Last week I gave an introduction to Novelang at a software publisher’s who’s looking at a collaborative tool for writing it’s product’s documentation. The attenders were the internal IT manager, two technical writers and and an IT intern. Technical writers were enthusiastic, since Novelang is a huge leap from FrameMaker and Robohelp – that’s what they’re working with for now. They had a look at Scenari and Nuxeo . While both are open-source product, the setup fees seemed hugely overpriced.
(In my own humble opinion, Scenari is overengineered crap with excessively complex graphical editor. But it has nice slides to explain the “What You See Is What You Mean” concept. I spent no time looking at Nuxeo for now.)
The technical writers really liked that Novelang never asks for more information that the very minimum required (I guess FrameMaker doesn’t do that). I had a chance to show off with how whitespaces, non-breakable spaces, zero-width spaces, indentation, line breaks, separators, and automatic handling of punctuation typography through a customizable stylesheet. After spending countless hours on those obscure cases that’s great to discover that I’m not the only guy to who this matters (oh, by the way both tech writers are girls).
Now they’re evaluating the product but I already got some feedeback.
With somebody looking over my should, I realized how Novelang installation looks ugly. I unzipped the Novelang archive, did set a pair of system properties, and wrote a .bat file at the root of their working directory, all with my bare hands.
The “local webserver” concept is confusing. For most of people, a webserver is a remote host. This leads to some confusion on collaborative features. They were tempted to store the source document on a shared network drive. On the other hand, they’re not used to source control tools like CVS (the one in use in their company).
The lack of graphical editor looks strange to people who are not accustomed to technical writing.
There is no “guided tour” document nor “cheat sheet” to give an overview of every feature and how to use it best.
I had a deep look at the documents they’re producing for now. The content seems to fit in Novelang syntax. They have some very big tables with one column full of content like lists. For this, a level-based structure seems more appropriate than Novelang’s cell rows.
Having image resolution for PDF hardcoded to 300 dpi won’t work here. At least they need a command-line option until stylesheet metadata gets implemented.
A big requirement is the already-discussed index feature.
To be continued!