27, 2006 Program Summary
Our February 27th event aimed to shed light on what's happening with major software company mergers and new industry standards, and how the latest trends are affecting our favorite software applications.
The purpose was to help technical communicators, from students to application developers, choose where to direct their time, energy, and dollars in acquiring or learning new authoring software.
In so doing, we gazed into the crystal ball at some of our long-standing design, layout, Help, and text processing favorites to find out where they appear to be heading.
The summary below contains the notes for the presentation slides.
Slide 1: Introduction
I am Bruce Mills, principal of Lone Pine Studio. I am an independent contractor in marketing, graphics, information design and content development and a former technology and product marketing executive. Since the early 1980s, I have refined my personal strategies for investing time, effort and dollars in productivity tools and technology. On behalf of the San Luis Obispo chapter of the STC and the greater community of information authoring professionals, I am sharing my perspective today on evaluating information authoring applications and current trends in technology and the software industry.
This presentation and all of its content are purely the opinion of the
presenter and are in no way intended as an endorsement or denigration
of any particular product or organization. The presenter accepts no
responsibility for the subsequent actions or decisions of attendees
or the consequences of actions resulting from their interpretation of
Where did my favorite app go?
If you ever relied an application like Aldus Persuasion, Cricket Graph, or more recently PageMaker or RoboHelp, you may an have awakened one day to discovered that your favorite product was going, going, gone!
Through acquisitions, mergers, failures, technology migration, and feature creep, the applications in which you have become a skilled expert are no more.
Slide 3: Panic!
questions flood your mind...
you may have good reason to panic, here are a few things that I have
learned over the years that may protect your investment in the future.
What is Job One?
What is Job One?
Doing the job that generates invoices or ensures that you won't be fired or laid off is always "Job One." "Job Two" is dealing with all of the other things that make the performance of Job One better.
If a tool doesn't effectively facilitate or enhance the performance of Job One or if Job Two becomes all-consuming, you probably shouldn't waste your time on it. No one wants to be an expert at Job Two if Job One goes away.
So, the first thing that needs to be determine is, exactly what is Job One.
Now that we know what Job One is and what our application requirements might be, here is what we're going to cover in the remainder of this presentation:
for evaluating applications
break we will consider some possible long-term winners and losers in
landscape of information authoring tools.
Criteria for Evaluation
should we approach the challenge of evaluating new products so that
we get the best return on out investment?
I have learned over the years that before investing my time, effort, and dollars in acquiring, learning and using a new software product, it must qualify according to my time-tested criteria for software viability.
Here are five dimensions for evaluating a products long term contribution to not only my productivity or marketability, but also to my accumulation of transferable knowledge.
Skill vs. Knowledge
Does learning a new product simply add another notch to our tool belt or does it expand our overall knowledge base?
the early 1980s I worked with a lot of highly skilled people who were
experts at producing spectacular typography on specific brands of typesetting
equipment. By the late 90s all of these people were either out of work
or performing jobs in which their typesetting skills were absolutely
useless. Learning something about evolving technologies such as PostScript
and desktop publishing might have been prudent.
Looking back, I said to myself, "skill dependent expertise is a risky and transitory asset if it is totally dependent on one proprietary product or technology." For this reason, one of the first things I look at is the extent to which the effort of learning contributes to transferable knowledge as well as meeting the more immediate demands of productivity.
Some applications that we might consider are highly specialized, targeting unique technical tasks. Some are more general purpose, addressing common tasks. On the surface, all are intended to increase productivity, in some cases by streamlining repetitive tasks, in others by offering previously unavailable capabilities.
tasks being targeted are product or vendor specific, they are vulnerable
to obsolescence. If the skills required to use the product mask underlying
technology or process, you become more vulnerable to the whims of the
developer and market forces. In other words, you risk becoming an expert
with a nonexistent product.
Conversely, products that enable you to become more knowledgeable about underlying technology and processes, enable you to protect your investment in learning new skills.
becoming an expert with a particular graphical HTML editing tool that
masks the underlying properties and behaviors of HTML contributes to
specific skill development and short term productivity but not to long-term
knowledge of HTML, Internet standards or architectures. Acquiring knowledge
as well as skill ensures transferability of skills in the future.
the cook who relies on a particular brand of cake mix and its attached
instructions rather than learning how a cake is made from scratch. If
that particular brand of cake mix goes away, the cook will have to find
another similar (perhaps inferior) product. The cook who knows how to
make a cake can still make one (perhaps even superior) from raw ingredients.
