Arbortext’s New Release: Epic 3.0

CIDM

December 1999


Arbortext’s New Release: Epic 3.0


CIDMIconNewsletter Review by Ann Rockley, Center Associate

Arbortext’s Epic is an XML-based single-sourcing tool. Arbortext’s long history in SGML (since 1986) provides a robust XML-based single-source solution.

Using Epic, you can create materials for multiple media (HTML, WebHelp, Paper, CD-ROM, PDF, and custom Web access). Additionally, Epic enables you to create user profiles that identify elements of information by user. User profiles provide tremendous flexibility in your documentation configuration.

The key feature of Epic that provides single sourcing is the “user profile.” User profiles could be based on

  • types of users (for example, novice, system administrator)
  • types of documents (for example, training, Web-based user documentation, Help)
  • language
  • any other designation you require for your organization

This feature enables the author to link any component/element/paragraph to a particular profile. Profiles are used during the production process to configure the materials you want to produce (strips out any irrelevant content and assembles a custom publication), or if published to the Web using Arbortext’s Web Publishing capability, to enable users to view/hide multiple versions (profiles) of information upon request.

Epic Components and Functionality

Epic was originally delivered as a large, bundled product. While this provided authors with a full spectrum of authoring options, it was sometimes more than a company required. Now the product has been unbundled to enable companies to select those modules that are appropriate. As a result, the basic product is more affordable for smaller corporations. A full, bundled set is still available for those corporations that require it. The module options are described in the context of the functionality they provide.

Authoring

Materials can be authored in XML or MS Word and converted to XML. Because Epic is based on XML, you need an XML editor to create materials.

XML
You could use any XML editor to create content for use with Epic. However, to take advantage of the capabilities of Epic, it is best to use Epic Editor to create your XML materials. Epic Editor provides

  • a robust XML editor based on Arbortext’s successful Adept SGML Editor. This editor emulates a standard Word interface with the addition of XML capabilities
  • profiling (ability to mark content based on profiles)

If you have authors who don’t need the full functionality of the Epic Editor (profiles, for example), they can use Adept Editor or Adept Editor LE, which does not allow you to edit or create entities and has fewer import functions.

Epic requires the use of a Document Type Definition (DTD). You can use the DocBook Application optional module that uses Epic’s XML version of the DocBook DTD to define the structure of documents. Or, you can use your own DTD.

MS Word
MS Word files can be converted to XML for use in Epic. Conversion requires the use of the Word Interchange optional Epic module. This module enables you to “map” the structure of your Word files to an XML structure. Note that if your authors continue to work in Word rather than in the XML editor, you either have to reconvert the Word files as they are updated or export the revised files from Epic, update them in Word, and reconvert them. It is preferable to use Word only to import initial files and maintain your documents in Epic.

Publishing

You use Epic Publisher to publish documents in a variety of formats: paper, Web, and profile-based materials.

If you require CD-ROM publishing, you’ll need the CD-ROM publishing optional module. The CD-ROM option allows you to index the materials and provide Web-based updates to the CD-ROM.

HTML support
Epic supports a variety of HTML outputs. You can produce a single HTML file, WebHelp, or customized HTML. The WebHelp and customized HTML output produces a three-frame output with an expandable/collapsible table of contents, index, and hypertext-linked cross-references. The customized HTML output allows you to produce information based on user profiles. You can either output the HTML for a specific user profile or a combinations of profiles. If you output profile combinations, the customized HTML provides a profile list for the user to select from. The profile list is a drop box listing each of the potential profiles. Selection of one or all of the profiles automatically hides or displays the appropriate information. This feature makes your output very flexible for a variety of users. Additionally, you can use user logons to automatically display appropriate information based on profiles.

The customized HTML output also enables feedback from the user to the author. This module allows users to select the feedback option and enter their comments. The feedback can be targeted to a page or to a specific paragraph. When authors look at the “document,” they can view the attached comments. If workflow is in place, any edits to content can be shown in the authoring and user versions of the information using “redlining.” Once the edits are approved, the redlining can be turned off.

Content Management

Epic alone does not provide content management capability. However, it does provide a connection to a document management system through the Repository Adapter optional module. With this module, you can store your information in the document or content management system of your choice. Epic currently integrates with Documentum, Chrystal Astoria, and Poet. Astoria and Poet are content-based systems capable of managing information elements at the paragraph level. Documentum manages files, not elements. Arbortext provides a utility known as Document Bursting that enables files from Epic to be “burst” apart into their elements for inclusion in the Documentum database. Components of information can then be managed separately for optimal reuse.

Reuse
It is not necessary to have a document/content management system to reuse information in Epic. You can use a file system-based approach for the storage and reuse of information. If you reuse a component of information and the original component is updated, the reused component of information is automatically updated. At this time, there is no option to be informed of a change or to choose whether or not you want to use the revised copy. When you reuse a component of information, you can choose to reuse it (pointer to the content) or copy it (sever the link to the original).

Translation

There are two versions of Epic: Standard and Global. The Global version provides UNICODE support. Notification of changes in the English can be established using a content-management system. Arbortext is involved in a number of customer-based initiatives such as simplified English and automated translation.

Support

There is a maintenance fee for the product but no additional fee for technical support. Support is provided in the form of telephone or email. Arbortext also provides a listserv, online Web seminars, and user-group conferences. Arbortext provides a broad range of training programs oriented to authoring and customization, as well as an introduction to structured authoring.

Summary

Arbortext’s Epic provides an XML-based single-sourcing solution that is well worth investigating. CIDMIconNewsletter

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