One more reason to upgrade to FrameMaker 10

Thursday, February 16 2012 @ 1:09 AM, By Maxwell Hoffmann
by Maxwell Hoffmann

During my recent years consulting and managing production in the translation industry, I encountered far too many customers who stayed “stuck” on an aging version of FrameMaker. Usually it was FrameMaker 7.2. In my new role as Product Evangelist for Tech Comm Suite, I’ll be authoring several future blogs which willcover many reasons for upgrading to the current version of FrameMaker from FM7.2. But this blog will touch on just two features that can pay for the upgrade fee by eliminating “lost hours” on manual processes required in out-dated versions of FrameMaker.

Ironically, some FM7.2 and FM8 users have resisted an upgrade because the user interface was radically overhauled in Version 9. Although the new UI can take some getting used to for veteran users, within a few hours you will find FrameMaker’s customizable workspaces hard to live without. One of my translation agency clients witnessed a 15% decrease in post-translation formatting once their project was upgraded to FrameMaker 9 due to the manual steps that were eliminated by several new UI features.

For sake of simplicity, this blog will focus on regular (unstructured) FrameMaker. All features and principles have parallels in XML or DITA editing/authoring with FrameMaker.

After reading this blog, I encourage you to review an excellent blog by Adobe’s Kapil Verma on “Making FrameMaker your “own” — How to customize the User Interface“.

FrameMaker pods: “real-time” feedback on cross-references

Once you start using FrameMaker 10’s pods for displaying unresolved cross-references, (and other hidden text) you may look back on older versions of FrameMaker as if they were cars that lacked a gas gague on the dashboard. Early automobiles over 100 years ago required the driver to dip a wooden stick into the gas tank every so often to find out when a fill up was required. Trying to move back from FrameMaker’s pods’ realtime feedback is like having a modern instrument cluster on your vehicle’s dashboard for the first time.

The screen capture below contrasts the user interface feedback on an unresolved cross reference between FrameMaker 9 and 10 v.s. the technique required in older versions (shown by the “boxed” document fragment in the lower right corner.) An explanation follows.

 

Unresolved cross-references (xref) can occur in FrameMaker if the source marker or paragraph containing the marker is deleted. Before FrameMaker 9 and 10, tracking down and correcting unresolved xrefs was no picnic. The user needed to generate a document or book-level “List of References”, specifying “unresolved cross-references.” This created a document that looks like the boxed text in the lower right area of the screen capture above. (Note: this document only has one xref; it would be possible to list many unresolved xrefs from an entire book.) Essentially, this list of references was a polaroid snapshot of your xref situation at that moment.

FrameMaker 9 introduced the pods seen behind the document. Convenient headings indicate the xref format, page location, source document and status. A red “x” in front of the xref indicates that the xref is unresolved. The column in the pod indicating the original source document gives you a clue as to which text was originally referenced. Unlike the manually generated “List of References”, this pod display is dynamic and displays current conditions. [Per comments, you do have to click on the refresh button.] The references pull-down near the middle of the pod header lets you filter the display of xrefs to all cross-references, external cross-references or unresolved cross-references.

This feature stops mistakes as they occur.

Viewing all FrameMaker index marker content in one menu

Markers can be used in dozes of ways in FrameMaker, but Index markers are probably the most familar marker type to users. FrameMaker has powerful indexing capabilities, with virtually unlimited “nested” index entries. Separating text strings with a colon in an index marker will produced index entries that are indented and sorted under the same topic like the screen capture below.

Older versions of FrameMaker had no way of viewing the exact marker content of multiple markers simultaneously. Why does this matter? Being human, we are capable of inserting an extra space at the end index marker text. This can generate “look alike” or duplicate index entries. Older versions of FrameMaker had a modal dialogue that would display the content of one marker at a time; body text editiing was not possible during this display.

The new index marker dialog may be “docked” and show the content of a currently selected marker. Or, you may use the pods at the bottom of the document window to show all index markers, sorted in a variety of ways, as shown in the dialogue below.

 

This feature of seeing marker content while editing a document is a major time saver, especially in translated documents where one index marker may have “slipped through” in English for some bizarre reason.

This “short n’ sweet” blog touched on a fraction of the improvements made with FrameMaker version 9 and 10. I encourage you to visit some of the following blogs and sites for more information on the functionality discussed in this brief blog.

COMMENTS

  • By Shlomo Perets - 5:42 AM on February 16, 2012  

    Thanks for the informative blog post! I would like to comment that even though the Cross-References pod is dynamic and automatically reflects new/deleted cross-references, the red marks indicating unresolved references are updated only when you click the Refresh button in the pod (or close/re-open the pod or document). Edit > Update References does not update the red marks either.

    The new FM9/FM10 interface certainly does have benefits, but unfortunately, the non-functional inconsistent behavior of the keyboard shortcuts for tag selection (F9, F8, Ctrl-0, Ctrl-4, etc.) outweighs these when you are accustomed to using keyboard shortcuts.

    • By Maxwell Hoffmann - 4:21 PM on February 16, 2012  

      Shlomo,
      Thank you for your feedback. As a reflection of your reminder that the refresh button must be used to refresh xref status display, I have edited the blog to have quotes around “real time” feedback.

      I very respectfully disagree with your opinion that the inconsistency of the keyboard shortcuts outweighs the benefits of the new user interface. I too miss the old keyboard shortcut behavior, but I find the “dash board” display of previously hidden metadata highly useful.

