Review: Adobe Technical Communications Suite 2017, UI, UX, and Techcomm

Updated: 1 May 2015

Last month I wrote about an article by Linn Vizard that I saw on the Adobe Creative Cloud blog about the Evolution of Buttons in UX Design.  While I thoroughly enjoyed the article for personal reasons, I highlighted the article because UI and UX have become hot topics in tech comm. It’s not surprising that UI and UX are a big part of the latest release of the Adobe Technical Communications Suite.

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Review: TCS5 and FrameMaker 12 from Adobe

This summer I had a chance to sit down with FrameMaker 12, released at the end of last year. I’d been anxious to get some real time with the product after seeing Maxwell Hoffmann do the first public demo of it at TC Camp in January. (In fact, several happy TC Campers walked away with free licenses donated by Adobe, the Camp Ambassador, to the raffle!)

I admit that I’m not an expert at FrameMaker, but I’ve used it off and on since FrameMaker 8. Last year I spent some time with FrameMaker 11 and when I edit, I do it with Tags On. My experiments with TCS5 and FrameMaker 12 made some key things in the FM12 release really stand out:

  1. Whitespace handling! If you’ve got “pretty printed” DITA XML files, now you won’t get weird results in the output due to the whitespace that the XML Standard says should be ignored. This is a serious plus for anyone doing real XML work.
  2. Size isn’t a factor. DITA maps containing large numbers of files process fairly quickly. The one I tested that had nearly 500 files (with just as many, if not more, graphics files) completed publishing to HTML5 in about 10 minutes.
  3. Publish many outputs without pulling out your hair. Doing DITA? Here’s another toolset that gives you everything without having to resort to the madness that is the DITA OT. Adobe’s support for multiple outputs is smooth, integrated, and comes with support. What more could anyone want?
  4. Clean out-of-the-box look and feel and publishing. With a simple set up, I could publish PDF, HTML5, ePub, WebHelp, Kindle and Microsoft Help. I tried them all with the exception of Kindle. (Kindle publishing requires installing an additional executable that I didn’t have.) The OOTB publish is clean and usable as is. As a stylesheet developer who is tasked with upgrading stylesheets as new software releases happen over time, I have a serious appreciation for OOTB styling. I know we’ve all got corporate look and feel, but going as far as you can with OOTB styles is a blessing. In fact, it was easier to publish HTML5 than PDF!
  5. DITA Support:
    • DITA Keyrefs and conkeyrefs. Support for this DITA 1.2 feature that comes in strong. I’ve got a pretty complicated map that includes another map which has a large number of keys of different types (topics, elements, xrefs). The supermap also overrides several keys contained in the base map. Everything resolved the way it should and processed beautifully
    • In fact, recently on the dita-users list, someone using a different tool (unspecified) found that the DITA 1.2 processing for key overrides was not happening correctly per the spec and she raised the question to the group to find out if the behavior was a bug or  if she was doing something wrong. As it turns out, she was doing everything right and the tool wasn’t. When I saw the exchange, I decided to add this to my evaluation tests of FrameMaker 12. I’m happy to report that Adobe passed that test with flying colors. (Arbortext did too.) I don’t know what tool she was using but isn’t it nice to know that DITA 1.2 support is right there for you in FrameMaker 12? I think so.

I couldn’t test the MathML support – it seems that either my install didn’t go perfectly or I’m missing something. I got a weird error message that I couldn’t track down in the help. I don’t use that much, so it didn’t bother me, but it’s cool to see that it’s (potentially) present. I’d heard that integration with the DesignScience editor was coming. There’s no one better at math publishing. Adding your DS license to your FM12 install certainly seems like a sweet quick and easy way to get going with MathML if you need it.

All my testing was done in FrameMaker 12 “Structured Authoring”. I tried the “XML Author” version, but found it limiting. (They can’t publish to PDF without creating a FrameMaker .book file and the other formats not at all.) But I believe that’s the point. If you want to limit what your authors can do, now you have a way to do it. For me, it’s a little too limiting, but that’s because I’m usually not the one authoring. I’m tool support.