Guest Blog: Top 10 reasons to move from Microsoft Word to Adobe FrameMaker

Tuesday, November 27 2012 @ 4:35 PM, By Parth Mukherjee

We recently assisted a defence customer to transition from MS Word to Adobe FrameMaker 11.  With the transition, several different sized technical publication templates were developed in FrameMaker.

Some of the more complex requirements included the capability to have full page graphics from size A4 all the way up to large throw clears (full size graphic pages) that were 147cm wide (7 x A4 size) . There was full front and back matter, including an LOEP (List of Effective Pages), with set positions for this front matter in the book.  There was a requirement to place an amendment number (AL), in the footer area.  There was also a requirement to have Warning, Caution and Notes inserted consistent in size and position to the Military specification.

Once templates were complete and data converted and working in the templates, the team were trained in Adobe FrameMaker features and specifically in the use of their FrameMaker books to ensure they achieved the most in their new working environment.

A month after they were settled into their work cycle of maintaining their publications in Adobe FrameMaker, we checked in to see how things were going.  The team were so excited with their new work environment, and so we asked them the ultimate question – What would you say are the major benefits you have gained from working in the Adobe FrameMaker environment?  This list below is their top 10:

  1. It Feels reliable – While I still have a lot to learn about Frame I can honestly say it is a great tool. Even though we always had a very controlled process in MS Word with custom Macros to make sure it worked in a far more consistent fashion than default; FrameMaker does what our MS Word Templates does and MORE, in that it ‘manages’ the document as a whole automatically. I like it, it ‘feels reliable’. I have no hesitation in saying that I prefer using it over Word.
  2. FrameMaker has a solid feel – I have found that Word can have a mind of its own. Sometimes I’m not quite sure if it is going to give me the output I require. At times it seems to pre-empt what it thinks I want and this can be frustrating. FrameMaker has a solid feel. When I execute an instruction it just does it and I know what the outcome will be and what I see on the screen is what I get.
  3. Frame handles large documents - Some of my publications are over 400 pages with a mixture of A4 and A3. In some cases I have individual Frame files of over 100 pages. I have not experienced any strange behaviour or the ‘crashes’ that Word can often present when working with large documents.
  4. Images can be turned off - This means that if I am using a FrameMaker file with large numbers of images the FrameMaker file can be worked in (with the anchor frames still present) and amended without images thus speeding up the amendment process. I can’t do this when using Word.
  5. The TOC/LOF/LOT are automatically generated - This is a very simple process and works without problem, every time. This reduces the chance of manual errors in this part of the publication.
  6. All the numbering is automatic it is hassle free – It is not rare to have to add a chapter to a publication and the control in the book with FrameMaker has made this easy. It handles all the Section/Chapter/Page/Figure/Table numbering with minimal input from me. It was surprisingly simple. I have found one of the real strengths of FrameMaker is its book management.
  7. References automatically update – As I have been amending my pubs I have been applying figure and table referencing so that if I introduce a new figure/table into the middle of a chapter Frame updates automatically all the figure references in the text. I have found this surprisingly simple.
  8. Warnings/Cautions/Notes are automatically inserted based on the style – It ensures that they are formatted and positioned in the document in accordance with our Military Spec. 5629B. Frame will therefore automatically move the Warnings/Cautions/Notes to the following page if the rules of 5629B require it. FrameMaker does it with no intervention on my part, it is part of the style rules for Warnings/Cautions/Notes,  it’s a great feature.
  9. Drag’n’Drop files in the Book window, or content in the document – As well as having the physical page of the document displayed as true WYSIWYG in the window, inside the document I can add (remove or move) figures tables paras subparas etc. simply by dragging and dropping. At the book level, I can add new chapter files, or re-arrange them via the Book window.  Word does not begin to do this.
  10. Inserting and updating Amendment Numbers – One of my pet frustrations with Word is publication footers. If I have varying amendment leaflet (AL) status pages in my chapter this is indicated in the footer. While I have become pretty good at manipulating a Word document using section breaks etc, it never happens easily, especially if there are many changing AL pages. The way Absolute Data Group (ADG) has setup the Amendment Frame on the reference pages to add AL markings to the footers make this task really simple. Each AL marking is independent of the others making it a “set and forget” step in the amendment process.

For those of us that have been working with FrameMaker for many years, the consistency and robustness in production is something we take for granted yet expect.  It is a professional tool at a reasonable price that won’t fall over when the heat is on.  If you have taken Word as far as it can go, Adobe FrameMaker 11 might be the next step for you!

——————–

Tammy Halter is the founder and sole Director of Absolute Data Group, with over 17 years experience in the information technology field; including SGML/XML publishing and document management experience with various solution companies. Tammy has been a technical trainer, support engineer and project manager for several SGML software Distributors over the years, and was the Frame Product Engineer, Asia Pacific & Latin America for Adobe Systems in 1997. Tammy is a winner of numerous awards in the industry and a speaker at several industry programs.

COMMENTS

  • By Donal McCarthy - 1:58 PM on December 4, 2012  

    What’s the review process like with FM? I know it’s a much better tool than Word; however, I need to have my docs reviewed by a few people. Word is very good for this, with comments and track changes. How does someone who doesn’t have FM do likewise?