Learning vs. Doing Usability
is the startup ROI on learning a new product?
is part of the cost of transition. The more time spent learning, however,
the longer it will take to get back to Job One. Some products are designed
to hide complexity and prompt users at every turn. This may seem convenient
and get you up to speed quickly but may ultimately be less productive
in the long run. Other products may seem intimidating at first because
they offer a lot of capabilities but employ methods that are somewhat
cryptic. They may take longer to learn, but they may be a more productive
tool in the long run.
Given the cost of acquiring and maintaining software, we must carefully evaluate the tradeoffs between getting up and running quickly at a lower productivity level vs. investing in learning/training first then implementing a more productive overall process later. Circumstances may dictate which approach is taken, however, documentation, tutorials, support and user feedback should be thoroughly evaluated with this in mind.
For instance, OpenOffice and Mozilla suites offer significant advantages over Microsoft suites as well as excellent documentation, and extensive training opportunities but may require a more significant up front investment in learning how to use them effectively, or unlearning how to use a familiar product. Yet in the long run they may be more productive and contribute more to our knowledge base than the old product.
MS Word as an example, has an overabundance of helpers, hinting, prompting and wizards. Many of these features make it easier to get started using the product and some even provide some useful automation. Many are simply a nuisance to expert users and turning them off is not always as easy as one might think.
other hand, more specialized production applications like QuarkXpress
and Adobe InDesign, offer extensive keyboard based productivity shortcuts.
These shortcuts take some time to assimilate but in the end subordinate
the task of using the product to the tasks of Job One.
Productivity vs. Creativity Staying Focused
important is high productivity relative to extensive and perhaps
esoteric creative options?
Competitive market forces drive proprietary application developers or continually add WOW! factor to flagship applications. While some such enhancements may be useful others may be used rarely. Esoteric effects and functions could be attractive if our primary focus is on developing creative content.
primary focus is on performing certain routine tasks as efficiently
as possible, its just extra overhead and a potential loss of productivity.
All information authors (content creators) do some of both. Most will
say as in other fields, its 90% labor and 10% creativity. At what point
do impressive features that are difficult to use or rarely called on
become obstacles to Job One?
are working in an environment where the goal is uniqueness and productivity
is of less priority, such specialized features may be an asset. Flash
is perhaps an example of a product long on creative capability and short
on productivity at least in the short term. Illustrator and Photoshop
are good examples of software that balance creativity with productivity.
Big Company vs. Little Co. vs. No Company
Consider the Source
develops and maintains the software?
three general categories from which we can acquire software, assuming
we don't want to create them ourselves:
vertically dominant software and technology developers
independent software developers
Source software organizations
Large vertically dominant vendors offer vertically integrated product lines that cover a broad range of related application areas. They are typically driven by marketing goals and competition to continually introduce new products, improve existing products and obsolete lagging products for maximum profitability and market share.
While larger companies put forth the illusion of continuity in development and imply a unified user environment this is not always the case. They are large complex organization with plenty of internal competition and are often lacking when it comes to internal communications. They are in the business of selling software annuities, support, and training.
itself in rapid obsolescence, poor quality assurance, inadequate documentation,
and creeping incompatibility as product lines compete not only with
outside competitors but with other internally competitive products to
get to market faster.
Smaller independent developers typically offer leading edge or niche products that are below the radar of the vertical dominators. The risk with smaller independent developers, on the other hand, is whether or not they can sustain a product line, stay in business, and avoid being bought or forced out by the bigger fish.
tried to update what I considered to be an excellent independent sound
editing software product, CoolEdit, which initially cost $69, only to
find that it is now Adobe Audition costing $359. At $69, the risk of
it becoming an orphaned product was not so great. It was a good value
while it lasted. At $359, I would have to think long and hard about
maintaining this product going forward. Yet some of the best values
can be found in products from independent developers, but careful scrutiny
of demo software is essential.
An alternative route is Open Source products and technologies (if they offer appropriate features and capabilities for the task at hand), such as OpenOffice, the Mozilla suite and W3C language specifications. They are developed and maintained by students, professors, and engineers who are themselves users. In some cases, they are the product of government funded research paid for with taxpayer dollars. In other words, we already own them. They should be free.
itself is built upon Open Source technologies that are readily available
in product form under GNU-General Public License.
