Six years ago I joined a start-up to write their product documentation. They were using Microsoft® Word, but I desperately wanted a real technical writing tool (yes, I know I’ve just upset some technical writers by that comment). They agreed to use a professional tool, and I was set the task to find the right one. I already knew that I wanted to use MadCap Flare but I needed to do my due diligence. So I set about researching all the popular tools. XML was the buzzword at the time with its ability to separate content and presentation. Other popular themes were CSS, single-sourcing, topic-based writing, and multi-channel publishing. I wanted a tool that checked all the boxes and then some to make sure it would be future-proof.

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Included in my research were the Adobe FrameMaker® and RoboHelp® products. I had worked with both tools extensively in the past and liked them both. However, FrameMaker® could produce only PDFs and RoboHelp® could produce only online help. As separate products they could not do the job of producing PDF and online help. So I was eager to understand how Adobe had integrated them together in order to produce both PDF and online help. I spent an agonizing 15 minutes on a call with an Adobe salesperson trying to figure out how the two products integrated. I finally gave up because the salesperson was not knowledgeable about the products she was selling.

Recently, when MadCap Software asked me to write a guest blog post about comparing my experience with Flare and FrameMaker®, I was interested to see just how much further Adobe had progressed with its FrameMaker® and RoboHelp® ‘integration,’ and whether the integration was still needed to bring FrameMaker® up to parity with Flare.

1. A tool based on modern, open technology, which future-proofs your content

Although I do most of my writing in Flare, I still need to stay familiar with FrameMaker® for clients who want to convert their FrameMaker® content to Flare. FrameMaker® still uses proprietary technology to store and edit content. It then converts the content to HTML, but only at the point of building the output. The good news for FrameMaker® users is that it now produces HTML output.

Flare takes a completely different approach. MadCap is so committed to open standards like XML, XHTML, and CSS that it uses these technologies in its products, as well as output formats. So why is this important? See https://www.madcapsoftware.com/blog/2013/08/16/why-its-smart-to-choose-xml/.

FrameMaker®’s HTML output is in essence an HTML version of the PDF output. You can use conditional text to include/exclude content relevant to PDF or online formats, but that is where FrameMaker®’s capability to customize the HTML output stops. Flare uses XML/XHTML to store and edit your content’s source, so you can separate the content from its formatting. And it doesn’t stop with just your content files. All Flare files are separate XHTML and XML documents—topics, TOCs, browse sequences, targets, skins, snippets, glossaries, destinations, condition tag sets, variable sets, and more. This means that Flare projects are completely open, transparent, and accessible. Not so with FrameMaker®’s proprietary technology.

Because FrameMaker®’s output is HTML and not its source, if you decide to add any scripting to the HTML output, it is lost next time you produce it. In other words the scripting is a post-production task. Flare lets you add scripts and advanced CSS directly into the content. And now that Flare supports top navigation and HTML5 output without frames, you can literally build a frameless Website that Google can index, giving full search capability to all your online content.

TOCs

With FrameMaker® you can have only one table of contents to build and structure your output. That’s why your FrameMaker® HTML output will closely mimic your PDF output. That’s a very limited type of ‘reuse’ model. Flare lets you create as many tables of contents as you want. This means you can reuse content in as many different configurations as you want to. (You need to integrate FrameMaker® with RoboHelp® to add additional tables of contents.)

Source Control

FrameMaker®’s source files are compiled. You can check them into a file versioning tool, but because they are not text-based you cannot merge files. Flare’s use of XML/XHTML technology for storing content and configuration files allows you to merge files. This means you can have more than one writer working on the same content or configuration file and then merge the changes and resolve any conflicts.