    • By Tammy Halter - 12:20 PM on January 10, 2013  

      Hi Donal,

      The fastest way, without your review team having to learn any new software or skills, is for you to utilise the FrameMaker feature: File > Save As Review PDF > Enable Commenting in Reader.

      Your reviewers can then use Adobe Acrobat Reader to markup and save and return the PDF to you. Then in FrameMaker use the feature: File > Import > PDF Comments

      We have had customers utilising this review cycle process very successfully.

      Have Fun! Tammy

  • By balraj bawa - 8:30 AM on February 27, 2013  

    The above analysis looks BIASED and seems to favor FrameMaker (although I personally like FrameMaker). Here are some reasons why I feel the above points seem biased.

    1. I have created complex technical documents with large images using MS Word. Some of them more than 500 pages. Never had ‘crash’ problems. The key was to stringently follow well-designed templates.

    Point 4 – “images can be turned off’. Its a good feature. But it is available in MS Word too. Options>Advanced>Show Document Content>Show Picture Place holder. Try for yourself.

    Point 6 – ‘numbering is automatic and hassle free’. Numbering is automatic in MS Word too. Although MS Word automatic numbering sometimes is irritating and seems to have a mind of its own, but once we know how MS Word handles numbering, we can control its behaviour to quite and extent. FrameMaker numbering is more robust but requires initial configuration before it starts working.

    Point 5 – ‘TOC/LOF/LOT’. This can be created automatically even in MS Word. For a beginner in FrameMaker, this feature is confusing because by default the TOCs, LOF, LOTs created are not usable because there is not formatting. Even for creating dotted lines (leader), fair bit of work is required up front. In MS Word you get ready made templates to quickly produce well formatted TOCs and LOFs.

    Point 7 – ‘References automatically update’. This is a feature available in MS Word too.

    Point 9 – ‘Drag and Drop feature. It is more user friendly in MS Word.

    Word plugins now allow book formats where individual documents can be added to a book ( I am not talking about the master document of MS Word).

    Although some of the points above are valid but the decision to choose tools will depend on many other factors such as workflow, content management, review management, re-usability implementation using standards such as DITA, budget, and prior experience of using tools.

  • By Maxwell Hoffmann - 5:19 AM on February 28, 2013  

    balra,

    I understand your points and concern. However, there is no real bias here, because the author, Tammy Halter, is listing “other people’s” opinion, not her own. I believe the main point of her blog is that she was *surprised* that some very basic FrameMaker functions were perceived as major improvements by her clients. As a veteran FrameMaker user, she took many of these features for granted.

    Clearly, you are an extremely advanced MS Word user and are capable of achieving some great results from that product. Unfortunately, you are in the minority. I base my assessment on this from years of recent experience in the translation industry working with 100s of customers who attempted to use Word in an advanced fashion. Very few of them succeeded. I know that with considerable effort, and preparation ahead of time (rarely done in corporate publishing) it is possible to create “sturdy” autonumbers in Word. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. I had clients who paid 1000s of $$$ for post-translation fixes to complex numbered headings that fell apart when a section break was deleted, etc. etc.

    You are correct that it is possible to create an automatic TOC, LOF or LOT in Word. Again, the customer experience between the two products was that FrameMaker was more “sturdy” in this area. Automatically updated references areavailable in Word, but do not (in my experience) work 100% of the time. This may have been based on the broad lack of advanced skill sets amongst my client base here in the USA.

    The Drag n’ Drop feature Tammy referred to (at least in her webinar) focused on items in the book more than snippets of text. For anyone following this thread, I strongly encourage you to view the recording of our Adobe Webinar with Tammy Halter on this topic recorded earlier in February. You will need a free Adobe.com account to access this and all other recordings. Here is the URL: http://adobe.ly/Y2sHLY

    Enjoy! — Maxwell Hoffmann / Adobe Product Evangelist

  • By Aldo - 6:20 PM on April 8, 2013  

    Balraj Bawa:
    Please let me know the name of the plugin that enables you to create book files from individual documents in Word. Thank you!

  • By Bret - 4:15 PM on April 12, 2013  

    I don’t know if this still open for comments, but here goes.
    About 16 years ago I could probably have taught an advanced users course in Framemaker, but then changed jobs and did not have access to the app for many, many years.

    However, now, I write lots of documents and long for Framemaker’s easy formatting, numbering, simple interface, etc.

    I have two questions then.

    1. Are there any templates/macros in MS word that will give me a Framemaker-like interface or at least let me build and use templates like Framemaker?
    2. All of my co-workers use Word. How good is the save-to-word ability in Framemaker 11? If I could just same to Word and import from Word, I would move back to Framemaker in a heartbeat.

    Thanks!

  • By Amy Nelson - 9:40 PM on February 1, 2014  

    My company currently uses several different software applications for different manuals. Some use Framemaker, but some of us still have to use Word. I am trying to persuade my manager that with all of the time wasted with Word’s instability, the expense of licensing us with Framemaker would be a well spent expense. Having you show how much it affected this other company will help me with showing them just what a benefit it would be for us as well. Thank you for posting their experience.

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