Open source software certainly has its place in the world. This particular subcategory might be less obvious in the backdrop of proprietary and commercial offerings. However, there is another school of thought that considers open source a commodity that can provide one with flexibility, availability, and features for free. These are benefits you may want to explore if your current open source vendor isn’t giving you what you need. The process can be broken down into simpler steps: choosing the right tool, evaluating which requirements are important to you, knowing how to evaluate both cost and value in all metrics, identifying which products will enable your strategy, and finally weighing the risk of change against your current platform(s).
Are you wondering what is the best open source documentation tools? Or questioning what is the best documentation tool for your next project? Would you feel as though you are your members would benefit from a community-contributed documentation? If so, check out this post on best open source documentation tools.
It’s a fact that documentation remains one of the biggest struggles for many developers. Some platforms have great software documentation, others have only mediocre or no documentation at all. This can be a big problem when you need to learn details about the API, special functionality or use of certain features.
We live in a world where information is the best resource that any individual or business can have. As such, we have seen a dramatic increase in the production of documents and literature to help people better understand their needs and requirements. In this article, I’m going to review some free (open source) documentation software, which is designed to help companies create technical documentation that is clear, concise and to the point.
Top Software Documentation Tools for Developers
As we discussed in our previous article, software documentation includes many digital artifacts and assets that are mostly accessed by the development team.
- README files
- API documentation
- Software version release notes
Essentially, we’re talking internal documentation created by and for the dev team in reference to a specific tool or software.
Because of the specialized nature of their software, dev teams typically look for document collaboration tools that can be tailored to their specific needs.
GitHub Wiki and Pages
GitHub Wiki is one of the most commonly-used tools for software and technical documentation — among many other processes.
Each new repository comes equipped with a wiki, through which dev teams can create and share technical documentation for their software. The tool can also integrate with Jekyll via GitHub Pages, allowing teams to further customize the structure and appearance of their documentation.
Overall, GitHub Wiki makes for a user-friendly alternative to the plaintext, interface-free README files dev teams often work with.
GitHub Wiki and Pages Features
- GitHub Pages offers numerous customizable themes for Wiki pages
- Integration with Jekyll enables further customization
- One free customized domain name allowed
GitHub Wiki and Pages Pricing
- GitHub Wiki and Pages are available through GitHub Team at $4/user per month
- GitHub’s Enterprise tier starts at $21/user per month
Read the Docs
Read the Docs is an open-source software documentation tool that promises to simplify the process for dev teams by automating building, versioning, and hosting their technical documents for them.
Developers can import projects via GitHub, then use Sphinx to further customize their proprietary documentation tool. This includes tweaking document and library structure, along with the tool’s overall user interface.
Read the Docs Features
- Docs viewable as web pages, PDFs, HTML, and eReader files
- Branching and versioning ensures no overlap when updating docs
- Free hosting with a custom domain
Read the Docs Pricing
- Free, open-source tool and hosting for one build
- Premium Options:
- $50/month for 2 builds, 48-hour support response time
- $150/month for 4 builds, analytics features, and advanced customization options
- $250/month for 6 builds, advanced analytics, and 24-hour support response time
Haroopad, by HarooPress, is a highly-visual document processor for technical and development teams.
The charm of Haroopad is in its simplicity. As stated on the team’s website, “Markdown is simple, but has…portability and extensibility. The goal of the Haroopad is also simple: To be a web friendly document editing tool.”
Still, Haroopad manages to deliver the functionality and customizability we’ve come to expect from these open-source solutions.
- Themes, skins, and customizable UI components
- Import files from YouTube, Twitter, Vimeo, Slideshare, Flickr, Instagram, and more
- Export documents to Workpress, convert to PDF/HTML
- Haroopad is completely open-source.
Top Overall Software Documentation Tools
Software documentation also encompasses any documents created with the user in mind.
Incidentally, “the user” may refer to the various members of your team, or it may refer to your customers.
A few examples here include:
- Onboarding tutorials
- Advanced how-to guides
- Troubleshooting documentation
While the dev team may also have a hand in creating user documentation, the process may also involve marketing, sales, customer services — and any other customer-facing department within your organization.
That said, you might want to consider looking for a software documentation tool that’s more user-friendly to your less technically-minded team members.
With Helpjuice, teams can create, publish, and deliver helpful software documentation to internal users, and to the customer. On the user’s end, Helpjuice presents this documentation through an intuitive, user-friendly interface — allowing for maximum browsability and digestibility of information.
Overall, Helpjuice allows you to develop software documentation with the end-user in mind.
In some cases, this may mean diving deep into technical explanations and information. In others, it may mean delivering technical information in a more simplified, comprehensible manner.
Either way, using Helpjuice to create a knowledge base will ensure you can create and share great documentation with the relevant stakeholders.
- Limitless authoring, formatting, and editing of text and multimedia content
- Templates for streamlined knowledge creation and organization
- Advanced search functionality makes finding the right document a cinch
- Permissions ensure individuals only have access to the necessary areas of your knowledge base
- Integrations allow content to flow freely from your knowledge base to other tools and platforms
Regardless of pricing tier, all Helpjuice users get access to all of the tool’s features.
- For 4 users: $120/mo
- For 16 users: $200/mo
- For 60 users: $289/mo
- For unlimited users: $369/mo
Confluence’s developer, Atlassian, refers to the tool as a “team workspace where knowledge and collaboration meet.”
