Monday , April 22 2024
Still has the most power for long document creation.

Software Review: Adobe Technical Communication Suite – Adobe FrameMaker 8 From Adobe Systems

This is the first of a series of four reviews that will cover what is contained in the Adobe Technical Communication Suite. Unlike the Adobe Creative Suite, the Technical Communications Suite is geared for technical communicators, help authors, instructional designers, and training professionals. The suite contains four products; FrameMaker, RoboHelp, Captivate, and Acrobat 3D. The goal of this series it to define what each product does and provide information of what the new version brings to the table.

What do you need to run Adobe FrameMaker 8? You need Windows, an Intel® Pentium® 4, Intel Centrino®, Intel Xeon®, or Intel Core™ Duo (or compatible) processor, Windows 2000 (the trial version will not run on 2000), XP SP2 or Vista, 512 MB RAM, video card capable of displaying 256 colors recommended, 600 MB hard drive space and CD-ROM Drive, Adobe Postscript, PCL or GDI printer (Postscript printer recommended).

Adobe FrameMaker 8 is a desktop publishing and word processing application that is geared for the creation of large documents. Originally created by Frame Technology, FrameMaker was acquired by Adobe in 1995. There has been off and on talk around the industry that Adobe was going to wind down development of the FrameMaker product. This came to a peak after they ceased support for the product on the Macintosh in 2004. Now with the release of FrameMaker 8 in July of 2007 and with the inclusion as a major portion of FrameMaker 8 in the November release of the Technical Communications Suite, it should put an end to those rumors.

FrameMaker 8 is a key functionary in the Technical Communications Suite that  provides for creating and publishing technical documentation. It combines word processing capabilities and XML-based structured authoring with template based publishing.

With FrameMaker 8 you can create, edit, and publish content with features for automatic numbering, cross-referencing, table of content, indexing, 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 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 8?
• Unicode Support – you can now edit and support content in multiple languages as well as author content for global audiences with dictionary and hyphenation support for more languages.

• DITA Support – FrameMaker 8 now supports the DITA standard. DITA is the XML-based architecture for authoring, producing, and delivering technical information. You can now use a prebuilt DITA application to author, publish, and distribute topic-oriented information in XML as well as creating DITA maps.

• Rich Media Support – Now with the Technical Communications Suite, you can combine content into multiple forms. You can create more engaging online documentation by incorporating 3D models, rich Adobe Flash Player compatible animations, and simulations created with Adobe Captivate software, as well as creating Adobe PDF files incorporating live 3D models.

• Text Edit Tracking and Multiple Undo – now allows you to highlight, accept, and reject text changes as well as undo multiple changes with a single click using the History Palette.

• Microsoft Office 2007 Support – will now let you import content created in Microsoft Word and Excel 2007.

Enhancements include
• Conditional Output – will let you create single source variations of the same document for different channels and purposes. You can now use conditional tags and build complex Boolean expressions for defining output filters in structured and unstructured mode. You can distinguish multi-conditional text through the improved color coding.

• XML Round-tripping – lets you now round trip web-based graphics in XML workflows.

• XML Schemas – are now available as an alternative to DTDs for defining the structure of your content.

There are a lot of very cool enhancements contained within Adobe FrameMaker 8 not the least is the way in interacts with the other packages included with the suite. For example, I took a 3D model of a brake system that was created by someone else and saved as a .U3D file; A U3D file is an industry standard for 3D modeling and is supported by the PDF format. So without having any knowledge of what it takes to create this file, I can drop it into the FrameMaker project and use it to create an interactive product.

Once I drop that image into FrameMaker 8 and create my document, I am then able to generate a PDF file (this is using Acrobat 3D which comes with the Suite) that is capable of handling 3D content. I can then pass this on to an end user, who, in using any version of Acrobat Reader 7.1 and greater, will be able to interact with the file. The second image above shows the PDF as it would be received as a PDF file, and the third image shows it in interactive mode.

In interactive mode, the end user will be able to rotate the image on all axes' turning right, left, up, down, and to any angle to see the entire image. They could then explode the image to see how it moves apart and fits back together again. Once it is exported to PDF, all of the rich media; Flash, 3D, etc, jumps to life and is usable by anyone with Acrobat reader. No special files to send to interact in 3D.

Needless to say that FrameMaker 8 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.

If there is one thing that seems a bit out of place, it is the interface, which seems a bit long in the tooth with respect to many of the other Adobe products, but if the important point is productivity then you have a state of the art engine that will get the job done. With the addition of DITA which breaks down a publishing project into reusable topics and brought together by maps and makes for a very natural fit with FrameMaker's XML handling. Then add the 3D support, this makes for a very good upgrade indeed.

About T. Michael Testi

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

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