DITA from FrameMaker: Two Schools of Thought

Traditionally in our product group, we have been using unstructured FrameMaker as the main authoring tool for our product documentation. In late 2017, we received a requirement that customer requires our documentation source in DITA format with the PDFs too. This requirement posed a challenge. We did not have any experience working with DITA earlier, and we did not know the way forward. We spent a considerable amount of time researching how to convert the sources. This customer had the following requirements:

  • Needs source in DITA
  • Needs product updates for the next two years (that means the DITA conversion is not a one-time job, and the DITA source must be up-to-date always).
  • Internal Requirement: Reuse content across the product lines

We reached out to other teams within my company to check if they had any experience with DITA conversion from FrameMaker and any other learning experiences.

Converting FrameMaker to DITA

Our research on this project led us to the following two schools of thought:

  • Maintain our documentation source in FrameMaker and convert the files to DITA each release to the customer.
  • Convert the FrameMaker source to DITA, and continue to use the DITA source.

A team in our business group followed method 1. Whereas, we chose to use method 2.

What the Other Team Did

The other team made it possible by moving to their content from unstructured FrameMaker to structured FrameMaker.

  1. Convert unstructured FrameMaker to structure FrameMaker
  2. Create mapping tables to convert structured FrameMaker to DITA each release.
  3. Run FrameMaker scripts to clean up the DITA sources.

What We Did

We took the second approach. Our internal content reuse was the main reason we chose the second approach. We used a third-party service (Stilo Migrate) to convert our unstructured FrameMaker source to DITA. This task involved pre-conversion and post-conversion tasks. Continue using DITA as the main source for all our subsequent work.

You could choose either approaches. There is no correct and incorrect approach. Approach 2 worked better for us our biggest driver was content reuse. Approach 1 works better when there is no content reuse.

Challenges with our Approach

  • The number of objects to manage after conversion to DITA is huge. We might need a CCMS to manage the DITA source.
  • We needed to invest in a DITA-aware editor. We continue to use FrameMaker as the XML editor too.
  • With a regular repository as Perforce, we could not check out only the files that we need. A CCMS would solve this problem.

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