Confluence is another all-encompassing knowledge management solution, with software documentation being one of the tool’s main focuses. The focus on collaboration means all stakeholders will have a hand in creating accurate, comprehensive, and user-friendly software documentation.
Templates also ensure team “spaces” and “pages” (i.e., knowledge base sections and individual documents) stay organized and uniform. Though customizable, Confluence’s templates are designed with specific use cases in mind — once again, including software documentation.
- Real-time collaborative features and task management processes keep all team members on the same page
- Personalized feeds keep stakeholders focused on important documentation tasks and processes
- Integration with all Atlassian tools (and thousands of others) allows seamless delivery of documentation
- Free: Up to 10 users, 2GB of storage, and basic documentation features
- Standard: $5/month per user, up to 20,000 users, 250GB of storage
- Premium: $10/month per user, up to 20,000 users, unlimited storage
- Enterprise option available
Process Street is a business process management tool that allows teams to develop workflows, checklists, and other process documentation for recurring procedures within their organization.
Focusing on software documentation, Process Street serves two purposes:
For one, it allows teams to create procedural guides to help users navigate a piece of software, or a specific feature within a given tool. Secondly, dev teams can use Process Street to outline their own development processes — and to track their progress over time.
Process Street’s unique drag-and-drop interface allows teams to develop various software document templates, and to adjust them to specific use cases with ease. This versatility makes it a key choice for teams looking to streamline their software documentation processes.
Process Street Features
- Widgets make adding new content elements to documentation simple and easy
- Customizable templates provide structure to documents while allows teams to tweak them as necessary
- Process management and performance analytics allow for continuous improvement of software documentation workflows
Process Street Pricing
- Free for up to 5 full team members and 5 workflows
- Pro: $25/month per user, unlimited full users, and intensive customer support
- Enterprise option available
Bit.ai is a powerful tool for workplace and document collaboration.
In fact, its heavy focus on interactivity and real-time collaboration is what makes Bit.ai such a prime choice for software documentation purposes.
On the developer’s side, dev teams can add code blocks and other elements to documents as needed — all while working with other team members to improve the documentation in question. Less technical teams can also easily collaborate in-doc, adding multimedia and other content to software documentation as appropriate.
For end-users, the end result is an interactive document that delivers the exact information they need in the most convenient and digestible way possible.
- Minimalist, Markdown-supported interface allows teams to create and edit documentation to their liking without distraction
- Portals, rooms, and passwords can all be used to allow or disallow access to certain documents
- Integrates with over 100 other tools
- Free for up to 5 members, 50 documents, and 1GB storage
- Pro Plan: $8/month per user, unlimited users and documents, and 500GB storage
- Business Plan: $15/month per user for advanced tracking, access to customer success and support teams
- Enterprise Plan available
Tettra is an internal, corporate wiki tool that focuses on delivering need to know answers to common questions as quickly as possible.
At the most basic level, Tettra acts as a sort of Q&A forum on which team members can ask and answer technical and operational questions for all to see. Basically, you can think of it as an organization-specific Quora.
For software documentation purposes, Tettra allows teams to collect frequently asked questions regarding product specs, technical processes, and troubleshooting info all in one place. Internal users can then use the Q&A database to find the information they need without having to reach out to the dev team or other SMEs.
- Content verification ensures answers are accurate and comprehensive — and provides SMEs the opportunity to expand on documentation as needed
- Slack and MS Teams integrations allows users to find answers directly within these tools
- Usage analytics allows teams and SMEs to make improvements to documentation over time
- Free for up to 10 users, basic Q&A features
- Scaling: $8.33/month per user, up to 250 users, for all features
- Enterprise available
WhatFix is a digital adoption platform, aiming to enhance team productivity and overall business outcomes by making it easier for teams to adopt new technology.
It does so by allowing teams to provide interactive, omnichannel documentation and support throughout software onboarding processes.
With WhatFix, teams can deliver dynamic, in-app support to new users — and point them toward further learning as necessary. Users can also access pertinent software documentation directly in-app — making for a streamlined first experience with the tool.
- In-app messaging, notifications, and interactive prompts ensure users get the most out of their learning experiences
- Automated personalization delivers information to individual users in multiple ways based on context and preference
- Conditional workflows add to the interactive nature of software documentation — and ensure all users are able to do what they set out to do
- WhatFix prices its services on an individual basis. Contact them for a quote.
What’s the Best Software Documentation Tool for Your Team?
As you can probably tell, there really is no “best” software documentation tool out there.
The best one for your team, though, is the one that:
- Allows developers and SMEs to build software documents with ease
- Enables end-users to find the information they need to stay productive
- Delivers the most value to all stakeholders at a price your team can afford
That said, Helpjuice provides all of this — and much more — at a price that scales with your needs. Best of all, you can try it out free for 14 days before you make a decision.
Ready to get started? Book a demo today!
Documentation remains one of the most important aspects of any organization, be it a government agency or a non-profit. From nonprofit organizations to small organizations to large corporations, proper documentation is needed to prevent chaos and confusion.
Documentation is essential to the overall success of a software project. It helps users understand how to use your software, fix bugs and report problems. Open source software projects are no exception and this article will cover the best open source documentation tools.