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Is Arbortext pure DITA?  Yes. Arbortext is pure DITA, pure XML.

We are always surprised when we get this question because: Arbortext was the software IBM was using when they developed DITA.

What does it mean to be "pure DITA"?

DITA is an architecture and a method for writing, not a tool. So what does it mean to "have pure DITA"? Before you can begin to answer this question, you must understand clearly what assumptions you have that are built into it.

First, people frequently confuse the DITA OT with DITA. They are not the same and they are not interchangeable.

  • DITA is the set of standards maintained by OASIS.
  • The DITA OT is a single reference implementation of the standard designed to help speed adoption of the standard.

Having or not having pure DITA says nothing about the tool you're using.

Second, people frequently confuse topic based writing with DITA. Again, they are not the same and they are not interchangeable.

  • Topic-based writing is an approach to writing
  • DITA attempts to enforce topic-based writing by breaking source into strict topics.

Technically speaking, you can write topic-based material in Word. It's not about the tool, it's about the writing process and the approach to writing that content creators use.

Now, if you're talking about DITA as a writing style--writing good topics, good titles, and good short descriptions--then look to style guides and books like DITA Best Practices and Practical DITA. Stay away from the tool chapters and focus on the writing guidelines. Don't conflate or confuse the two.

If you're talking about pure exchange of source material, then you are talking about whether or not the source material--the mark up found in the tangible source files--conform to the specification. And this means you need sample files.

The S1000D standard has a set of files called the bike example that were created by the standards committee. The idea was that you could take those files, put them in any S1000D-compliant system, manipulate them in the system, publish to a verifiable output, and then export them for import into another compliant system. If you can do all of those things, without expensive conversion and clean-up activity, you have a compliant system.

Unfortunately, unlike the S1000D standard, DITA doesn't have a set of sample files included in the standard that we can use to verify any specific tool's conformance. You'll have to either create your own or get some sample files from someone else. Ideally, you'll have sample files that you can use from test to test, vendor to vendor.

Any results are good results. The idea here is that you know your prenup going in. What's it going to cost to get out if you have to later on?

So, what's my answer? Pureness means that the markup in source files that conform to the standard. It also means that the files that go in are the same ones that come out and there's nothing unexpected happening along the way.

Arbortext is part of DITA history

The first mention of public DITA support for Arbortext dates back to a press release by Arbortext on April 20th, 2004, a full month before OASIS announced the formation of the DITA Technical Committee in May that same year. By June of 2005, DITA was first approved as an OASIS standard.

What not as many people know is that IBM had been using Arbortext when they developed DITA in the years leading up to its release as an OASIS standard. The earliest mention of DITA was in March 2001, three years earlier. For it to be a fully-fledged specification and already supported by a tool vendor, means it was in progress for several years leading up.

At the time of the first release of the standard, Arbortext was the only XML authoring and publishing application vendor (original call for participation) to be part of that initial TC (announcement) to approve DITA as an OASIS standard (ballot).

Now, I remember this quite vividly because I presented at an ACM SIGDOC in 2002. My presentation happened to be right before Michael Priestly's. He and IBM had started really promoting DITA to the world and I remember him asking me why we didn't choose DITA at Juniper (this was the subject of my presentation). I remember the question vividly because we had considered it. It hadn't been ready when we'd started our project two years earlier.

What does it mean to be "pure XML"?

Arbortext files are pure XML files. You don't have to convert Arbortext files in order to open them in another XML tool or basic ascii text editor.

Just because you don't have to type angle brackets when you're authoring DITA or XML content in Arbortext, doesn't mean it isn't writing pure XML to the file. Arbortext has been around a long time. It's one of the first (if not the first) SGML Editor that was focused on user experience. They wanted to make it easy to author, easy to let authors go about the business of writing, rather than focused on typing angle brackets, tags, and markup.

Arbortext Editor, like other mature tools, converts the "tags" to icons in the user interface, so writers can go about their jobs with as little interference as possible from the mechanics of the tool they're using. It's because Arbortext has been around for so long that they're able to focus on use experience and user productivity and still deliver files that are portable, interchangeable, and 100% pure XML.

Arbortext makes DITA authoring and publishing easy

Arbortext and DITA have a long history. Because of that history, publishing, styling, and authoring DITA is easy. So is managing DITA content. If you've got both, you've got a leg up. No messing around. Solid history and technology is there to support you every way you need.

Installing Arbortext takes minutes, not hours. Arbortext stylesheets for DITA can be created in Styler in a matter of hours, not days. There are benefits to being first.

When you're first, you can perfect the user experience. You can create GUIs for stylesheet development. You can focus on making it easy for authors, stylesheet designers, and publishers.

I've been using Arbortext since 1999. I've seen it develop into something I just can't do without. The last time I installed the DITA OT? I was frustrated at the toolkit nature of it. I'm so glad I have better tools available to me.

And with the new subscription licensing? Arbortext is accessible to everyone and competitive with all the major technical publications software players out there. It's even in reach of independent consultants.

There's a better option for DITA out there and it's name is Arbortext.

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