I’ve had more than a few questions asking for a review of Author-it or MadCap Flare or a comparison of both. So I decided to do some homework. Initially, I wasn’t sure why they are categorized together. Is it due to the price point? Or is it due to the single-sourcing all-in-one software package aspect? I suspect it’s the latter since the former seems more disparate lately.
Let’s examine the single-sourcing aspects.
Both MadCap Flare and Author-it only work on Windows for authoring (but both offer cross-platform and cross-browser output).
Both MadCap Flare and Author-it output to printed and online formats. These formats and the way they arrive at the output offer some differences, as seen in the “publishing aspects” section below.
Both MadCap Flare and Author-it have a single place to store source.
Both are sourced in databases. The single source for MadCap Flare is in a flat folder structure with XML files. MySQL database. The single source for Author-it is in either a free Jet/MSDE/SQL Express database for up to 4 MGB of content, or SQL Server.
Author-it only imports Word documents. Flare imports both Word and FrameMaker documents as projects.
What are the publishing aspects?
Author-it uses Word templates for all printed page layout. If you’re well-versed and experienced in Word for page layout, this product works for you.
Author-it uses CSS for HTML layout, but some layout and graphics are controlled in different areas. I had to uncover the locations for each graphic and CSS area recently while customizing the HTML output for the One Laptop Per Child project. In my experience the HTML layout was all over the place. From templates to stored objects to files stored locally to certain aspects changed within a dialog box on a template, I felt like the online layout was a bit scattered.
Here are links to their Knowledge Center articles that were helpful: Customizing Related Topics in HTML, Adding a Customized HTML Template, and Using a Customized HTML Frameset. I muddled through somehow, and I don’t have a good comparison for MadCap Flare’s HTML output.
Keith Soltys has a nice Review of MadCap Flare from summer of 2007 that shed some light onto the publishing and he speaks highly of the layout rendering nicely in both FireFox and Internet Explorer. It’s interesting, though, that he’s evaluating Author-it as well, so I guess these two products are often compared side-by-side.
Apparently MadCap Flare uses CSS for all layout aspects including print. The new Blaze announcement offers a non-Frame and non-Word reliance for actual PDF or print output. The reliance on CSS (Word’s interpretation of CSS has its limits) may have forced MadCap to create Blaze. Anyone else think you should wait for the CSS 3.0 specification before really nit-picky print layouts can be accomplished? Or is CSS ready for this level of design? I know with the OLPC project, we’d love CSS layout for really nice ebooks, so maybe MadCap is onto something with CSS for print layout.
I’ve written up this comparison because many people have asked me for it, but I know it’s lacking. Please, feel free to fill in the gaps that this post has so that others may fairly evaluate each tool in their environment.
I had an email conversation with Kai many months ago, who was a good sport with all of my questions regarding the content and priorities with that content. He realized, though, that Author-it was probably eliminated due to its use of SQL Server – they wanted a MySQL database container for their content. So I figured that MadCap was their final answer. It is so interesting how the final decision can be dictated by the underlying system requirements. One of the commenters on Gordon Mclean’s post, Why AuthorIT? (sic, they’re now Author-it) was seeking a similar authoring tool but on a Mac platform.
Sorry Kai for dropping the conversation for so long. But please do share your experience with the tools since then.