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Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced Users Support

With FrameMaker® you get a propriety UI that acts as a WYSIWYG editor, but only for printed output. Flare provides a WYSIWYG XML editor and a text editor. The XML editor allows you to view what your content looks like in online or print formats with the simple click of a button. You can see how your print CSS and online CSS styles look with your content. You can apply different page layouts to get a full WYSIWYG experience and you can preview output. Flare can do this because of the use of XML open technology at its core. In addition to viewing content files as text, you can open almost every type of file as a text file and get right into the guts of the source… but only if you choose to. Flare lets beginners and advanced users work side-by-side providing the right amount of distance from the ‘source’ for beginners, while allowing advanced users to use text editors and add customized JavaScript and jQuery code.

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2. A single tool with many outputs

FrameMaker® has improved its repertoire of outputs. It can now produce both PDF/print and online WebHelp and HTML help, among other outputs. However, Flare still surpasses FrameMaker®’s list of outputs. In fact to get the full list of Flare’s outputs FrameMaker® users need to purchase and integrate with RoboHelp®. And we are back to the question, what does ‘integrate’ really mean? As part of writing this blog, I decided to call Adobe’s sales to find out. They didn’t really know. They pointed me to their online chat support where I waited for over 30 minutes before a chat representative got on the chat with me.

Because I was determined to finally figure it out for this blog, I spent another hour and 30 minutes trying to get an answer to my question. How exactly does FrameMaker® integrate with RoboHelp®? I was eventually pointed to an online video, which I’d already viewed. So I’m still not sure exactly how well they integrate. From viewing the video it seems that you need to follow an import process from the RoboHelp® tool. OK, assuming the import works smoothly (I doubt it!), do you now author your content in RoboHelp® going forward? Or, do you continue to use FrameMaker® and re-import into RoboHelp® each time you want an output that RoboHelp® provides, but that FrameMaker® does not? I never got a clear answer.

I came to the conclusion that if you are going to go through the pain of importing and mapping your content into another tool it should be one that can do everything you want, and you shouldn’t have to do it repeatedly. It would be so much easier to import your files into MadCap Flare and be done with all the hassle.

3. Topic-based authoring versus chapter-based authoring

FrameMaker® has not yet embraced topic-based writing. It is still operating on the old chapter-based file paradigm. To generate topic-based online help with FrameMaker® you need to integrate with RoboHelp® to convert those chapters into topics before generating online help. Flare, by deliberate design, encourages topic-based writing; one topic per file. You can easily reuse content because it is modular and with Flare’s multi-TOC capabilities you can change the order of the content.

Topic-based writing brings all sorts of benefits and cost savings. You can split writing tasks up among many writers without your tool’s technology getting in the way.  Smaller pieces of content can be reviewed independently, which supports agile environments.

4. Saves money on translating content

If you have ever worked on documentation that is translated you understand the costs involved with translation. You are encouraged to limit content changes to mitigate costs. Even when you don’t change a lot of content you need to run a whole book or possibly just a chapter through translation memory. With topic-based writing you can just send the updated topic through the translation memory. This means faster and cheaper translation. Beyond the savings from minimizing the amount of content that needs to be run through translation memory, MadCap provides specially designed, cost saving tools, such as Lingo, for translation. Lingo allows you to do translation in-house or keep the costly project generation in-house. FrameMaker® has not added any obvious improvements to help with translation costs.

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5. Single source content, video, and images

FrameMaker® lets you reuse content to produce different output types. However, single sourcing content is much more than just generating different output types from the same content. With Flare you can combine projects into a global project, which is not something FrameMaker® can do with book files. You can import multiple projects (removing the links to the original project files), auto-import projects (keeping the links to the original project files), or simply refer to a TOC in another project from the global project’s TOC file.

ill-singleSourcing

You can also create a project to store common files that you wish to control centrally, for example, your organization’s CSS file, page layouts, copyright content, etc. You can then set up other projects to automatically import these centrally controlled files when you generate the other project’s output. Or, you can import them manually. Doing this ensures all your projects use the correct styles. FrameMaker® stores styles within each chapter file, so it is not easy to keep each and every file up-to-date with the correct styles.

