The Online Media Designer (OMD for short) is doubtlessly one of the most exciting new features in ST4 2016. We’ve already talked about it in our blog. In this post, we’ll hear from Matthias Hofmann. He’s the official backlog owner and main responsible person for developing the product. How did it all start with the OMD? What were the ups and downs during development? How does the result look in hindsight? Questions which he’ll answer for us here.
Matthias, you don’t just develop, you also do training for OMD on a regular basis. How do you explain the concept of the OMD to your audience? What’s so special about it? And what role does it play in the ST4 product philosophy?
The OMD allows users to create HTML5-based web applications and formats such as MS Help Viewer 2.0 or EPUB without complicated programming. Custom XML and SCHEMA Help can also be created directly via the graphical interface.
The system is, in principle, framework-independent, i.e. we can integrate pretty much any web framework, for example the popular Bootstrap framework which we use in our example layouts. The OMD is fully functional without a framework, too. The files that are created can be freely designed via the layout and thus adapted to individual needs. Personally, I think this is especially nice. Most other approaches are simply based on static templates that are modified with a few CSS formats and predefined parameters. With the OMD, the customer has the freedom to implement his ideas (and his CI).
The OMD completes the ST4 product portfolio by offering the option to create web-based content, as well as the easy possibility to create content for SCHEMA Reader and SCHEMA Content Delivery directly with SCHEMA ST4.
The OMD has now been on the market for almost half a year, and is part of the standard inventory of ST4. But it all started much earlier. Can you remember the initial development? When was the idea born, and where did it come from? What were the goals you set yourselves?
Already during the development of the PLD (Page Layout Designer), we wanted to offer a modern, flexible production method for our target formats, but were first focusing on print production at the time. When the PLD had been released and had been favorably received, we got frequent inquiries whether we couldn’t also product HTML pages via the PLD.
In addition, HTML5 and CSS3 had become the norm on all platforms at that time – especially because of Responsive Design – which is really interesting for our target market.
Thanks to the good technological basis of the PLD, we were able to build a prototype of the OMD in relatively short time. We were aiming to create a “PLD for web applications,” i.e. to apply the successful approach of the PLD to the production of HTML applications in such a way that was very flexible and adapted to the intended output formats, but that allowed the user to create layouts without complicated programming.
Such product development provides surprises despite the best planning. What were the biggest challenges for you and your team? Were there really difficult problems you had to solve?
Apart from the integration of numerous elements and characteristics of HTML5 and CSS3, the biggest challenge probably was to create and package the many various file formats.
Modern HTML5-based web applications don’t just consist of HTML files, but also include other file formats such as CSS files, Java Scripts or XML files. These can depend on the project content, e.g. a site map and a JSON-based search index, which is why we wanted to dynamically create these file formats based on the available data.
In order to support modern HTML-based formats such as SCHEMA Reader packages, EPUB, or Eclipse Help, the files created need to be able to be packaged into one or more ZIP or OCF containers.
You develop with an agile method. How did that help?
The agile approach and the short iteration cycles allowed us to try out quite a bit, and to get early feedback on individual components of the OMD. We were able to see quickly whether we were on the right track with the development of a feature, or whether we needed to go down a different path.
In addition, cross-functional teams and Shared Code Ownership allowed potentially more people to participate in working on a feature, which means more ideas and also higher quality.
When you look at the finished OMD now – what makes you especially proud? What makes you happy, every time you think of the OMD?
My personal highlight in the OMD is the possibility to create a page template directly from a design template or an existing web page in the OMD, and then to edit it graphically in the Layout Editor, and to link it to content from ST4.
All in all, I think that with the OMD we have succeeded in creating a tool that meets the requirements of the market quite well, and that presents an excellent solution for providing content from SCHEMA ST4 as an HTML5 web application.
Do your customers feel the same way? What kind of feedback are you getting from the market?
Precisely those customers who are already working with the PLD are happy that using the OMD is very similar to the PLD, allowing them to apply their knowledge of the PLD to the OMD.
The option to review the production results with the help of the live preview, and to jump directly to the layout rules, really appeals to the users as well.
All in all, we’ve received very positive feedback from our customers for the OMD in these first months, and are excited every time we get further feedback.
So the launch really went well. And the OMD’s career will continue. Can you tell us a few more things that you have on your product backlog?
To improve the work with responsive web sites, we want to provide the option in the preview to simulate different screen sizes, without having to resize the Viewlet.
Also, we’re planning to export callout graphics as SVG graphics so they can be integrated into OMD-based productions better. And in regards to debugging and HTML file analysis in the live preview there will be improvements as well.
Thanks very much, Matthias, for this look behind the scenes!