11: Old vs. New Transferability
is this going to change my work environment and what is it going to
cost to get back to where I was before?
or upgrading means making a transition from old to new. Whenever face
the need to upgrade or replace software, we are faced with questions
when evaluating the product:
trends toward the convergence of computing environments may reduce some
of the issues related to software compatibility, availability and performance,
operating systems continue to evolve, I/O standards continue to change,
and the all pervasive influence of the Internet continue to introduce
Industry & Technology Trends
will they think of next?
a look at some trends in software development that will have a direct
impact on our evaluations.
is information authoring headed?
most significant impact on the direction of information authoring software
development is the success of the Internet. The all pervasive Internet
has become the primary vehicle for business and personal communications
as well as entertainment worldwide and is the primary target of the
majority of authoring and content development applications.
is the result of several public domain and publicly licensed technologies
and applications such as: W3C Standards, Open Source/GNU, XML, XHTML+Mobile,
XSL/XSLT, SVG, PDF, SWF, Unicode (UTF-8, UTF-16), FTP/HTTP Protocols,
more. These technologies taken together comprise the Internet and constitute
a distributed global application environment.
of its growing complexity and roll of specialized languages and code
writing, there is a growing need for collaboration and integrated development
New Publishing Paradigm
does Webification mean
to information authors and content creators?
and spontaneity of the Internet and the portability of content have
now given rise to significant changes in the definition of documents
and publishing. Simultaneous cross-media publishing based on a single-source
content model, the inclusion of dynamic and data-driven content, and
international distribution have turned the concept of a traditional
page-based document upside down. Content can now exist independently
of any specific page-bound product or document format.
The Single-source Model
is the single-source model for publishing?
Based largely on Open Source technology, Web-centric documents are in essence dynamic software containers for XML formatted content. And as a result, applications are increasingly becoming Web centric!
at the heart of not only the single-source publishing model but for
virtually all state-of-the-art data portability models. XML! XML! XML!
Don't leave home without it.
Unixification Platform Convergence
is the role of platform architectures and operating systems in the
viability of Webified software?
In order to be competitive in an Internet world, manufacturers must be able to take advantage of all the capabilities the Internet has to offer. That means some degree of standardization and utilization of the most viable technologies that support them.
of Windows NT (Unix-like) and now the recent move of Apple to a Unix-based
OS running on an Intel processor complete the convergence of operating
system to a UNIX-like platform. This is no surprise. The Internet was
built on Unix-based computers. Because of its architecture it is particularly
well suited to host Internet multi-tasking, server software, databases,
and task-specific applications both locally and remotely.
of manufacturers on UNIX-like operating systems and the platform independent
nature of the Internet application environment mean that software design
can become more universal across platform boundaries. It also means
that user skills and knowledge may become more portable.
owns the Internet application environment?
The Open Source movement has provided many of the key technologies that are the foundation of Internet computing. Not only are these technologies readily available to end users as standards, languages and products, they are supported or extended in some fashion by all major application developers.
CSS and XML transforms can even be run directly in emerging server environments.
Perl, Ruby and MySQL can be run as standalone applications on NT and
Unix-flavor platforms. Any application that is not fully compliant with
these standards or that does not support their use will be less useful
in the Internet computing environment.
convergence and the productization of Open Source technologies such
as Apache2, a personal computer is no longer just a passive receiving
node on the Internet Every personal computer can be equipped with a
server, publishing technology and databases to become a powerful Internet
computing platform and personal interactive information domain.
Market Forces Vertical Dominance
do market forces shape the technology landscape?
The Internet offers vast opportunities for the benefit of all users but also offers vast opportunities for profit to proprietary software vendors. While the Internet may be built around public domain technologies, sophisticated proprietary software can bestow significant productivity benefits and provide vertical integration and support for enterprise-scale customers.
application environment becomes more Webified, bigger companies seek
to grow revenues by controlling ever larger vertical slices of the Internet,
enterprise and consumer application markets.
As a result,
bigger companies try to extend and create proprietary implementations
of Open Source standards and we encounter engineered incompatibility
between brands and product lines. If we commit to the product families
of large vertical dominators we become more vendor/skill dependent,
acquire less transferable knowledge and more vulnerable to change.
