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Adobe FrameMaker 10 Review

This review is currently in draft, but will be worked on in the coming weeks. Please see the Notes about the review section for more details.

Adobe FrameMaker 10 is a winner in a lot of ways. Like any software tool, there are things I like, dislike, or would have wanted another way. However, having worked with the finished product as part of the Technical Communications Suite every day for several months, and working with it for months as a beta, before the release was officially announced, I have to say that the bulk of what is there is good. Really good. 

With FrameMaker 10 Adobe has released a product with wide appeal to those who work with XML structured content (including DITA 1.2 and S1000D) as well as a huge list of improvements for those who use FrameMaker in an unstructured, non-XML fashion. Enhancements to existing features, new functionality, and some basic common sense have resulted in an overall tool that fits into the new Technical Communications Suite very nicely.

In this (lengthy and ongoing) review I outline the changes to the software, the features that I like (and those I don’t), the reasons behind that preference, and how I think it can impact what you do. Regardless of your current software tools, the upgrades and new features make this a serious contender for “primary tech comm writing tool” for both the structured and unstructured author.

My disclaimer is that I’ve worked with Adobe a lot during the beta process and I was a participant in the development of some materials included with the product. I’ve also used FrameMaker since the very early 1990’s on an almost daily basis. I do work with other tools, and I try to stay impartial when reviewing software to meet client needs, and in this review you’ll notice that there are things that I like and don’t like about the newest version. However, the overall balance tips heavily in the favour of FrameMaker for users both new and returning when you factor in all the updates Adobe provides. This is due to the overall feature set, not to any specific bias. Or at least, I sure hope it’s for that reason!


Features Reviewed

There are a lot of features. These can fall into categories which can be defined in many ways. This includes combinations of features that are new or upgraded, for use with DITA, with structured content, or with unstructured content. It can even mean multiple combination of each. On top of that, some changes apply largely to the developers of the Element Definition Document or DITA developers, or for the management of templates, or to users who work with template based content every day.

For the purpose of this review I’ll try to categorize features based on the following:

  • New for DITA (did not exist in earlier versions; applies largely to DITA)
  • Upgrade for DITA (existed in some way in earlier versions; applies largely to DITA)
  • New for structured work (did not exist in earlier versions; applies largely to structured content, including DITA, S1000D, and other XML workflows)
  • Upgrade for structured work (existed in some way in earliers versions; applies largely to structured  content, including DITA, S1000D, and other XML workflows)
  • New for unstructured work (did not exist in earlier versions; applies largely to unstructured content)
  • Upgrade for unstructured work (existed in some way in earlier versions; applies largely to unstructured content)

As for the audience, I’ll work with the following groups:

  • DITA Developer (people who build the EDD and manage DITA templates)
  • Structure Developer (people who build the EDD and manage structured templates, including DITA, S1000D, and other XML workflows)
  • Template Developer (people who build and manage unstructured templates)
  • DITA Writer (people who create and edit content using a DITA workflow)
  • Structured Writer (people who create and edit content using an XML workflow, including DITA, S1000D, and other XML workflows)
  • Unstructured Writer (people who create and edit content using unstructured workflows)

With this many categories it’s easy to overlap content, so I’ll combine them together in this review. I’m also putting in personal reviews of features in the same general order as they are found in the Adobe® FrameMaker® 10 and Adobe FrameMaker Server® 10 Reviewer’s Guide, which can be found on the Adobe website. This way you can compare user comments with the Adobe materials, side by side.


DITA 1.2 Support

The Reviewer’s Guide says: FrameMaker® 10 has features for the DITA 1.2 standard built directly into the interface to make them easier to discover and use.

Status:

  • New for DITA

Audience: Most likely to benefit:

  • DITA Developer
  • DITA Writer

Dislike: Some of the overall DITA and structured changes take a bit of getting used to. Behind the scenes files have moved and changed. It take a while to relearn where to find things if you have done a lot of work in previous versions of the software. I also can’t  use a feature called “constraints” in FrameMaker. Yet. This is one that I’m hoping we get support for relatively soon though as it’s a great idea. Very similar to the idea of subsetting DITA that I wrote about years ago!

Like: The majority of the features from DITA 1.1 and FrameMaker 9 are either there as I expect them, or improved. DITA support for 1.2 includes the major features that we expect in an editor and author tool. These are explored in more detail in the Reviewer’s Guide and are also broken out here. You also get support for specialized topic types designed for learning and training content, as well as specialized domain elements for organizing learning content within maps, specifying learning metadata, and describing learning interactions.

How to use it: Make sure you install FrameMaker and select Structured FrameMaker along the way. If you didn’t do it, don’t worry. Select File > Preferences > General and then toggle the Product Interface to the one you need. Note that you have to restart after doing this.

Closing comments: Combined with the other structural changes added, this makes FrameMaker 10 into a far more functional DITA editor, and it’s become a contender again in the DITA authoring and editing tool battle. A very robust WYSIWYG print engine with DITA capabilities is a great combination. Since the bulk of what is new is support for functions in DITA, it’s tough to review a feature with a like/dislike in FrameMaker. I’ll try to focus on the functions as they are implemented within the software, not on what they actually do.

