What do you like best?
Author-it forces you to organize your content and to plan how smaller pieces of text and graphics will fit into the big picture. It's a database, and it relies heavily on templates. These things make it easy to apply global changes to style and formatting, and to maintain consistency among different authors.
I like the flexibility. Author-it gives you many options for reusing content: embedded text, variables, and variants, as well as the basic technique of using the same topic in multiple "books."
The Support staff is wonderful - friendly, prompt, and thorough. Support is usually done via email; many of the staff are in Author-it's home country of New Zealand (18-hour time difference from the East Coast of US), although they do have US support staff if you really need to talk to someone on the phone, which in my experience has been rare. They also offer online chat, which I haven't really used.
I have rarely had technical problems; I have been using it for nearly six years and can't recall the database ever being down, unless one of our servers was having trouble.
My experience has been with HTML Pages, .chm, Word, and .pdf (by way of Word) outputs.
I just find it to be a fun tool, and I'm very fond of it.
What do you dislike?
Author-it is great for enforcing consistent standards. This means that it is not as flexible when it comes to playing with the appearance of a Help system. If you are someone who likes to experiment with formatting on the fly you might find Author-it's template system for styles confining. There is basically no such thing as manual formatting in Author-it. Every change to formatting has to be defined in a Style object.
It is good that the Support staff is wonderful; documentation leaves some things to be desired. When they moved from the 4.x release to 5.0 line, they actually removed a lot of very helpful information from the Knowledge Center (their web-based Help. You can still get to the 4.0 KC but I don't know how much longer this will continue. The training manual we were given when we started is poorly organized and difficult to search. And error messages, though I know how to interpret most common ones now through experience, and they are usually attributable to something I did and can easily fix, are neither user-friendly nor well documented.
For the past several years Author-it has been pushing their Cloud version. We have been using Author-it since 2009 and have the On Premises version. Because of the marketing push for Cloud I have fears that they will take On Premises away.
When we got Author-it, we were told it supported WinHelp, which was of value to us because we are stuck producing WinHelp for certain products, for technical reasons. The WinHelp Author-it supports is formatted in a way I haven't seen since the 90s - single pane - so we had to stick with RoboHelp for Word for our WinHelp. I know WinHelp is old but if they were going to say they supported it they should at least have supported the latest version of old. This issue probably concerns almost no one in the world except my department. :-)
Recommendations to others considering the product:
The great thing about Author-it is that because it's a database, it enforces consistency and enables reuse of content.
Author-it gives you many options for reusing content: embedded text, variables, and variants, as well as the basic technique of using the same topic in multiple "books."
It can publish to Word, which makes it a good tool to have if you are working with reviewers outside the Docs team, since most of them will want to work in Word. It supports many other outputs, including TouchHelp.
I think it helps to have a fascination with the more technical side of Help authoring when you use Author-it. I like being able to make it do different things by incorporating Java scripts and .bat files. I have been using it long enough that I know how to interpret most error messages, but when I was first learning the product I would sometimes get errors when I tried to generate output that ended up meaning something simple, but were worded cryptically.
What problems are you solving with the product? What benefits have you realized?
We produce Tech Manuals and Install Guides that share a significant amount of content but differ slightly across products. The products are often released together as a suite, so we are often generating multiple Tech Manuals and Install Guides within the space of a few weeks. Before we got Author-it we maintained the Install Guides in Word and the manuals in FrameMaker, and did a lot of copying and pasting, with multiple writers performing the same edit in multiple documents. It took a lot of planning, but I was able to break down the Install Guide and Tech Manual for each product into basic topics, using Author-it's embedded text, variable, and variant features to customize the topics for different products. Now, if we get a tech doc update that affects multiple products, we often only need to edit one topic. It takes a lot less time than before to apply feedback and re-generate these documents during a review cycle.
We do a similar thing with Help and User Manuals. That was less complex to implement because there we did not have the problem of topics varying slightly across a number of products. Since our User Manuals duplicate content from the Help, once the Help content has been updated, a User Manual can be generated in a few minutes. Much better than copying and pasting.