New Review of FrameMaker 11 by Tassos Anastasiou: XML powerhouse authoring and publishing

Wednesday, September 19 2012 @ 12:38 PM, By Maxwell Hoffmann

Since the release of FrameMaker 11 in late July, more and more DITA and XML professionals (as well as authors or unstructured data) have been discovering advantages to the many new product features. Tassos Anastasiou has been very visible in the FrameMaker community for years. The following is a brief review by Tassos (published here with his permission), which focuses on the XML/DITA authoring portions of the product.

 

FrameMaker 11 Review by Tassos Anastasiou

Adobe has made some great and powerful improvements in FrameMaker 11 for supporting XML.  The addition of XPath and XSL transformation support as well as the ability to edit in raw XML are features very welcome from XML experts and users who are interested in working directly with XML. The new XML, XPath and XSLT features, combined with existing structured authoring and publishing capabilities make FrameMaker 11 a very robust, complete and powerful XML editor and publishing tool.

Even though, FrameMaker 11 contains numerous new features and functionality, in this review I will concentrate solely on the new XML and structured related features and in particular the Author and XML Code View, XPath and XSLT support.

XML Code and Author View

FrameMaker 11 has two new views, in addition to the well-known Structure View: the XML Code View and the Author View.

The Author View provides a simpler view of the document than the document view.  This view removes pagination, header and footer information, page breaks and displays content in a single column with no side-heads thus allowing the user to concentrate on creating content quickly and accurately. Similar to the XML code View, the Author View provide Smart Insert and Inline Attribute editor for quick insertion of elements and attributes in the document.

The XML Code View allows the user to view and edit raw XML and at the same time have real-time validation according to a DTD.  These new XML features allow the user to easily and quickly create, edit, view and validate XML content and all this can be done within a single FrameMaker window and with minimal use of the mouse.

The pretty printing feature of the XML Code View allows for identifying and selecting XML content for easier navigation and editing. One can customize how comments, attributes, values, processing instructions, etc. are displayed. The real time validation feature not only gives visual clues as to where validation errors are but also provides assistance on how these errors should be corrected. As soon as a validation errors is corrected, the visual clue goes away making the XML code easier to view. The auto-insertion feature automatically inserts closing tags allowing for faster creation of valid content. The Tree View that accompanies the XML code View provides a graphical representation of the XML code providing easier navigation, selection and editing of  content. In addition, line numbers are now provided in the XML code making the location of specific content a lot faster.

The new Smart Insert feature brings both the Element Catalog and the Attributes editor inside your document and it is a valuable tool for speeding up content creation. When adding elements and attributes in XML code view, FrameMaker will bring up a popup-window that allows for easy insertion of elements or attributes that are valid at the current location and all that can be done using only the keyboard.

The Collapsible tags feature provides the option to collapse content and only view the content you are interested in editing or viewing thus allowing a user to work with a smaller subset of the XML code.

XPath 2.0 support

XPath allows for powerful searches in XML documents thus allowing the user to find content faster. FrameMaker 11 provides the ability to save XPath expressions for future usage, it has an auto-completion functionality to assist users who are not very familiar with XPath to create expressions.

A new feature of FrameMaker 11 is the XPath Query Builder.  This powerful tool  includes an  Auto-Suggest capability for assisting with quickly creating  XPath expressions.  XPath expressions can be executed on individual XML documents,  all open documents or folders thus allowing for more efficient and powerful searches, especially when involving a large amount of XML content The results of an XPath expression can be saved as separate XML documents for further examination and processing.

XSLT 2.0 support

XSLT 2.0 support in FrameMaker 11 is a powerful automation tool for transforming XML files to other formats. Users can create transformations that can be executed on  the current XML document,  all open files or a folder and allowing to execute transformations in batch mode. Transformations can be saved  and  be re-used. They can be global and be applied to any XML document or application-specific and associated with specific types of XML documents. FrameMaker provides default support for the Saxon and Xalan processors but it also allows specifying and using any processor of choice.

Even though, the UI and dialogs associated with managing and executing XSL transformations are a little confusing and can be made a little more intuitive and condensed, the XSLT functionality in FrameMaker 11 a very powerful tool for batch processing and automation.

Smart Paste

  FrameMaker 11 offers a new great feature for converting external content to DITA or your own structured content.  Smart Paste allows copying content from HTML, Microsoft Office, Open Office or email to DITA or, though customizations with XSL, to your own structured documents.

Smart Paste understands the clipboard content and pastes  it as DITA structure in your document. This is a very fast and efficient way to transfer content to DITA, especially when it comes to complex models such as tables, images or lists, avoid the tedious process of manually tagging them. If you have your own custom application, based on your own DTD or schema, you can develop an XSLT for converting external content to your own structured document. FrameMaker 11 provides an easy way to link an XSLT to Smart Paste functionality for customizing how content in the clipboard should be converted to valid structured content in your document.

Smart Paste combined with XSL allows for efficient and powerful conversions of external content to structured FrameMaker content for sharing and increasing productivity.

Keyboard Shortcuts and menus

FrameMaker 11 comes with a powerful set of keyboard shortcuts for quickly inserting XML elements, attributes and content by using only the keyboard, if desired. The Smart Insert, Auto-Completion and Auto-Suggestion capabilities provide inline editing for faster content creation .  All different views in FrameMaker 11 come with their own set of menus that are specific to that particular view, resulting in shorter menus that are easy to use and navigate. Keyboard shortcuts, inline pop-up windows and dedicated menus are powerful new features that greatly improve productivity and content creation.

Performance Improvements

In addition to the new features, FrameMaker 11 comes with great performance improvements over FrameMaker 10  when opening and processing DITA or XML documents. I have compared performance using documents loaded with cross-references, images and tables and the speed of opening and publishing this documents in FrameMaker 11 is noticeably faster than FrameMaker 10. This is a very welcome improvement to FrameMaker 11.

Summary

FrameMaker 11 has definitely great improvements related to XML technologies that increase productivity and reduce the amount of time needed to create, locate, edit and publish  content.  There are some XML features  that are still missing, such as support for XInclude and a more robust and complete support for schema. However, judging by the way Adobe has listened to customer demands and implemented the new XML features in FrameMaker 11, I am certain that support for these features will be included in some future release of the product.

About Tassos Anastasiou

Tassos Anastasiou is a developer and trainer specializing in structured authoring and XML. His career in publishing started at Frame Technologies in 1991 after graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a Master’s degree in Computer Science.

During his career, Tassos has implemented publishing solutions for numerous companies, utilizing his knowledge and experience with structured authoring tools, XML technologies and document management.

When not working, Tassos is either hiking or mountain biking in Northern California.

Other FrameMaker 11 Reviews:

You may wish to read some other reviews of FrameMaker 11. Our Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Kapil Verma @(KapilVermaAdobe) has created a blog, “Consolidated list of FrameMaker 11 reviews,” which is periodically updated to list new reviews.

Editor’s Note: test drive FrameMaker 11 for yourself.

You can go to Adobe’s FrameMaker trial download page and discover 2 ways to use a trial version of the software. You may wish to test out some of the features that Tassos mentioned in this review.

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