Beyond single-sourcing written content, you can use MadCap Capture, which is bundled free with Flare, to single source images. For each image, Capture lets you set up image settings for each of the Flare output types. For example, you can generate HTML help and have the image generate as a JPEG file with a lower resolution to help with file loading speed. Then using the same image file, you can generate a PDF and have the image generate with a higher resolution and smaller dimensions. MadCap also has a video capture tool, called Mimic, for integrating videos, simulations, and tutorials. Both Capture and Mimic files have access to the conditions and variables in the Flare project, which extends single sourcing capabilities.

MadCap provides another useful tool called MadCap Analyzer, which you can use to manage your Flare content files. With this tool you can discover content that can be better utilized as snippets for the purpose of reuse.

6. Knowledgeable sales and support teams

As I said earlier, the first time I called Adobe to understand how FrameMaker® and RoboHelp® integrate I was left less than impressed. So I decided to see if their sales and support team had improved. But unfortunately I was disappointed again with their lack of knowledge and support.

In contrast, MadCap bends over backwards when it comes to sales and support. If they have based Flare on open technology, then they have based their culture on enabling and supporting their users. The MadCap sales team is knowledgeable about their products and quickly escalates questions to support if they are not able to provide the answer.

If you can’t stretch to the cost of the Platinum maintenance and support plan, which allows you unlimited direct calls to support, the Bronze plan provides you with unlimited email support. Everyone can access a great community Forum where fellow MadCap users, affectionately referred to as ‘propeller heads,’ help each other with tips and advice. There is also an extensive Knowledge base. MadCap holds frequent free webinars on a wide range of topics. If you can’t make it to a live webinar session, you can access all webinars online. MadCap also has knowledgeable, certified consultants that you can hire if you want to hit the ground running.

7. A company that focuses specifically on technical communication and content development tools

FrameMaker® is an Adobe product. So is Dreamweaver®, Illustrator®, Photoshop®, Captivate®, After Effects®, InDesign®, etc. I think you get the picture! Adobe has a lot of irons in the fire and does not focus purely on technical communication and content development tools. Many Adobe products are great tools, some are even best of breed. MadCap is very focused on technical communication and content development tools. They designed and built Flare, and all the other tools in the MadPak Professional Suite, purposefully to compliment and work together. They sold off RoboHelp® for a reason… it was not future proof. I believe that MadCap has a much better understanding of what a technical writer needs to write and get the job done. Yes, you can still be a techie and be nerdy when you feel like it and have the time (you know who you are!). But when you need to get the job done you want a tool that is smart, efficient, and flexible… and does not get in the way of writing.

8. Navigating cost and return on investment

In my original research six years ago I was somewhat stunned at how expensive some XML-based tools were. You had to be a large corporation to buy them and hope to get enough benefit out of it to make up for the cost. MadCap Flare was the only tool that checked all my boxes and that I could afford to buy. Flare’s pricing was and still is affordable for an individual to purchase, as well as a company. And it gives you all the benefits of the large more expensive tools (See ROI case studies here).

In a price comparison between FrameMaker® and Flare there is probably not that much of a difference, unless you need to add on RoboHelp® capabilities.

Adobe is pushing the subscription license rather than the outright-ownership model. Flare also has a subscription license, so both compare well on that point. However, as with any tool, and no matter how advanced a user you are, a tool needs a good support infrastructure and team. They can be your last life line on the eve of 4th of July, Thanksgiving, <insert your favorite holiday here> when your organization thought it was a good idea to launch a product. You want to invest money in a good support system, and MadCap wins that comparison bar none.

In summary

To be honest I was a little surprised Adobe was still trying to integrate FrameMaker® and RoboHelp®. Now that FrameMaker® has the ability to output to HTML I am wondering about RoboHelp®’s future. On the other hand, RoboHelp® supports topic-based writing and FrameMaker® does not. It is difficult to understand Adobe’s strategy for the future of these two tools. Why continue to have two tools? At the moment it seems risky to commit to one or the other of these tools. Logic seems to say that at some point one of these tools will disappear off the market. Which tool will win out in the end?

