Flare 8 is the latest version of the state-of-the-art authoring and multi-channel publishing tool produced by MadCap Software. It has over 30 new features and hundreds of usability enhancements and fixes, some of which I've categorized in Table 1.
Flare 8 provides the following new capabilities:
|New output formats||
Allow landscape pages in portrait-based documents
Capability to add meta tags and Output sitemaps
|Review process improvements||
|New reports available||
The most obvious change to the UI is that the toolbar now appears in the Microsoft ribbon format. This is the new default. You can easily change back to the traditional Flare toolbars.
Figure 1 shows the new default (dark/green) ribbon UI and Figure 2 shows a light blue version of the ribbon UI (users can change the ribbon theme within Flare).
Speaking as an experienced Flare user going back to V1, I find the ribbon format much easier to read and find options. Both experienced users and people new to Flare will probably find the new ribbon format more comfortable to use. Another user-friendly feature added is the ability to add buttons to the Quick Access Toolbar (similar to Microsoft Office). By default, there are Save, Save All, Undo, and Redo buttons. (You cannot remove these buttons.) To add a custom button, right-click on an option and select Add to Quick Access Toolbar. For example, I added Build Primary, View Primary, and Publish Primary to my toolbar as those are commands I use frequently, see Figure 3.
A further usability enhancement is the ability to display keyboard shortcuts for all menu options by pressing the ALT key, similar to Microsoft Office. To hide the keyboard shortcuts, press the ALT key again.
This version of Flare provides two new output formats:
The new HTML5 output format supports the HTML5 specification defined by the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG, http://whatwg.org) and World Wide Web Consortium (W3c, http://w3.org).
Some of the key features of this new format include:
Figure 4 shows the traditional WebHelp output and Figure 5 shows the new HTML5 output.
Like the rest of Flare's output formats, it is easy to generate the HTML5 output. It is as simple as selecting HTML5 as your target, specifying a pre-defined HTML5 skin to your project and building your project. I found that the default options for the HTML5 output worked fine out of the box. That is, I didn't have to customize the settings at all.
You can now generate ePUB output, which is a format for creating "reflowable" digital books (eBooks). Digital books are rapidly growing in popularity and use in the world of technical communication.
ePUB is a downloadable format that users can load on a device, most likely a mobile device. This format is best for content with a long shelf life.
ePUB docs will run on most portable consumer devices, including the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple devices (iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch). If you don't have any mobile devices, you can still read eBooks using either the free Adobe Digital Editions reader or the ePUB Reader (a free Firefox add-in). ePUB is good for linear documents (such as policy manuals, getting started guides, etc.). ePUB is also suited for selling published documents via 'app stores'.
ePUB is easy to deploy, as it is a single file output format. Figure 6 shows sample ePUB output generated from Flare 8.
Generating ePUB output was even easier.
A very useful improvement for PDF output is that you can now customize PDF settings in Flare. For example, you can select the following PDF options from Flare 8:
As in previous releases of MadCap Flare, Version 8 provides significant enhancements in usability as well as major new features that meet the changing demands of technology on technical writers.
You might want to upgrade to Flare 8 or switch to Flare 8 from another help authoring tool if you want to:
These points are summarized in more detail in the following paragraphs.
MadCap also includes a major facelift with the new ribbon UI. The product looks modern and sleek and is another leap forward in usability and out-of-the-box experience for new users. Whether you are an experienced Flare user or a new user, having a familiar UI makes learning a new tool or finding options easier.
Specifically, the new HTML5 output not only enables us to use the features in the new HTML5 standard but also updates the look and feel of WebHelp output. The new HTML5 output emulates the appearance of contemporary browsers such as Google Chrome. Although we focus on producing technically accurate information, regardless of the output format, looking current can be a selling point to management. Producing accurate information in old, deprecated formats can leave a bad impression with potential customers.
The new ePUB output enables us to produce output for the explosive growth in mobile devices. As an independent consultant, I have personally received a number of enquiries over the past year about producing some form of online assistance for mobile devices. Also, several major conferences have had presentations on user assistance for mobile devices in the past two years, including the Society for Technical Communication (STC) Summit, the WritersUA Conferences, and LavaCon.
Finally, MadCap consistently enhances the usability of Flare based on user feedback in new releases. Among some of the miscellaneous enhancements were improvements to the Add Files wizard, Add New Project wizard, ability to set PDF options in your Flare project, and more customization options for PDF output, Table of Contents, and Indexes.
Ed Marshall is an independent consultant technical writer and the sole proprietor of Marshall Documentation Consulting, with over 24 years in technical writing. He specializes in technical documentation for developers including API (application programming interfaces), SDK (software developer's kits), Web Services products, etc. Over his career, Ed has developed expertise in using tools to "let the computer do the work," such as advanced tools for editing files, comparing files, and searching/ replacing text.
He has presented many talks at local STC chapters, the STC Conferences / Technical Summits, the WritersUA Conferences, the DocTrain Conferences, and other professional conferences.Website: email@example.com Email: www.MarshallDocumentationServices.com