DITA Maps

The Reviewer’s Guide says: FrameMaker® 10 supports DITA 1.2 features, including new map-level elements.

Status:

  • Upgrade for DITA

Audience: Most likely to benefit:

  • DITA Developer
  • DITA Writer

Dislike: The map interface is still something that can use work. Icons for the map, topic, concept, task, and reference all look the same. It can be tough at first glance to know what you have in a map when viewing it in the Resource Manager.

Like: Greater functionality in the toolbar compared to what we had in FrameMaker 9.0. The icons and their functions are more useful to developing and managing maps. 

How to use it: Open a map and make sure you are in the Resource Manager view.

Closing comment: Enhanced map support for the elements in DITA 1.2 is great to have.

Conref Range

The Reviewer’s Guide says: FrameMaker® supports using the conref range to reference a range of elements from another source.

Status:

  • New for DITA

Audience: Most likely to benefit:

  • DITA Developer
  • DITA Writer

MORE TO FOLLOW

Topicset

The Reviewer’s Guide says: The <topicsetref> element lets you import sets of topics from one map to another.

Status:

  • New for DITA

Audience: Most likely to benefit:

  • DITA Developer
  • DITA Writer

MORE TO FOLLOW


DITA Specialization

The Reviewer’s Guide says: FrameMaker® 10 walks you through specializing your DITA structure.

Status:

  • Upgrade for DITA

Audience: Most likely to benefit:

  • DITA Developer
  • DITA Writer

Dislike: It sounds like this is a tool to create a specialization, but it’s actually for supporting a specialized DTD that you import. Support files should already exist for this to be useful to you. If you plan to use a specialized DITA environment then you need to know what you are doing here.

Like: A good visual interface to get you started. The technical requirements on building support documents are still in place. Once the files are created, and a specialization needs to be implemented, the visual interface is nicer than manually specifyin g all settings.

How to use it: Ensure that supporting files exist, then select DITA > DITA Specialization and populate the dialog as needed. Odds are you will still have to tweak values, but a good part of the initial setup is automatically done for you.

Closing comment: If you need to implement specializations then you likely already know a lot of the technical details that need to be in place. Fortunately you can do the work in FrameMaker with relative ease. However, if you need to DIY to create a specialization, it's still a time consuming process outside of Frame before you can work with it.


DITA Usability Enhancements

The Reviewer’s Guide says: Working with DITA is now easier and more intuitive.

Status:

  • Upgrade for DITA

Audience: Most likely to benefit:

  • DITA Developer
  • DITA Writer

Closing comment: Many features have been added for working with DITA. These are reviewed in the following sections.

Resource Manager View

The Reviewer’s Guide says: Change between two primary views of a map in only one click.

Status:

  • New for DITA

Audience: Most likely to benefit:

  • DITA Writer

Dislike: Not having a quick keyboard shortcut for this.

Like: The ease with which I can switch. It’s a button or a menu, but it’s still a quick way to go back and forth between views. I do change the view a lot based on the job I’m doing, so a (relatively) quick way to do this is great.

How to use it: If a map is open in the Resource Manager, select View > Document View or click Switch to Document View.

If a map is open in the Document View, select View > Resource Manager or click Switch to Resource Manager. Note that the icon looks a lot like one seen in the Resource Manager, but they do two unique things, so don’t confuse them.

Closing comment: Not a single make or break it update, but overall I like the idea. However, it can use a bit of user interface work to make it more user friendly. Give us one icon, put it in the same place, and give us a keyboard shortcut to perform the same function. Hint: Adobe, if you had the same button for the toggle and used, for example, Ctrl+Shift+T then [T]oggle would be a great shortcut!

Insert Child/Sibling

The Reviewer’s Guide says: Support has been added to allow the addition of content such as topicset or topicgroup to a DITA map.

Status:

  • New for DITA

Audience: Most likely to benefit:

  • DITA Writer

MORE TO FOLLOW

Drag and drop across maps

The Reviewer’s Guide says: Rather than cut and paste topicref elements between maps they can be reorganized by using drag and drop.

Status:

  • Upgrade for DITA

Audience: Most likely to benefit:

  • DITA Writer

Insert topicrefs in maps

The Reviewer’s Guide says: More than one <topicref> element can be added to a DITA map at the same time.

Status:

  • Upgrade for DITA

Audience: Most likely to benefit:

  • DITA Writer

Structured Applications

The Reviewer’s Guide says: Quickly and easily create structured applications, even if you have never done it before, and then develop workflows to import and work with XML content.

Status:

  • Upgrade for structured work

Audience: Most likely to benefit:

  • Structure Developer

Structured Applications

The Reviewer’s Guide says: Quickly and easily create structured applications, even if you have never done it before, and then develop workflows to import and work with XML content.

Status:

  • Upgrade for structured work

Audience: Most likely to benefit:

  • Structure Developer

Notes about the review

I've been writing this review since January and I'm still not done. I'll be updating it along the way and will keep some quick links to the "new" stuff that I post here. Watch this space if you are returning to the page.

June 8, 2011, First posting as seen here. In draft only.

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