Choosing a Tech Comm Toolkit

Guest Blog from Matt Sullivan

Matt Sullivan shares resources and insights related to his recent webinar on “Choosing the Right Tech Comm Toolkit.” You will find links to his presentation in the body of his blog below.

Editor: Maxwell Hoffmann

01 TS LogoThe Adobe Technical Communication Suite 5.1 is a great choice for producing tech comm and elearning output. These professional tools give you the power to create rich, interactive documents and elearning experiences.

My thanks go out to the Adobe Technical Communication Suite team for sponsoring a 4-part webinar series on TCS 5.1 interactivity. This is the first of 4 blog posts related to that series.

Resources

Here is a link to the recording of the webinar: http://adobe.ly/1BL14dP (you may need to quickly create an Adobe ID to view)

Here are the presentation slides from slideshare.net (without the recording) followed by a link to the slideshare page:

Adobe Webinar August 2014 Choosing a TechComm Toolkit from Matt Sullivan

Here’s a video on customizing FrameMaker 12 Responsive HTML5 skins, requested by attendees of the webinar:


Choosing a Tech Comm Toolkit

Like the first webinar, I intend this first post as an overview of the series, with enough larger scope content to get you interested in the more specific sessions!

Before we go into the details, for those who aren’t familiar, here’s a rundown of the suite components:

  • FrameMaker 12 – For authoring tech docs, with rich media, and delivering content to any PDF and the 5 most popular online delivery formats
  • RoboHelp 11 – For authoring topic-based content, and delivering to any or all of 17 different online delivery formats
  • Captivate 8 – For authoring eLearning demonstrations, simulations, assessments, and scenario-based training
  • Presenter 10 – For creating rich PowerPoint eLearning content, including assessments. Also for simultaneous recording of video and screen activities for more engaging recorded presentations.
  • Acrobat XI – For creation and editing of the ubiquitous PDF format, and for review of PDF content

I’ll also be focusing on the two anchor members of the suite, FrameMaker, and RoboHelp, as I believe they’re the main drivers for those purchasing TCS.

So Matt, what are the main drivers that keep you working in the TCS Suite?

In a nutshell, here are the things I like about TCS:

  • Sophisticated feature sets
  • Integration within the applications
  • Support for current and upcoming delivery standards
  • Cost of ownership
  • Consistency of interface, scope of products

Feature Sets

The most important part of anyone’s toolkit is functionality. Make a hammer as light/strong/shiny/affordable as you like, if you can’t hammer a nail effectively, I’m not keeping it around for long. TCS applications are always getting improvements to the User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX), but these are tools that broke ground for their industries, and continue to be professional level tools. They work solidly and reliably (as one would expect) and simply do things that their competitors can’t do.

I use each of the suite components regularly. And while I certainly want to minimize new software expense, I am always looking for products that will free up time and give me a better return on my efforts.

In FrameMaker, I have a tool that lets me manage any amount of content (I’m unaware of an upper content limit), with sophisticated versioning, referencing, and custom numbering schemes. I honestly do not know of an application (including Adobe’s InDesign CC) that lets me manage so much content from a central location, and to deliver that content faithfully to PDF and online formats like Responsive HTML5. And then there’s the structured side of the FrameMaker house. Built-in support for formats like DITA and S1000D give you instant access to structured formatting tools. Often these structure models are program requirements for larger documentation contracts and are used extensively in the localization (translation) industries.

RoboHelp, the other content authoring tool, creates content from a different perspective. Where FrameMaker’s primary perspective is from a chapter or book perspective, RoboHelp looks at content from a section, or topic perspective. By working on smaller chunks of content, connected by tables of contents, RoboHelp effortlessly delivers user assistance (help systems) in a wide range of formats and helps you quickly and consistently produce multiple versions of your output.

Each has plenty of cool, shiny features, but those aren’t what drives the value proposition. Solid delivery of content does, and FrameMaker and RoboHelp have that in spades.

