RE: Why Aren't Open Source Tools Being Considered?

Subject: RE: Why Aren't Open Source Tools Being Considered?
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axion -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 18 Aug 2005 17:40:46 -0700

On Thu, 2005-08-18 at 15:28 -0700, Sarah Stegall wrote:
> You know what, Bruce? This is such a good question that I am, as we speak,
> downloading OpenOffice. I'm the sole tech writer at my little start up (it's
> good to be the queen) and I think I can get away with trying it out. We
> write software on the Linux platform, so "open source" is not a Bad Thing
> around here. Thanks for bringing up the subject. I'll let you know how it
> goes.

I'm always surprised when I influence people in any way, but I'm very
pleased to hear that. Let me know how it goes.

You didn't ask for advice, but let me give you (or anyone else who may
be interested) a few suggestions:

- At this point, I'd recommend version 2.0 for production. It's due out
in the next month or so, and has many new features that technical
writers will appreciate. It's stable enough that I've been using it for
several months now.

- In some cases, expect alternate functionality rather than exact
equivalents. For example, you won't find master pages or conditional
text as in FrameMaker, but you will find page styles and the Hidden
attribute for styles, which provide the same functionality.

- Often, you'll find features in the same position as in MS Word. That's
especially true for basic work-flows. However, don't expect quite the
same names, or exactly the same functionality.

- Make a list of tasks and investigate how to do them, then write the
procedures on file cards to place by your desk.

- F11 (Styles and Formatting) and F5 (The Navigator) could have been
designed with tech-writers in mind. Unless you've got a really small
monitor, they're ideal for long documents.

- Check out the User's mailing list on the site, and look
around for FAQs in the documentation sub-project. In general, the
mailing list is faster and more useful than most paid for technical
help; the downside is that you'll likely get too many answers, and the
occasional quirky one.

- Test-drive for a couple of weeks before making any decisions. Your
first impression is likely to be simply that it's different. You need to
get beyond that reaction before you can reasonably hope to assess any
new piece of software.

- Once you've tried, have a look at The Gimp (PhotoShop
replacement) and Inkscape (Illustrator replacement). Inkscape is still
in development, but coming on quickly (in fact, I'm due to review it in
the next couple of weeks).

- Let the developers you work with know that you're trying to use open
source programs. You'll feel the respect go up as as quickly as you
would the cool air if you flipped the air conditioning from off to its
highest setting. With some exceptions, developers regard open source as
deeply cool.

Finally, good luck! It's a bit of a switch, but I know it can be done.
The last year that I worked as a technical writer, I wrote manuals
entirely in, and I didn't miss FrameMaker one bit --
although I used to be as rabid a fan of it as anyone on this list.

Bruce Byfield 604-421-7177

"Navigator, navigator, rise up and be strong,
The morning is here and there's work to be done,
With your pick and your shovel and your old dynamite,
To shift a few tons of this earthly delight."
- The Pogues


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