At the beginning of 2014 Adobe released Technical Communication Suite 5, with new versions of all its key software elements.
As I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve been asked to blog on a lot of subjects. This is one. I’m not going to review TCS 5, or enumerate the new features, many competent people have done that already long ago. I am going to talk about what I think is a major move by Adobe in this release. It’s a good move, in my view, and one that is not without risk to the company.
I work with Adobe, and they asked me to review their software, to which they give me access without charge. No one in my position is going to write a negative review and publish it. However, if I did not have positive things to say about this software, I would simply not write about it at all. In any case, this is not a review, and the opinions in this post are my own, and are not influenced by Adobe or anyone else. As always, I reserve the right to my own independent opinion, and that’s what you’re getting here.
What’s Different in TCS 5?
Sharp readers will note that I didn’t say “what’s new?” There are a lot of new features in both FrameMaker 12 and RoboHelp 11, many of them responses to user requests. I’m not going to enumerate them, again, many reviewers have done this already.
I want to talk about what’s different in terms of the tech comm market, and why I think Adobe has taken an important, and slightly risky step.
The most important difference, in my view, is that RoboHelp is no longer the required publishing engine for multi-format output from FrameMaker. FrameMaker now has its own publishing engine, with a large number of output templates in a variety of output formats. This means that many users who formerly purchased TCS Suite to get the power of FrameMaker editing and RoboHelp publishing will now be able to do what they need with FrameMaker alone. You can still interconnect to RoboHelp, and there are some publishing possibilities that you can only get through the two applications working together, but FrameMaker is now a powerful standalone publishing tool as well as an editing tool. This is a major change for Adobe.
Another important move has been to create an XML only version of FrameMaker, FrameMaker XML Author. This provides a lower-cost, XML-only version of FrameMaker, with limited (PDF only) publishing. The first release of FrameMaker XML Author imposed a watermark on PDF output, but the latest update, release 12.0.2, has removed it, to my great pleasure. You can also publish XML files to multiple formats with just one copy of full FrameMaker.
Why This is Important
Until this release, TC Suite offered a set of applications that represented a great price deal over buying them individually (you get more than Frame and RoboHelp, of course), and a level of integration between the two major applications that was not available if purchased separately.
With this release, Adobe has moved most of the publishing capability into FrameMaker. It’s a risk for Adobe, as some customers who might have purchased the suite before, now only need purchase FrameMaker. In fact, TC Suite 5 has become attractive as a bundle of software that, if you need them all, saves you a pile of money over buying them individually – but it no longer is required for tight integration of publishing and document authoring.
In my view, this is a courageous move in favour of the customer on Adobe’s part. It also means that Adobe is starting to target smaller companies, and not just large operations with tens to hundreds of technical communicators. Also a good move (time to rethink some of the antediluvian pricing policies, too…)
The very reasonably priced standalone FrameMaker XML Author is another indicator of this trend. This is something I’ve been asking for, and I’m very pleased to see it finally on the boards. I’m disappointed that the same full publishing capability in “full” FrameMaker isn’t included – seemingly to force the customer to buy at least one copy of a full-featured programme they might not really need, just to have the publishing capacity.
Also, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that TC Suite 5 includes a very enhanced release of Captivate, which can be nicely integrated with Frame or RoboHelp to produce SCORM and other eLearning packages. If you have need for any two of FrameMaker, RoboHelp, or Captivate, you can’t go wrong with the suite package.
Who Should be Using This Software?
First important question: with all the different XML editors out there, and given that XML is a standard and the same everywhere, why choose the Adobe latecomer product? I have two answers:
- If you’ve already been using FrameMaker, you’ll find the interface comfortable and familiar, and this will ease the migration.
- I’d like to say, to get the benefit of Adobe’s greatest strength – rendering. Unfortunately, this only applies if you’re only interested in PDF output – for now.
Second important question: with the current emphasis on multi-modal publishing, reuse, structured authoring, and XML, isn’t “full” FrameMaker obsolete? Who should use it?
- Not everyone needs XML. If you don’t, and you’ve already been using FrameMaker, why change?
- XML is only one kind of structure. FrameMaker offers other structuring solutions as well as XML. They well might suit your operation better. If you’re interested in testing the XML waters, you have the XML capacity in the “full” version, and can try it.
- Despite rumours to the contrary, PDF is not going away any time soon. PDF is the print solution, and many regulated industries are required to produce print manuals. Many machines and mechanical technical products also need manuals as there are no screens for embedded or online help systems. If your company is in one of these categories, FrameMaker remains a reliable, well-known solution.
- If you need multi-modal output, but not necessarily XML, FrameMaker is capable (now) of multi-mode output, even as a standalone programme.
Third important question: If we can produce both print and online or embedded user assistance via XML, why would we need RoboHelp?
- You might not need it.
- Those who need it are those who don’t want, or need, to go into a full XML setup. By its nature, RoboHelp provides structure – jut not XML.
- For the moment, RoboHelp still provides some publishing capabilities that are not in standalone FrameMaker.
Thoughts on the Future
Here’s my take on how I’d like to see the TCS universe develop:
- Full FrameMaker is a product that has lots of life in it – but it’s not a growth area. In my view, it’s a product that will continue to have a sustained place in the tech comm panoply of tools for a long time, without finding huge new audiences. I think Adobe should concentrate on its usability, and on taking out features that are no longer used, there are too many. While some of the new features like MathML capability are very valuable, it’s confusing and overwhelming.
- Bring ALL the publishing capability into FrameMaker – forget about using RoboHelp as a publishing engine – the first step taken in TCS 5 is the right direction – go all the way, Adobe!
- Include ALL the publishing capability in FrameMaker XML Author. Even at a slightly higher price. This is the way to distinguish the Adobe product from the rest of the market.
- RoboHelp is practically a full-fledged multimedia studio. Change its name and make it so. For real. Specialized Help Authoring Tools (HAT’s) are an endangered species – look at the competition, who have already done it.
One last suggestion – and I do realize this goes well beyond the tech comm part of Adobe, and requires a huge corporate culture change, but…
DITCH THE WORD “POD”
The day of proprietary terminology is over – people want standards. A “pod” is Adobe’s name for a “panel,” and that’s what it should be called. For usability.