Application integration

A key advantage of the TCS applications is the ability to leverage TCS and other Adobe applications from within each of the programs. For instance, FrameMaker can output to Responsive HTML5 directly, but can also link to a RoboHelp project, where you can create different versions of the Responsive HTML5 output for regional or feature set differences.

Each of the applications (other than Presenter?) allows access to Photoshop and Illustrator for direct editing of placed images, which is a huge timesaver. (See TCS5: FrameMaker 12 Integration with Photoshop and Illustrator for quick video explaining this)

Support for current and upcoming standards

This one’s easy! FrameMaker and RoboHelp let you place just about any type of rich media you can dream up, and deliver it to a staggering number of formats. Each let you output to Responsive HTML5, as mentioned previously. And each contains a quite intuitive Responsive HTML5 layout editor, allowing you to customize the look and feel of your output across all your devices.

Just so it’s stated: Responsive HTML5 is a somewhat universal browser format, which can adapt to the screen width of your device. In other words, Responsive HTML5 lets you optimize display of your content, regardless of phone, tablet, or monitor resolution. And it’s so easy, you can do it without any training or education. Go ahead and try it, I dare you!

And while we’re on the topic of Responsive HTML5 output, here’s a video of how easy it is to customize the FrameMaker skin for this format:


Cost of ownership

And here’s where you know this is a sponsored post! Since I already own TCS5.1 I didn’t have much reason to comparison shop competitors and components. But when I researched some of the TCS competition, I found that Adobe’s prices and subscriptions were equal to competitors, or lower!

Some examples:

Software prices as of 8-22-2014
Software prices as of 8-22-2014

You’ll notice I didn’t put down a competitor for FrameMaker. That’s because you really need to compare it against three different classes of products:</

  • Standard authoring applications like InDesign or MS Word
  • Structured applications like Epic ($$$$)
  • Lightweight editors like oXygen (similar to FrameMaker XML Author, available as a lower cost standalone product)

Of course, each owner is different, in terms of what they already own, and what they need. But with discounts for upgrades of recent versions, with subscription rates that allow rapid entry at a low cost, and with a full retail cost that is in line with the wide range of features, everyone has a choice.

Consistency of interface, scope of products

Since I teach classes in FrameMaker, RoboHelp, and Captivate, I really appreciate the strides Adobe has made in the last three versions to adopt common icons within each application, and across applications. Beyond the UI itself, the workspace feature available these three component applications lets me further personalize the experience, and allows me to set up different sets of options for different tasks.

Speaking of tasks, all five applications do a great job of segmenting content creation. Instead of bolting the same feature into each application, they add features to the logical application to keep the applications lean and fast.

Wrapping it up

The Adobe Technical Communication Suite is a full set of tools for TechComm and eLearning professionals. It is well-positioned against the competition in terms of price, features, and flexible licensing and upgrade options.

TCS 5.1 has solid integration with many Adobe applications and lets me add just about any type of rich media to my work. I’m a customer and a believer, and expect to be one for a long time!

-Matt R Sullivan

Matt Sullivan

Matt Sullivan is an Adobe Certified Instructor and Adobe Certified Expert in ten different Adobe publishing and e-learning applications, including everything in the Technical Communication Suite 4. He teaches online and in-person classes as well as helping companies improve their publishing workflow. Matt spent years setting up electronic prepress departments for commercial printers prior to the start of his training career. After that, Matt ran his own Adobe Authorized Training Centers (GRAFIX Training, in southern California), managed the training arm of roundpeg, Inc., and co-wrote the definitive FrameMaker 11 reference book, "Publishing Fundamentals: Unstructured FrameMaker 11". He has represented Adobe in countless conferences, trained FrameMaker support personnel, presented webinars, and assisted in Adobe pre- and post-sale engagements. You can also follow Matt on Twitter: mattrsullivan

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