My time and my money (two things very precious to me) are still backing MadCap Flare. After all, the original makers of RoboHelp® sold it to Adobe and then created a brand new tool–Flare–for a reason. Flare is a tool that is specifically designed to utilize XML/XHTML, CSS, single-sourcing, topic-based writing, and multi-channel publishing. In other words it still checks all my boxes, while FrameMaker® and RoboHelp®, even combined, do not.

About The Author

Una Cogavin

About Una Cogavin

Una Cogavin is a certified MadCap Advanced Developer and Flare consultant. She is a director of Convert Write Consulting & Services, which specializes in converting all types of legacy content to MadCap Flare. In addition CWC&S supports software start-ups with an out-of-the-box, virtual, on-demand technical publications team.

Last Modified: June 22, 2016

This entry was posted in FrameMaker, Guest Post, MadCap Flare, MadPak Professional Suite, ROI, Tech Comm, Tips & Tricks and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments

  • Arijit Singh December 7, 2015 at 9:52 AM

    We are a small tech pubs department (2 of us) who currently use Word
    for our documentation. We mainly publish to PDF, but use RoboHelp for a
    very small help system. Ideally we’d like to use single-sourcing as much
    as possible moving forward, and add more online help to our
    documentation suite.

    We are looking to move away from Word to a tool better suited for
    technical publications. At the moment we are considering MadCap Flare or
    Adobe FrameMaker.
    We’ve done a general search for pros and cons of both (we have used
    Frame extensively in the past), and have installed the latest versions
    of both. We are interested in hearing if any other writers have
    experiences that might help us make the right choice!

    • Dana Ellingen December 9, 2015 at 3:05 PM

      I have worked with FrameMaker, RoboHelp, and Flare. I think that Una’s comments are well thought out and very accurate. I strongly recommend Flare.

    • Kathleen Gaetz December 10, 2015 at 7:07 AM

      Hello,
      I think you’ve answered your own question. If you want to produce print-only books with a long shelf life that are sent to a printer for printing and binding, then FrameMaker is probably your best choice.
      However, if you are producing software documentation that is subject to frequent updates AND you want to start increasing your online Help, then Flare is your tool.
      I have been writing user documentation for many years. I’ve used tools including Flare, RoboHelp, FrameMaker, Word, WordPerfect, and even a very cranky secretary named Sharon who would type in what I wrote out in longhand so that we could photocopy the pages and call it done..(The didn’t end well, by the way.)

      There really isn’t another tool besides Flare that allows you to produce impressive print, PDF, and online Help from a single topic. Trust me, you won’t want to go back to the old way of doing things.

      Yes, there is a steep learning curve, but between MadCap’s support and training and the helpful users on the forums, you should find your way to understanding how topic-based authoring works.

      Good luck.

  • Teresa December 8, 2015 at 11:53 AM

    I think that MadCap has made tremendous strides in the past three years to make their product more robust. In many ways, it is comparable to the more expensive DITA systems. It’s the perfect tool for small companies to deliver topic-based articles and need to be responsive in their content delivery. Not using it here yet, but trying to educate people about the benefits.

  • Thomas Bro-Rasmussen December 9, 2015 at 11:14 PM

    @Arijit. Any other tool than Word for documentation is better – than Word. So that is established – with a smile and a hint to any company’s finance department. Apart from reading the 8 reasons why FrameMaker loose to Flare, a few additions from me. Just for the record. I’m using both FrameMaker and Flare intensively, and have done so sine early days. I’m also – on both – a certified expert (cuts short two long titles). Most important I do not sell any of them. I’m just another user!

