Upgrade to FM12 Reason #5) Tools for handling large projects

Monday, July 7 2014 @ 12:20 PM, By Maxwell Hoffmann

Book building capabilities for managing multiple project assets (chapters, document content) were one of the prime drivers for many users moving to FrameMaker 7.x ten years ago. Ironically, the powers associated with this feature have increased exponentially with recent releases. For anyone who has to manage multiple chapters in various stages of approval, enhanced hierarchical book features in FrameMaker 12 could be reason alone to justify an upgrade from earlier versions.

Book building in FrameMaker 7.x

Although powerful for its day, twelve years ago, FrameMaker 7.x could basically create a “flat” book structure. Books could contain chapters with a virtually unlimited total page count, as well as generated files like Tables of Contents, Indices, Glossaries and more.

Early book building in FrameMaker 7.x was made even more powerful by the fact that all generated entries (e.g. Table of Contents of Index listing) were automatically hyperlinked back to the source text, both in FrameMaker and in generated PDF files.

Books in FrameMaker 7.x have two main limitations compared to FrameMaker 12 books: (a) lack of hierarchy (e.g. sub-books, folders and groups) and (b) a limitation in structured FrameMaker that requires documents to be in the proprietary, binary *.fm format.

The screen capture below shows the limited options presented in the “Add” menu for a FrameMaker 7.2 book.

01 FM7 book add files

Basically the choices are to add another document, or various types of generated files. The screen capture below shows how the “Add” function has been expanded in recent releases to allow FrameMaker 12 users to also add Folders or Groups to a book.

04 FM 10 add items

FrameMaker 12 books with hierarchy

01 FM 10 hierarchy bookFolders and groups (as well as books within books) enable FrameMaker 12 users to add a “DITA-like” hierarchy to an unstructured project. This essentially makes some degree of topic-based authoring possible with unstructured FrameMaker content before a user decides to migrate into pure DITA or XML via FrameMaker 12.

Documents contained in Folders or Groups within books may be indented to create temporary or permanent substructure. You can regard a folder as a section of sub-section within a book file. It is possible to set special numbering styles for a folder and all of its contents. You can also choose to temporarily exclude files from being published by selecting Exclude from a right mouse exclude menu.

Users may wish to create temporary substructure via book folders that are temporarily excluded from publishing while folder content is considered to be “unapproved” or in the “draft” stage. The ability to temporarily exclude content can be particularly useful for training materials or beta documentation that is undergoing frequent edits and revisions. The screen capture to the right shows a FrameMaker 12 book with folder substructure indented at various levels. Folders and which have been selected for exclusion from publishing are indicated in red.

Incidentally, many FrameMaker 12 users haven’t discovered Groups, which act as placeholders empowering them to insert clusters of remote documents within a book. You cannot modify documents in groups within your book; you must visit the original location of the source files.

Structured books in FrameMaker 7.x

FrameMaker 7.x had a fairly powerful structured XML or DITA capability for its day, although it was limited to composite documents in proprietary FrameMaker books. The screen capture below shows a structured FrameMaker 7.x book, with the selected book’s structure displayed in the Structure View. The green circle indicates chapter file suffixes, which reveal that all documents are saved in proprietary *.fm file format.

02 FM7 struct book

This limitation of structured (e.g. “DITA”) chapters having to be in binary format was long a major criticism of older versions of FrameMaker; this limitation was corrected several years ago. With FrameMaker 7.x, structured chapters contained a copy of the EDD (Element Definition Document) as well as the template, which defined the documents’ inherent structure. Guided editing was provided by the rules of the EDD through the Structure View. But, it was possible for “creative” publishers to use old, “unstructured” pull-down format menus to make unwanted and illegal format overrides. (More about that in a later blog.)

Versatile, structured books in FrameMaker 12

Recent releases of FrameMaker introduced the ability to add native XML or DITA files into a structured FrameMaker book. In fact, a structured FrameMaker book can contain a combination of structured and unstructured files. As per the screen capture below, it is not uncommon for FrameMaker 12 users to have all of a book’s chapters in native XML format, but use the unstructured FrameMaker file format for generated files like the TOC and Index, or Cover.

FM10 mixed XML book w TOC

Why? Frankly, because it would be a royal pain to construct DTD and EDD definitions to allow for the relative free-form page layout that often occurs in book covers and front matter. There is another benefit to being able to add unstructured documents to a structured book that contains DITA/XML chapters. Sometimes documentation requires the addition of appendices or “back matter” in a book, late in the project’s life. Often these documents are not well-formed or well-suited to immediate conversion to DITA. Such unstructured files could demand considerable adjustments to both DTD and EDD, which could affect project delivery. Due to FrameMaker’s unique ability to mix unstructured with DITA/XML content in a book, it is possible to achieve satisfactory output with books which may contain transient, unstructured  content that won’t be in the next version of the project.

Beyond the book, ditamap in FrameMaker 12

Since FrameMaker 12 has been enhanced to support both DITA 1.1 and DITA 1.2, a dita map may be used instead of a book. In fact, FrameMaker 12 is so DITA compliant that you can open the complete sample that is provided with the DITA Open Toolkit.

03 FM10 DITA OTKit ditamap

The screen capture above shows FrameMaker 12 with the dita map and dita file contents that comprise the main sample in DITA Open Toolkit. No filters, file modifications, or “save as” were required to accomplish this. Any edits made to the content in FrameMaker 12 would be completely compliant with DITA Open toolkit.

Save DitaMap as FM Book with components

Although it is a big improvement to work with ditamap directly, there are times that it can be cumbersome in ditamap when you wish to output a book to PDF with a TOC (Table of Contents) and a generated Index. FrameMaker 12 has the ability to take a traditional ditamap and temporarily save it as “book with FM components” … this creates a copy of ditamap as an FM book with hierarchy, and generated TOCs and Indices. The screen shots below show the “before” ditamap and the “after” save as book with components.

 03 ditamap before save  04 ditamap after save as book comps

More about DITA later

FrameMaker 12 is so many light years ahead of 9-year-old FrameMaker 7.2 in regards to DITA, that we could easily devote 5 or 6 blogs to this topic. Our final blogs will touch on some of the major aspects of DITA compliance in FrameMaker 12 that are completely lacking in FrameMaker 7.x.

In the meantime, we hope that this and previous blogs in this series have been persuasive enough to prompt you to take a closer look at FrameMaker 12, and take advantage of the heavily discounted upgrade path that will only be available for a few weeks.

Have your own hands-on with FrameMaker 12 and decide how you can use it

Adobe Technical Communication Suite 5 includes FrameMaker 12, which is an excellent authoring solution and also a versatile structured editor for DITA/XML. The possibilities with these new tools are as limitless as the profiles of our existing and potential customers. To discover how you can use FrameMaker, download a trial copy of FrameMaker 12 today. After having your own hands-on, you may decide in favor of the best bargain of all, obtaining a cloud subscription to the entire Tech Comm Suite 5, which includes RoboHelp 11, Captivate and other products in addition to FrameMaker 12.

 

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