Re: A market survey (sort of)

Subject: Re: A market survey (sort of)
From: Geoff Lane <geoff -at- gjctech -dot- co -dot- uk>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 23 Jun 2010 08:23:23 +0100

On Wednesday, June 23, 2010, Keith Hood wrote;

> I have to make some decisions on software buying and some other
> things, and I could really use some input.  I would be very
> appreciative if you folks could provide responses to these
> questions:

> Have you ever used a content management system?  How did it perform?

Yes, but some years ago when my client used VSS for document control.
Overall, it worked well to prevent concurrency issues. However, they
didn't use it to share content between publications.

OTOH, I've written several "bespoke CMS" systems, each time to address
a particular need. For example, to document a range of pumps where the
Cartesian product options ran to over a million, I created a database
and WordPerfect macro solution to let administrators fill in a form
with the serial number and other unique data, select the options
fitted, then generate a manual unique to that pump. In another
example, I used Word's {INCLUDETEXT} fields to share common content
between documents. These solutions worked well - but they needed
careful planning.

> Have you used any commercially available plugins for conditional
> text in MS Word?  How well did they work for you? 

I've used Doc2Help for this purpose - although I'm not sure if you'd
consider a full-blown HAT to be a "plugin". I've also used
{INCLUDETEXT} fields and multiple documents (one per version) to give
conditional text functionality in Word. However, it's horses for
courses and I try to use Frame where extensive use of conditional text
is required.

> If you have used these systems, what where their benefits and flaws?

WRT Word plugins: the only benefit IMO is it can give you a quick fix
provided you understand exactly what you're trying to do. If you don't
make the initial documentation-analysis effort, I suspect these can
bite back.

> About CMS software - in what situations do you think they are or are
> not useful?

Some form of CMS (commercial or homebrew) is useful where documents
share content and/or what is documented lends itself to modular
documentation. They can also be useful in "version control" mode where
several writers work on the same documentation suite or where version
history is needed. However, for version history, it's probably better
IMO to create a suitable directory and file naming convention.

> If you do not use a CMS or conditional text plugin, would you like
> to?  What would you need to know about it to decide you?

I wouldn't since the costs tend to be prohibitive and I've got
examples of my previous homebrew work that I can re-jig to fit most
circumstances I'm likely to encounter. Also, IME either the
application is too basic to need a commercial CMS or commercial CMSs
can't provide the close fit of a bespoke solution.




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A market survey (sort of): From: Keith Hood

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