    Before going there, I think the single most important reason why you should choose any tool, is an in-depth and thorough analysis of what your exact needs are. Of how you work today, and how you want to work in the future. So you need to analyze (or have someone do it for you) on types of content, extend of re-use, requirements for the output (“just PDF” is not enough, as is “HTML based output isn’t), amount and nature of styles, do you need to translate, how many authors do you have and so on. This single issue is by far, more important than the choice of either FrameMaker or Flare. IMO if done correctly the obvious answer to that choice is often very simple. In other words: it is really a bad choice, if you down the road find that you have chosen wrong – for the wrong reasons.

    An in depth comparison between the two is futile in such short space. Let me try with other words and a different angle, than “this and this function …”. Some main points.

    Just for the record. What you can find in Flare you can find in FrameMaker (mostly and vice versa). So it it not the actual functions you should focus on, but all the other things.

    MadCap has a far better support than Adobe – even if you pay the top support subscription. I know it might be different from region to region, but in Scandinavia I often get a many page PDF as a solution with the words: “you can find the answer in the attached”. The Adobe forums on FrameMaker is larger than MadCap’s. So this is where you will find the answers to FM matters. Alone due to the larger amount of people helping each other.

    Flare (and the main reason for why I’ve migrated to it), is by its shear nature far more flexible. FrameMaker files are hard-to-get-to binary files. You simply need FrameMaker to solve anything. Flare is all open HTML/XHTML/XML. So in dire needs you can make do with Notepad. Also connection and cooporation with e.g. your IT department suddenly becomes possible (and fun). You can start to work together – for real.

    Furthermore any source control is superior (and needed I think), which totally disqualifies FrameMaker. Today I can go back to any version of any Flare file and get it, use it, see what changes have been made, by whom and why. I can build any output from the past (and never have to save my PDF’s).

    The buzzword for any good documentation setup is single sourcing (actually two words but I guess you get it). This is where Flare really stands out. Not that you cannot single source in FrameMaker, but consider this: you want to change the name of a file. In Flare just do it – all links are automatically updates across an entire project. In FrameMaker you have to do it outside, and re-opening a book/document, will give you a lot of options for how to re-connect. Not difficult – but really annoying. Another example: since Flare has all formatting controlled from a CSS file (which is a product from a FrameMaker HTMl output), a simple change to a setting “just has to be done”, and all is OK. In FrameMaker you have to force this into all documents, since FrameMaker files are self contained with all relevant formatting information.

    FrameMaker has a few ups: it is easier and faster to write in. There are not that many topics/snippets, so there is less file-handling. My tech writers has this as a daily complaint. Their writing speed has decreased (but the overall production of everything is much much faster). FrameMaker’s PDF creation is far superior to Flare’s (not that Flare’s PDF are bad – far from), but FrameMaker creates PDF files the “correct way”, using PostScript files as a basis. Flare transforms HTML files into PDF. For the nerdy this is a huge difference. FrameMaker can directly link to objects/files outside of a project (in Flare this can be accomplish indirectly in two different methods – so it can be done).

    I feel (and it is a feeling), that FrameMaker “is just another product” in the the Adobe realm. It is not very well looked after – and as a user you often feel lost. The core of the product hasn’t changed significantly since vers 2 (including bugs). The major development the past years has been on structured (XML, DITA), and not so much focused on the average user. Lately with FrameMaker 2015, I can see a drift of functionality from RoboHelp into FrameMaker. I’m not sure that is good. But the next years will show.

    Another big debate, which is almost religious at times, is learning curve. You’ll find people hating (and arguing for it), that Flare/FrameMaker is so and so difficult. If you are a Word user, my simple answer is: yes it is difficult. Not learning new functions. But learning a new mindset (for both). In other words, since you are a Word user, you do not know what you’re looking for in either product (no personal offense meant here), but Word users have a tendency to lean on the space and Enter keys to obtain content. If you are that kind of user you are in for a big surprise (a good one as well). This goes back to my beggining. If you make an in-depth analysis of what you have and where you want to go, your learning curve will much easier to climb.

