not possible. Author-IT could publish output to DITA, but if you edited the published DITA files, you could not upload the modified DITA files to modify the content in the Author-IT database.

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