This post was written by our guest blogger and partner Wim Hooghwinkel. Wim is the owner of iDTP that delivers services and consultancy for content and document production. Their clients are documentation departments, corporate publishers and publishing industry, learning and training centers, etc. iDTP helps companies get the work done or to implement new systems for content management, authoring or content automation.
Wim is also an initiator and program manager of Information Energy, an annual conference for information professionals.
There’s a clever new product on the market that will make content management collaboration for dispersed teams complete: DITAToo Virtual Drive.
DITAToo Virtual Drive is an addition to the DITAToo CCMS. It gives users access to the repository content directly from Windows Explorer. And thus from any other Windows application, like your favorite DITA editor, or MSWord, Photoshop, Notepad, FrameMaker, all without the need to install a CMS connector.
Virtual Drive is a small application running as a service in the background. It creates a virtual drive on your computer. That drive actually is the database. You can access the files and folders just as any other file on your file system. Even more: you can perform database action on the files directly. Check out or check in, update the workflow state, show version history or compare two versions with differences highlighted. Access is very fast, almost like files are locally stored.
Although DITAToo has been originally created as a DITA content management tool to manage DITA XML files, it’s perfectly fine to store non-DITA files in the repository. You probably do that already with images that are linked in topics. Now the Virtual Drive makes it much more intuitive to add, manage and edit all kinds of resources: unstructured FrameMaker files, MSWord files, multimedia files, PDF. And what’s more: open and edit these with their native application! Use Photoshop to modify image files, use MSVisio to modify SVG files, store the originals in one folder and the variants for publishing in the project folders were they will be used by your DITA topics. Or open a FrameMaker book with FM directly from the Virtual Drive and modify the chapters, save and check in.
Nice thing is that all files, even non-DITA files, are versioned. Or can be assigned a workflow state, can be tagged with metadata for search, or can be put under translation management. So you can go back to a previous version of your unstructured FrameMaker file or branch an older version to create a new variant. Same for MSWord and any other file that’s stored on your Virtual Drive.
Whenever you move or rename DITA topics and maps or folders in Virtual Drive with Windows Explorer, DITAToo’s link management still works. All links are updated automatically. Rumours are that the DITAToo development team has the same kind of link management on the road map for FrameMaker files (ever tried to move or rename a FrameMaker file on disk while keeping all references?), unfortunately that’s not available yet. But it’s a promising feature.
DITAToo Virtual Drive makes content management collaboration complete. Suppose you have started making DITA topics for your user manual, but still some content is in unstructured FrameMaker files. Other content is in Word files. Using Virtual Drive it’s easy to get it all together in one CMS and make it accessible for all your DITAToo users – while maintaining versioning, translation and workflow management on both the DITA topics and the unstructured content.
And there’s more. For one project I had to modify a large group of files, spread over different folders. Same modification in each file. In a database client such as DITAToo Author it’s very hard to do these kind of modifications. You have to edit each file separately, one by one. In Windows Explorer however, changing files is a matter of selecting the complete set, do a search action using Notepad or Oxygen and replace – update all files in one action! Same for renaming files or any other batch modification.
Of course there’s also a drawback. It’s so easy to modify files and folders that users are tempted to do so, even when not really necessary. Just drag and drop a new file to or from a folder. Or add temporarily files. Users must be aware that it’s still a database they’re working in and that the database is a shared environment. But note that when a topic is used by any other topic or project (DITA map) you get at least a warning before removing that topic outside the Virtual Drive, giving you the option to cancel the operation. Files and topics that have a certain workflow state that forbids editing can not be checked out or removed. Topics or files that are checked out by other users are also locked. Even in Virtual Drive. So you could open it, edit and modify but you can not save and check in.
To avoid database disasters the DITAToo administrator can give or deny users access rights to certain folders. So you can protect critical content from being accidentally modified and give users access to only these files and folders they’re supposed to work with.
Your core technical writers staff will need the DITAToo Author client to do all kinds of database actions and manage all the content. For regular editing tasks however the virtual drive will be sufficient. Registered DITAToo users get the Virtual Drive as part of the DITAToo license. So they can choose to use either Virtual Drive or the DITAToo client in their daily work.
SMEs, occasional authors, reviewers and others that are involved in the content processes only need a Virtual Drive license. It gives them an easy and intuitive way to access the database and perform their tasks – using the tools they like. Without being bothered by a CMS interface and all kinds of complex options. For those users the Virtual Drive is available as a separate and low priced license with discount options for large user groups.