Thursday, December 19, 2013

Collaboration (Teams working on a common XML project)

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Sometimes I get the feeling that there are still many users who collaborate on XML projects using shared network drives.

We got this question  yesterday from one of our users:
I am just curious if housing and working off a network drive is possible, and if so, what are the risks involved?
In my opinion having multiple writers edit documents from a common shared network location is dangerous because you may end up overwriting the content that someone else has been writing on.

You also have no history of who made what modification and no redundancy of content. If somehow the network drive fails because of a hardware problem or files get corrupted you have no copy of your repository to start over.

My advice is to start using a free and open source version system like Subversion (SVN), CVS or GIT.
For example Oxygen comes with an embedded SVN Client and for writing our user manual which is DITA-based we collaborate using a subversion server installed on a Linux machine.
We made a small video demonstration showing how this colaboration is done:

http://www.oxygenxml.com/demo/Collaborative_Authoring_Using_Subversion.html

The advantage to using version systems is immense:
  1. We know the history of each resource.
  2. We know who made what change.
  3. We can create tags and branches for marking certain versions of the documentation.
  4. Each user has his own local copy of the repository and if the server fails we have the same content duplicated in many other places.
Other approaches:

Use a WebDav repository. When Oxygen opens an XML document from a WebDav repository, it locks the XML document and thus prevents other users from saving changes to it while still allowing them to open the document.

Use a Commercial CMS which in addition to an open source version system will bring more workflow related tools and lots of ways to keep your content valid. And there are quite a few CMSs which have an integration with Oxygen:

http://www.oxygenxml.com/partners.html#solutionpartners%28cms%29

Here's a very nice post by Eliot Kimber about implementing DITA without a CSM:

http://drmacros-xml-rants.blogspot.com#4627052924135934849 

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