    Last argument: If you want to be an above average user in any of these, there is a bit more to master in FrameMaker. The benefit of FrameMaker only stands out if you can use a large percentage of the product. In Flare you can takes this in distinct steps. E.g. start with all things that are related to PDF output, then add HTML on a later stage.

    If you eventually end up with FrameMaker you have to consider if you want to work in “unstructured” or “structured”. The latter is all XML, DTD and much harder to learn (and far more expensive). Unstructured is what is compared to Flare. Then you have to restart the entire argument and decision process on those two.

    For most jobs that I consult on these days I recommend Flare, but I have recommended FrameMaker to some as well. It all depended on the individual, the companies’ vision (or lack of). Never about a single function inside the product. But all the things around.

    Hope this helps – if you got this far.

    Keep smiling

    • Candace Roberts May 10, 2016 at 3:44 PM

      Thomas – I really read your entire comment and I find it very interesting because you have addressed a big question I have – how to/whether to compare features. Does FrameMaker ABC vs. whoever ABC really mean the same thing anyway. Because here it she point Word does all this and does it in ONE editor and i dont have to create projects and tags and all this other “structure” in order to get a document to print or convert, VERY Nicely I might add, to a PDF that looks EXACTLY like what I meant for it to look like.

      Plus all this other stuff you bring up about these proprietary closed files vs the Open source files of Flare. With Word I dont have all that to deal with.

      I am a one-man band her. I author, illustrate, edit, review and publish – i have no help at all. its a small company and there is one of me – I wear every hat. I also create and publish technical information in HTML/CSS with DreamWeaver. AND when one says it does or doesnt do this vs. that – how do I know if that is a good idea for me.

      I am doubly tasked with producing structured help using RoboHelp – they bought me the TechWriter suite (3 yrs ago) but never let me use it or go to training. I did see it has the Projects and all that stuff but when I did a test of importing my word document it was really NOTHING like any actual structured help – so I came to the conclusion that i am going to have to hand write it all directly into RoboHelp – and can get epub (so they say) and PDF (BUT I just learned on this blog that will not really be the equivalent to my VERY NICE pdf’s produced from Word and converted by Adobe Acrobat Pro with Word Add-in. (yes SOMETIMES it corrupts the word file, but we all know not to use our only original – so you might have to re-PDF a time or two to get it to take. But its da-bomb at making PDF binders from individual files. I split my 600-page software guide into 20 chapters and I can modularize what I have to convert and republish (cover and TOC- which confirms that I wasn’t missing something on that score. My company yanked me for a different project and sidelined the robohelp and so I never got a class (and suddenly they are INSISTING i hurry up and produce a book with the FrameMaker tool unless I have a better option in the next literally 10 seconds. PRETTY DRASTIC AND INCREDIBLY VICIOUS. (I’ve been told I am totally disallowed from using Word going forward – no warning and no time to prepare myself.

      And I am no dummy, I can probably hack thru it but I have a very sneaky suspicion that something underhanded is being done to “color a perception” that I cannot do my job) – In a practical sense I know nothing about FrameMaker except what I read hear and some of that I have to understand in a conceptual level since i have not gotten my hands on it. and am not approved for any training in FrameMaker at all)

      MY SITUATION …
      I am a Technical Writer … somewhat by accident. You may have heard of the Accidental Project Manager (Patricia Ensworth) …. I work for one of those and he recently promoted from a tech support position. He is SUDDENLY an expert on my job and what tool I need and hell-bent on abandoning Word … for the sake of abandoning Word (and some person who doesn’t work here, who hates Word and works in Framemaker + plus another person who literally knows nothing about tech writing, are giving him input). He really has no clue how much I do and how much it takes to get it done by one person – he makes it clear he doesnt care either.