Polarization, Attraction & Competition
does Open Source play into the competitive market landscape?
companies gobble up market share, try to diminish competition often
along with innovation, product quality, and competitive pricing. Yet
much of the core technology upon which the Internet is built is Open
Source and in the public domain. In fact, this is where much of the
innovation takes place that drives Webification.
independent developers who are more versatile are more likely to develop
leading edge applications in niches that the bigger developers have
not yet identified or will not approach because they may jeopardize
current product lines. The smaller guys may break ground both in application
design and in markets served. If they are successful, they will either
be bought out or out-marketed by the big guys.
a continuous cycle of innovation, adaptation and proprietorization between
public domain organizations, independent developers and vertical dominators.
At the balance point of this unstable triangular is Open Source which
continues to be a beacon for future development trends.
Stratification, Collaboration &
are Webified applications evolving to deal with the increasing complexity
of information/content content development tasks?
complexity comes increasing specialization. As
the development environment for Web-centric content has become more
like software development, technologists have sought to achieve rational
separation of different tasks based on expertise. The result is a move
toward stratification in the technology and in authoring and development
Remember our earlier example of the typesetter? How many of us here would consider themselves typesetters? Yet it is very likely that each of us performs the roll of a typesetter every day.
is a level of functionality that is now built in to almost every product
we use. Many of us may not consider ourselves to be programmers yet
if we build Web pages in applications like DreamWeaver we are generating
of us may try to wear only one hat, we often perform a variety of different
rolls whether we know it or not. The door should be open to operating
on as many levels as necessary without extensive upgrading or add-ons.
complexity may also mean working in teams, possibly in remote locations.
Webified application environments must offer a means for collaboration
and process control as well as the ability to seamlessly integrate the
large scale projects. Hence the recent proliferation of software "suites"
with collaboration and project management capabilities.
of content creation with development activities means that applications
may have support for integrated development tools such as code views,
code references, code libraries, context highlighting, script and code
assistance and debugging as well as text editing, graphics and media.
Features and Futures Meta Software
it walk like a duck?
The future of information authoring and content creation is being driven by the success of the Internet, technology standardization (W3C compliance) and the Open Source movement.
prospect of every computer and every mobile device being connected through
a vast distributed application environment, content creation is no longer
an isolated task performed by subject matter experts. It is a complex
collaborative development environment with vague boundaries between
authoring and development.
authoring applications are becoming "meta" software. Software
for creating software as well as content. Going forward, applications
of choice will support this trend.
not "Webified" its probably not worth investing your time,
effort and dollars. You'll be right back at this same decision point
again in no time.
Roadmap to the Future
are a dozen or so tips for deciding where to invest your effort so that
you get the greatest return on your investment and will ensure that
you build transferable knowledge as well as proficiency.
Rules for the Road
Define Job #1. Content creator, producer, developer, system administrator
as much as possible about emerging technologies and trends driving
your primary application environment.
and document your work environment, your requirements, and your
new tools in terms of the effort invested in skills vs. contribution
to core transferable knowledge.
transferability of skills and compatibility with your current environment.
Will you have to upgrade other tools and equipment?
products in terms of the Usability ROI learning vs. doing.
Checkout the documentation first!
production vs. creative tradeoffs
your needs in terms of vertical integration and support vs. independent
or Open Source alternatives.
for Webified architectures and features that support
Open Source and emerging standards (XML).
Evaluate features and upgrade paths for an appropriate task stratification
architecture. All-in-one or expensive add-ons?
Get first hand feedback from peers or peer journals not from
data sheets or sales literature.
Avoid surprises. Have a transition plan for implementation
Dont use new products or technologies on a mission critical
Try to avoid 1.0 and X.0 releases.
Please see the PDF version of the slide presentation for details on this section.
Applications, Features and Futures
|Date:||Monday evening, February 27, 2006|
Bruce Mills, B.F.A., M.B.A. is the principal of Lone Pine Studio (http://lonepinestudio.com) in Paso Robles, providing graphic design, Web design and development, illustration, documentation, technical publishing, marketing, and business consulting to clients in SLO County and beyond.
Bruce has evaluated, used, developed, created, and marketed computer graphic systems and software since 1979 holding a series of creative and executive positions with training, communications, marketing and manufacturing organizations. Bruce has been an independent contractor and consultant since 1998.
Information Authoring: Applications, Features, and Futures helped us gaze into the crystal ball at some of our long-standing design, layout, Help, and text processing favorites to find out where they appear to be heading.
In the last
few years, we've seen many products evolve and devolve, as major software
companies merged and new industry standards emerged. For example, open
source standards and "Webification" are rapidly changing the
character of software and content development. At this timely event, we