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Software Review: Adobe Technical Communication Suite 2: FrameMaker 9 From Adobe Systems

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This is the first of a series reviews that will cover what is contained in the Adobe Technical Communication Suite 2. Unlike the Adobe Creative Suite, the Technical Communications Suite is geared for technical communicators, help authors, instructional designers and training professionals. The suite contains five products — FrameMaker 9, RoboHelp 8, Captivate 4, Photoshop CS4 and Acrobat Pro Extended. The goal of this series it to define what each product does and provide information of what the new version brings to the table. Please note that some of these products have been reviewed previously and I have provided the links above.

First, let me provide an overview about the Technical Communication Suite 2 in general. This suite is meant to be an end-to-end solution for authoring, reviewing, managing, and publishing technical information and training content. Through the use of interactive 3D models, rich media, multilayered images, demonstrations, and embedded SWF movies, you can create and maintain technical documentation, create user assistances programs, knowledge bases, simulations, software demonstrations, and much more.

FrameMaker 9What do you need to run Adobe FrameMaker 9?
• 1.0GHz or faster processor
• Microsoft® Windows® XP with Service Pack 2 (Service Pack 3 recommended) or Windows Vista® with Service Pack 1 (certified for 32-bit editions)
• 512MB of RAM (1GB recommended)
• 1.1GB of available hard disk space
• DVD-ROM drive
• 1,024×768 screen resolution

Adobe FrameMaker 9 is a desktop publishing and word processing application that is popular for large documents. Originally created by Frame Technology, FrameMaker was acquired by Adobe in 1995. There had been off and on talk around the industry that Adobe was going to wind down development of the FrameMaker product especially after they ceased support for the product on the Macintosh, but with the release of FrameMaker 8 in 2007, and with the inclusion of the first release of the Technical Communications Suite, it put the end to that rumor.

FrameMaker 9 is a key component in the Technical Communications Suite. It provides the solution for the creation and publication of technical documentation. It combines word processing capabilities and XML-based structured authoring with template-based publishing.

With FrameMaker you can create, edit, and publish content with features for automatic numbering, cross-references, table of content, indexes, books and more. You can work in style tagging word processor mode, or in a fully structured environment optimized for editing and producing valid XML and SGML. You can even manage content entirely in XML, use XSLT during editing, and conform to industry standards such as DITA and DocBook.

So what is new with Adobe FrameMaker 9?

A New interface has brought FrameMaker 9 in line with the majority of Adobe products. They have added "pods" which are panes that can float anywhere in the FrameMaker workspace and these handle many of the most frequently used features. There are also predefined and customizable workspaces that can be saved and reused for a more efficient workflow. The new user interface not only enables tabbed document windows, but for the first time also makes it possible to “drag” a document window outside of the FrameMaker window.

FrameMaker 9Book and structured book capabilities have been enhanced to allow hierarchical books. Previously a book was a flat list of documents, usually the chapters inside a book. Now you can further split the content into topics and manage content at the topic level. FrameMaker also supports numbering constructs for sections and sub-sections. Books can now include multiple books and files organized in folders or groups. Folders in books are logical containers that can be regarded as a chapter, section or sub-section within a book file.

Full support for DITA standards including DITA 1.1 support of Bookmap indexing and Glossary specifications, and 1.2 support of Learning and Training Content Specialization (beta) specification for developing training content. DITA is the industry standard for re-use and re-purposing of modular units. This will allow you to author fully compliant DITA content including eLearning content that conforms to the draft version of specification.

Special object management for books and DITA maps gives support to a new hierarchical book model that can include FrameMaker-native chapters and individual topic files as well as XML and DITA objects, including DITA maps. This gives you the ability to control topic organization and hierarchy within the book file. With the new book paradigm you get greater capabilities for combining object types and supporting topic-oriented authoring and publishing.

CMS integration support lets you work directly with files on a content management system (CMS). By supporting HTTP paths to interact with CMS and WebDAV-compliant repositories you can browse objects, check-in/check-out, view history, and perform any other functions that the repository supports. You can create user-friendly aliases for frequently-used HTTP paths as well as setting user preferences to automatically checkout files on open or save on closing.

Importing of comments from PDF files is now available. The comments are formatted as Tracked Text edits. The deleted text is marked out and the inserted text is underlined. Sticky notes are imported as comment markers. Once importedFrameMaker 9 you can accept or reject them in the FrameMaker file.

 • Windows CMYK support will now allow you to publish composite PDF objects that support Windows CMYK for better printing options. In the past when you created a PDF with the Windows version of FrameMaker with CMYK colors they would all be converted to RGB and when sent to print they would have to be converted again. Now you get CMYK with an option to convert to RGB.

Needless to say, FrameMaker 9 still does what it has done best for so many years; that is, create long documents and technical documents. It is superb for working with collaborated works as it has the ability to share files and facilitate peer reviews. It also performs as a base for creating documents use in the Technical Suite and so performs the role of one of the three legs of the tripod in this group.

In my prior review one of my complaints was that the interface was dated. Finally, they have converted the interface into the modern Adobe look. This alone makes this a significant upgrade. By the use of the pods you have the ability to really spread out and take over some space, especially with a second monitor.

When you add in the PDF review capabilities, it makes it more significant. Now you can use a send-for-review command which allows you to e-mail a version of your document to your review party and they can comment, which you can then import back in; this may be the biggest feature to this release. Then when you add in the improved book handling, the complete DITA handling, CMS support, and the CMYK this is really a must-have update and therefore I highly recommend this product.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.
  • regis schilken

    Your article makes me want to try FrameMaker. Sounds like it will save me a lot of time from my primitive way of organizing and preparing for talks and presentations.

  • Mike Johnson

    Do you know if FrameMaker 9 will run on Windows 7? It’s so expensive the average freelancer can afford to buy it once or maybe twice in a lifetime. My copy of FrameMaker 5.5.6 won’t even load.

  • Mark Wickert

    It does indeed run under Windows 7. I use it on a Mac using VMware Fusion to host Windows 7. I have also tested it under Parallels Desktop on the Mac. Version 8 runs faster however as version 9 just seems to be more of a memory/processor hog. On a pure PC running Vista, both 8 and 9 run fine.

  • Gail Hamer

    I am disappointed in your overuse of tabbed windows. Character and paragraph catalogs were already frustrating to use since you cannot assign shortcuts. Now you must also click tabs to access them. Even worse, you have included the Find/Change feature which I often use to change formatting.