      I am actually the Quality Assurance Tech (testing software, hardware, embedded software, …) who has been dual-y tasked with writing their technical manuals (which was only 2 books when I first started here – but has become a literal library because of industry competition (and having only one programmer) we have chosen to interface with everything we can bolt on ). We release software and hardware about 3 to 4 times a year – at which times I must turn around a literal library that consists of freshly updated (LIVING) technical manuals as well as writing all the “NEW Product” manuals and incidental packing inserts. All of which I create in Word (an awesome utilitarian tool if you know how to bend it to your will – and I do. But you do have to be allowed to convert your style libraries. And therein lies some of the sticking point – along with the fact they got the bright idea to administer Word across a remote network connection + worse yet on an unstable virtual server environment – and this I cannot hold Dell responsible for, unless it’s a Dell server… which just might be the case – or it could be the pretend IT guy who found a niche here). Basically people who read a blog and met someone are suddenly gushing with expertise.

      THE WORKING ENVIRONMENT IS SLIGHTLY NIGHTMARE-ISH. – which is patently why I am leery of trotting off to yet another tool, to satiate the “IT guy’s” unwillingness to install the software on my hard drive – this is the same IT guy who has us on free ware versions of virusware. We have a total of 15 people here.

      ADOBE Anything … I too am familiar with Adobe’s unqualified offshore tech support that have clearly no experience in and are completely non-conversant the tool they are supporting – and though they do have forums, but best of luck (unreliable) in the face of insane deadlines.)

      OUTPUT: currently I must publish all these manuals primarily in Adobe PDF form. A few small (2pp) docs are HTML Readme’s. VOLUMES: Software User Guide is 600pp, HW Install guide is 150pp, Sys. Specs 80pp, plus about 55 additional Interface Manuals (and growing) which range from 60 – 120pp each.

      This hellatious volume of manuals is not going to end or slow down.

      I am also being tasked to produce a full Software Help system – for which they purchased Adobe Tech Suite with RoboHelp (you will laugh … 3 years ago ) but never let me go to training on it. I putzed around it at the time.
      FRAMEMAKER came with it!!!

      My boss has SUDDENLY insisted everything I do goes into FrameMaker – which I have never seen nor worked with.

      This company is a Mfg / Engineering company that is small and turns around a lot of product in a fast pace. I am the sole technical author, writer, editor, publisher (very small). And I have had Word at my fingertips here, which has been splendid BECAUSE it is highly utilitarian and I dont deal with gobs of files – can export to html/mhtml and PDF – though it does hiccup sometimes and i am limited to a linear flow – UNLESS I put things in tables – I do my drawings in Visio and Fireworks and inport them into Word where I might sometimes add tags for the sake of time (If the tag/caption elements don’t stay still, the F6 allows me to scrape a pic (screen hunter) and in a few rapid clicks replace it with a solid image.)
      BTW I am not insulted that people don’t like Word – you do have to know how to manage your styles and it certainly helps to have a standard “template” of sorts to piggy-back from. and it can be problematic to make a formatting edit that unintentionally propagates to other sections and hijacks or overrides the formatting – you don’t notice until after you have saved and must go back and untangle and tame your document. never work across a network connection.

      FUTURE … THEY SAY they want me to produce documents that are epub friendly and smartphone friendly.

      MY QUESTIONS ARE: will I have to retype every line of text into FrameMaker and have a crap load of files that are difficult to manage. Can this be managed on a Virtual Machine. Is this going to sink my ability to produce rapid turn-around documents? My manager read a blog that said you can learn FrameMaker in 2 weeks – I am smart and as you can see from the software and hardware testing experience – I can quickly learn the features of new products – so i have often self-taught on things – but I hear you and others hinting that FrameMaker is cumbersome and not single-sourced – AND WE BOTH KNOW THAT THERE ARE THINGS YOU CANNOT GUESS AT WITHOUT SOME OUTSIDE INPUT .

