I thought I’d continue posting about my experience with Author IT since my initial review of AuthorIT. This past month I’ve been exploring ways to help out with the Author IT nuts and bolts, doing maintenance-type and infrastructure tasks such as changing the on-screen style formatting and revising a book template.
I’ve also been learning more about what is involved with the overall tasks of maintaining single source with nearly 20,000 objects in your library. Objects can be topics or books or hyperlinks or index entries or graphics or… many other items, so I’ll have to dig deeper to get a sense of how many topic objects we deal with daily. Ah, here we go – do an Advanced unqualified search filtered for results Of type “Topic Object” and then select the ones not marked “Obsolete” or “Orphaned” (meaning not used in a book object) and the answer is, we have over 7,000 topic objects in our library.
I maintain that the learning curve is steep but I’m fortunate (or sometimes unfortunate) that I’m approaching these tasks with an idea of how I think it might work. Plus I have an Author IT expert sitting in the office next to me who still answers my IMs when I ask Author IT questions. (Thanks, Mary!)
Changing the state
It is still taking me a while to get accustomed to the workflow that requires that I change the state of an object before making edits to it. If the topic I want to edit isn’t in a writeable state, then I can’t make my edits until I locate the object so I can right-click it to change the state. Maybe I’m missing some shortcut to how to change the state while editing a topic’s text. I’ll have to poke around the tabs a while. It’s more likely that I need to make a shift in my workflow and remember to select the topic objects I want to edit, change the state, and then begin the edits.
My understanding is that there are two basic search mechanisms and both are rather underpowered for the amount of legacy information we have stored. (I’ll have to get a topic count to give real numbers here.) The first search mechanism is searching the entire collection of topics and books and sub books. The Advanced Search checkbox is always checked in my environment.
The second search mechanism is on the actual text within topics – you can search for text within a topic, within a book, or within the entire library. This mechanism is found from the Edit > Find menu command in AuthorIT Enterprise Edition.
What I’ve found recently, however, is that you cannot replace formatting on the found items. This limitation means that you could have semantically tagged items that are not able to be retagged. For example, if you had tagged all your menu items as “menucascade” but needed to change the tagging to “breadcrumbnav” you would have to export the topics to an XML editor and do search and replace there. I don’t yet know how to batch export say thousands of topics to do this search and replace to get the semantic tagging you wanted. This analysis and potential workaround is based on searching within the Author-it Yahoo Group’s messages, so perhaps there is another way to search for text and formatting and change both the text and the formatting but I haven’t found it yet.
Even with these two search mechanisms at our disposal, we find it easier to use a Google search tool on our external database at docs.imis.com, then right-click on the HTML page to get the topic ID, then use that topic ID to search the AIT object database.
Author IT Yahoo Group
Now, I just went through the Yahoo Group messages again to learn more about the searches in AIT, and I really do like the community there. People are very helpful and still maintain a nice sense of humor and goodwill. That’s an important aspect of any tool selection I think. Anyway, there is a way to search within a set of found items, and that is to do a Search using the Search tab first, then press Ctrl+A to select all topics found that match the search criteria, and then do the Find and Replace command on the selected topics. That search also revealed a potential limitation of AIT’s inability to find period space space and replace it with period space (explanation of why period space is correct, because The PC Is Not A Typewriter).
A third search mechanism that we could make use of but that doesn’t yet exist would be the ability to search within a folder. We can use the trick mentioned above where you select all the objects in a folder then do a Find. A Folder in AIT is just a representation of the objects in a collection within a folder in the CMS of AIT (sorry, too many acronyms to qualify as a real explanation, but it’s basically another view of the database but not searchable within each Folder). But that’s a find on text, not a find on objects or metadata on those objects.
Variables to substitute text values
I find that the variable mechanism is a little bit clumsy. Variables are simply text enclosed in angle brackets <substitutethisforthat>. So you still have to do a search and replace for text when you want to choose a different variable name. If you use angle brackets in your documentation, AIT has to be told specially that you meant to do that and that those should not be resolved to a variable name. So, if you really want angle brackets to appear as angle brackets and not resolve to a variable, you have to use the HTML trick of ampersand lt semicolon.
Running AIT publishing from the command line
One nice feature is the publishing engine’s batch processing that will even output the commands for you so that you can include it in a batch process. We found that the outputs are always placed within the users folder that is logged in to AIT, despite using a documented command line parameter where you feed in a user and password for running the batch processing. Mary found a nice workaround where she just copies the files she needs out of another folder (the _Output folder in our environment), but it seems like a waste of disk space to me to have a second copy of output in each user’s folder. We can do some cleanup using the batch files to ensure that disk space is freed up, however.
Magical price point
Let’s face it, since it’s in the four figures for a seat license, Author IT is a relatively inexpensive all-in-one single sourcing tool that has both a straightforward editor and a content management system. A small techpubs department looks pretty darn good when they can deliver manuals and help as part of an automated build in a lights-off no-touch system. And the savings in translation costs when you single source are unmatched.
Where AIT “feels” inexpensive though, is in the slightly outdated interface (why can’t it remember the window size after being shut down?), somewhat underpowered search methods, and so far, I just can’t shake the general feeling that you’re not really owning or editing “source” files but rather some Word-like representation of the source.
Still, it works wonders and lets our small techpubs department output some high-quality professional content, more content than possible without a single-sourcing tool. So I’ll face the learning curve and continue to climb it.