DITA builds with WinAnt Echidna

I recently stumbled across the WinAnt Echidna project on SourceForge while browsing the DITA Open Toolkit project forums.  While DITA as a markup language is not difficult to learn and begin to start creating content, DITA can be difficult to see the fruits of those labors if you are just getting starting with the DITA-OT. Most information developers are not experts in XSL or ANT.  The WinAnt tool can help them get started with producing DITA sourced content very quickly.

WinAnt is generally going to appeal to writers and teams on smaller projects. Larger and more complex projects and deliverables likely have requirements that go beyond what WinAnt provides.

Benefits

  • Free
  • Quick to create and run both simple and customized builds
  • Supports a variety of output types, including: XHTML, PDF, Eclipse plugin, HTML Help, JavaHelp, DocBook, and Word.
  • Repeatable builds by saving build projects.
  • Style settings can be controlled through skins, which list headers, footers, stylesheets and includes . Skins can be used for consistent settings amongst a team.
  • Automation through scheduled tasks and saved build projects.
  • Logs are styled and highlight messages produced by the build.
  • ANT build.xml can be exported if your project needs to grow beyond what WinAnt provides.

Limitations

  • Unclear about longevity and maintenance of the project
  • Unable to customize or override XSL settings.
  • Errors and warnings in build are not explicitly displayed. Must manually check logs for each transform. Expected a pop-up or dialog telling me that my project had X errors and Y warnings.
  • Lack of support for specializations? (Unverified but looks that way from a quick attempt)
  • Troubleshooting problems can be difficult.
  • Runs on Microsoft Windows only.
  • WinAnt help launches in odd sizes and is always on top of UI. No tooltips or descriptions for many settings.
  • Lacks expanded tasks such as source code control extraction, distribution of output options, versioning of builds,  and advanced reporting.
  • JavaHelp and HTML Help require additional installed programs that not distributed with program or linked from the UI.

When I first downloaded the product, I expected that I would be disappointed with it just based on my first impression. WinAnt for such a small and simple program is quite powerful.  I would suggest that anyone who is trying to get started learning DITA should definitely give this program a try. It definitely lowers the learning curve for DITA builds.

The WinAnt tool was created by Tony Self of HyperWrite. Nice work!

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