    • Candace Roberts May 10, 2016 at 4:53 PM

      Apologies – I started retyping my comment and had not deleted the original attempt – however, you see I am in a pickle. I am one human and I have to make a structured help in ROBOHELP – unless you know of a better way. I do indeed like the sound of OPEN SOURCE with FLARE – is there a single-source companion piece that will do a structured help with Flare?

      My company has a “vision” of never ever using word for anything starting NOW. And I will still be expected to output the caliber of style (very neat, things are paginated so that the instructions/steps and illustrations are on the same page – or on facing pages if they fit on two pages. We are not producing shelf-life reference books as you pointed out. Our main manuals LIVING DOCUMENTS and are continually being updated and republished 3-4 times a year. The additional collection of 55+ interface manuals (typically 80-150pp) are published once in a PDF (never printed and very rarely is one ever updated).

      THEY ARE SAYING they want me to produce a phone app document for our two phone apps (framemaker offers epub and phoneGap – but i have no clue what you ACTUALLY get as a publication (look/feel/usability). I really want to keep the same caliber of readability – it really is a big reason our system has been able to compete as a small fish in a big pond. I was told by a marketing person that my manuals are the envy of our competitors/industry partners – they hear a lot of compliments at trade shows and conferences. My company’s president has been asked by several engineering partners whose products we integrate (specifically Sagem/Morph, Schlage Wireless Solutions, etc.) if they can have/use my documents that I wrote about how to install/configure their hardware because their own documentation was either non-existent or it was not written for the installer/end-user to follow. (Whenever we interface with a product whose maker doesn’t have good/or any documentation, I am asked to write easy to follow instructions and illustrations of their stuff so our dealers have a boost or jump-start. Several people have asked my company if they could employ me on the side to produce their documents. And I get a hallway full of thumbs-up’s every time a training class tours the building and hears “this is our technical writer”. I need to make the right choice without really knowing what I am going to end up with. I need a tool that allows a lone writer to produce the same or better caliber and quality of documents in the same or less time than I get with Word + Acrobat. So not to brag at all but convey the caliber of documentation that I produce.

      • Thomas Bro-Rasmussen May 12, 2016 at 11:15 PM

        @Candace

        1) What is, and how do you define structured help? Before you get the time to answer, there is no difference in what you can produce from RoboHelp or Flare. A help is a help – structured or not. Of course there are the subtle differences due to different implementations of functionality in the two products. (P.S. Flare still wins hands down in my book on that comparison)

        2) Do you want to produce a real app? (Like the colored button on iPhones and Androids). Then you’re out of luck on both with Flare. Flare produces help (both the old tri-pane and the more website-look-alike called top-navigation. But it is essential “just” an HTML output that you can access from any device. Any! If you work smart and right, the outcome from Flare can be adjusted to match and fit any screen/device (it’s called responsive design). It works really well in Flare! Get 12, ok?

        3) On readability. It’s all up to you. In my recent studies and comparisons between the design-savy InDesign and Flare, the differences in the PDF output are minimal, so it’s me as a person and designer who controls Flare/InDesign. I (you) need to know your design rules, typography, color control etc. And it is how it is supposed to be. Knock yourself out in good PDF’s from Flare (second P.S. InDesign still does a better job – it’s true and pure PostScript – that’s why.)

        4) On a FrameMaker comparison, basically look in my third point. Flare offers you more flexibility and single source control. Unless you want to work with the Structured version of FrameMaker – and learning about DTD, EDD, schemas and such – and have a large pot of gold!)

        5) Flare is not Open Source. But Flare works out of a totally open xml/html file based system. Which allows you to do so much more (behind the scenes), that e.g. InDesign, FrameMaker will not allow you to.

        6) Your last point. Word always looses to “anything”. Except when you have to write “Dear mom, …”, then it’s quicker (sometimes).

        Keep smiling

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