Adobe FrameMaker 2015: Traditional Future

Adobe’s newest suite of technical communication products, TCS 6, has just appeared, all new and squeaky clean, with its lead products rebranded as “2015 Releases.” I’ll write again later about the suite as a whole, but this post is specifically about FrameMaker.

FrameMaker is arguably the lead product in this suite, and its 2015 incarnation is one that finds inspiration in its original roots – going back to the source – and in a firm vision of a multichannel, multiscreen, multimodal future.

It seems to be the year for abundance of new and genuinely useful features in tech comm editors, and FrameMaker boasts its share of ’em. I’m sure lots of other bloggers and reviewers will enumerate them for you, and evaluate their implementation or their overall utility. I’m interested in writing about the impact of some of these new features, and what that means for two futures – a future in our profession that is a quickly moving target full of unknowns, and a future for the application itself that might be surprising.

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Transformation Society Collaborations with Adobe: Comprehensive Links

Update, 17 September 2015: Adobe has a new platform for its recorded webinars. Links to the recordings are now updated and will work correctly.

It is important to follow the Instructions for viewing them, which is also updated.

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As Promised, here is a full set of links to the materials for two series of collaborations between The Transformation Society and Adobe Technical Communications Division. Enjoy!Logo_transformationSociety_Small

  • 2013: Crossing Boundaries: Implications for the Content Industries
  • 2014: Tech Challenges: Surfing and Diving Deeplogo_unit_1.5x1.5

Continue reading “Transformation Society Collaborations with Adobe: Comprehensive Links”

TCS 5: Adobe’s Bold Move

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.

Full Disclosure

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.

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Who Has a License to Drive the Information Superhighways?

Update – 2 March 2015: The promised part 2 of this post is now published!

The former U.S. Vice President Al Gore coined the term, “information superhighways” to describe the Internet. It was a great political slogan, and Gore was certainly one of the most internet-friendly U.S. political figures (and one of the first). But that doesn’t mean the term has legs.

A superhighway, for example, has a speed limit – well, just about everywhere except Germany, that is. Does Internet have one? I suppose it might, purely in terms of capacity – but not for the kinds of reasons that motivate automobile speed limits. In fact, we limit driving speed for safety – but on the Internet, the faster the better, and speed limits are seen as an impediment to efficient operation, not a safety regulation.

To drive on a superhighway, you need a driver’s license. Are we willing to pass an examination to drive on the Internet superhighway? Should we be? Personally, I think not.

In many countries, superhighways have tolls that pay for their maintenance and provide a profit to a concessionaire. We do pay our ISP’s, but in general, we don’t seem to think they provide good maintenance of our routes. And now, they are wanting to control what makes, models, and colors of car can drive on their highways.

In short, the traditional model of superhighways includes some sort of pay-per-distance, the need to be licensed to use it, and other forms of legal and social controls, that in general, Internet users have been reluctant to accept.

Why is it that we think it’s OK to have our cars registered with the government, our drivers’ licenses issued by the government (which can then track us thanks to both), and to have a whole raft of laws affecting how we drive and how fast, that restrict our “freedom” of movement – yet we are not willing to have analogous controls for navigating the world’s info-paths?

My best guess has two components:

  • The Internet is NOT a system of superhighways – it has a meta-existence that only a few roads have ever known (The Silk Road, Route 66…)
  • The Internet functions in the realm of ideas – and we do not take well to “thought control.”

In this post, I’ll deal with the first component.

Continue reading “Who Has a License to Drive the Information Superhighways?”

Software as an Information Rich Environment

Over here, in Europe, the most famous English sentence is, “My tailor is rich.”  All the old textbooks to learn English started with that sentence, and everyone knows it. For some, it evokes groans as they remember the hell of trying to understand when to pronounce l-e-a-d as “led” and when to pronounce it as “leed.”

Today, I begin with, “My software is rich.” Rich in information, that is. Rich in content. What do I mean by this?  I mean that software is quickly transforming from a tool that helps you act on content (the big three: word processors, databases and spreadsheets do just that), to a vector of information that actually informs you. It is irrelevant whether the software fetches information from somewhere out on the web or in a cloud, or actually contains its own database, or invents the information. Software now speaks to us, and sometimes in volumes.

Software today is doing medical diagnosis, it’s showing us how the climate is evolving, it’s even evaluating how well we pronounce “My tailor is rich” and suggesting ways for us to improve our accents. It exists on our desktop machines, on servers, in the cloud or the web, and we don’t really care where it is, we interact seamlessly with it wherever it is to be found. Bill Gates was right about that one.

What this means is that when we design software, we have to take all that content into account. Someone has to manage its life cycle, change out obsolete material, guide its development and make sure it is accurate, coherent, up-to-date, and understandable.

Content in software is no different from content on a web site or anywhere else. Content people need to be involved when software is initially conceived to ensure that this content is integrated seamlessly with the interface, with user guidance, with external (web or cloud based) content sources, etc.

Content strategists and designers therefore need to be involved from day one when software is designed. They need to be part of the design team, and actively involved, since they are working on one of the program’s most important subsystems: the information subsystem.

This also implies having a content strategy in the first place, one that is agreed from top management on down. This strategy needs to include all the different facets of content that the software interacts with, including, eventually, customer support web sites. You should be presenting a unified face to your public, using consistent terminology, information presentation formats, look and feel, etc.

If we don’t do this, our software’s content will be threadbare.