      The ability to have customized workspaces which present menus as floating or docked, is a tremendous time saver. The pods also have other powerful uses: (a) Variable pods allow you to click into each chapter and note an inconsistency in variable definitions, (b) insets pods make an inconsistent referenced graphic path visually obvious.

      This blog is my opinion based on my experience of editing and reformatting chapters which were 100s of pages long in multiple languages. I very much respect your opinion; you are a thought leader on this product, with years of experience. and you are a highlly advanced user. Sometimes, highly advanced, veteran users like yourself do not need or use some of the UI enhancements as frequently as average or typical FrameMaker users.

      My personal experience training MSWord users to migrate into structured FrameMaker (XML) in just 5 days convinced me that the new user interface makes FrameMaker more accessible to a broader base of users.

      Please keep you comments coming. They are highly instructive as usual. Opinions are opinions. Yours is as valid as mine.

  • By Shiyar - 12:56 PM on February 16, 2012  

    Thanks for nice article

  • By Nora - 1:58 PM on February 16, 2012  

    I’m someone who recently upgraded from 7.2 to 9 (and probably shortly will to 10).

    Since the essential functionality of the interface DIDN’T change, other than to unpin various features – like x-refs, variables etc. – from the menu and into the main body of the document – I wasn’t too perturbed – other than being annoyed by the floating dialog boxes (reminiscent of Photoshop).

    But in your email above you said it was difficult to trace unresolved x-refs in 7.2. Not so. I would use the find/replace feature – select unresolved text references – and the system would take me right to the spot I needed to be. I don’t think I’ve ever once used the approach you mention above to find an unresolved x-ref.

    • By Maxwell Hoffmann - 4:56 PM on February 16, 2012  

      Nora,

      Thank you for your feedback.

      Regarding xrefs, you are correct: with older versions you can use FIND function to locate unresolved xrefs. (this feature still works.) However, you cannot view all of your xrefs at one time. When in the translation industry I frequently received docs with missing xrefs. I appreciated the ability on open to observe at-a-glance that all unresolved xrefs pointed to the same missing external document. Also, when an unresolved xref displays in the pod (you can view unresolved xrefs for all open docs) when you click on it, you are instantly transported to that page location.

      FYI — any floating dialog box can be “docked.” You may be able to improve your experience by saving custom workspaces which have menus or dialogs where you wish them to be. I used normally publish with two monitors (laptop and external) and find editing/authoring easier when I can drag certain floating menus (e.g. paragraph catalog) outside the workspace onto the 2nd monitor. Thanks to your input I have updated the blog with an additional bullet that point to video demo of FrameMaker UI in V9 and V10.

      My personal experience (just an opinion) has been that the new UI was a substantial change, and it gives the user more control over the “real estate” on the screen. For instance, I find structured xML editing on FrameMaker much easier to do on a laptop screen with FM9 or FM10 than with previous versions. One of my favorite features is the ability to “collapse” a floating menu by clicking on the gray bar (reminsicent of “window shade” on older Macs.)

    • By Rob James - 11:06 PM on February 17, 2012  

      I agree with Nora, I’ve been using exactly this method to deal with unresolved cross-references (and many other problems) .
      I also don’t much like the floating dialog boxes.

      • By Maxwell Hoffmann - 3:05 AM on February 18, 2012  

        Rob James, thank you for your comment. Which floating dialog boxes are you referring to? I have been able to dock any dialogs (or collapse to an icon.) You can also double click on the gray bar of a floating menu to temporarily collapse it to a narrow bar.

  • By Fei Min - 2:39 PM on February 16, 2012  

    We are hoping to change from FrameMaker 7.2 to FrameMaker 10 this year, and it’s not just me, it’s the SMEs that write in FrameMaker, too. They are all intelligent, computer-savvy people. Do you think we can all make the switch to the new interface in a few hours of playing around, or will we require more rigorous training? I can go ahead and investigate the differences and maybe give them a 1-hour tutorial. Also, they only use the editing features; no designing paragraphs or tables or templates for them. And we use structured, but not DITA.

    • By Maxwell Hoffmann - 4:25 PM on February 16, 2012  

      Fei Min,

      If your SMEs are just using editing features, I believe that they will be able to adapt to the new user interface with a few hours of your coaching. FrameMaker 10 considerably improved the default workspaces, although pods and menus can float or be docked in a similar fashion in FrameMaker 9. One of the biggest improvements in the FM10 UI for structure is that editing or defining attributes is much more intuitive, and no longer requires a modal dialog box.

      FYI — to qualify my blog point, FM 10’s UI can sometimes take a little “getting used to” for long-time, existing users of FM7 of FM8. The new UI is actually perceived as much more intuitive by people who have not used FrameMaker before.

  • By Arnis Gubins - 5:10 PM on February 16, 2012  

    Max,

    A nice overview of the benefits of the Pods. However, the one down side is that in automated publishing scenarios, where one may have thousands of markers or variables in a document, having the Pod windows open makes an enormous hit on performance when initially opening the document. It simply takes a long time to populate the pods. In that case, the user needs to have a workspace defined that doesn’t have the pods open and FM is back to its zippy old self.

    Love those workspaces! Now if there was only an easy way to have FM open with different workspace than it had when it was last used… ;-)

    • By Maxwell Hoffmann - 5:27 PM on February 16, 2012  

      Good point, Arnis. If the user has a workspace with no menus/pods they may want to name it “automated production” as a reminder to use that pod for instances where excessive hidden information display will affect performance. FYI — I have found that customized workspaces are a real help for users migrating from Word to regular or structured FrameMaker.

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