I had a recent conversation with an engineering manager at a small startup company who was interested in finding ways to update the existing company documentation, as well as create documentation for a new product release. What piqued my interest was that the conversation led to a discussion of authoring tools and their ability to handle current output formats (such as HTML and PDF) as well as upcoming Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs and wikis for collaborative documentation (see my previous post).
Coming from a company background with dedicated publication teams, it was easy for me to assume that their documents were created using software such as Microsoft Word or Adobe FrameMaker. At first, I argued the relative merits of a word processing tool such as Word for short documents and FrameMaker for multi-chapter documents. Then, I realized the manager was far more interested in the use of open source software such as OpenOffice for authoring.
I continued the discussion comparing the relative merits of OpenOffice against Microsoft Word, when I began to see that the discussion was evolving into the prospective use of open source software as a “free” (or at least low-cost) alternative to the expensive per-user licensing and support contracts that are required for commercial tools such as Word and FrameMaker. In a time when companies need to get the biggest “bang for the buck”, OpenOffice (or variants such as StarOffice and Lotus Symphony) may be all that a small to medium sized company needs to create the short article-length documents that are preferred for posting to the Web. Even more, open source software such as the Liferay 5.2 portal application can not only be used to publish content to the Web, but also to manage Microsoft Office formatted documents in a content management system.
Through the collaborative efforts on open source software, the bottom line seems to be that low budget does not necessarily mean low tech.