Midway through our series of blogs on reasons to upgrade from FrameMaker 7.x, we take a quick trip back to the year of that software’s birth: 2002. A lot can change in 11 years. Not just styles, fads, fashions, but the fundamental way that we communicate.
Despite the almost nostalgic communication methods of 10 years ago, many users still cling to software from that time, including FrameMaker. A sizeable chunk of FrameMaker’s user base continues to use one of the 3 versions of FrameMaker 3. It certainly was (and to some degree still is) a powerhouse publisher. But the demand for critical features to meet the demands of the second decade of our Century didn’t exist at the time that FrameMaker 7.x was being developed.
As the photos below illustrate, we’ve also come a long way in terms of some of transportation, communications devices and also the content that we consumed.
The following list highlights some milestones in software, social media, communications devices, in chronological order. The message is pretty clear: FrameMaker 7’s code was written before some very significant software, social media and communication devices arrived, which have completely altered the way and speed with which we must communicate.
Pressures from Social Networking
Facebook, Twitter and similar services have shaped a customer base that “wants it now”, and is also used to interacting with and shaping much of the documentation they receive. This was unheard of in 2002. With Tech Comm Suite, FrameMaker 11 is capable of publishing AdobeAir based help with moderated forum capabilities, user enabled contributions and even ratings on the quality of various Help components.
A later release of FrameMaker introduced Unicode support. This means that current FrameMaker 11 will support characters from virtually any language, not only in visible body page text, but also in metadata like index markers, cross-references, variables, etc. This ensures that virtually any content you create is optimized for translation/localization.
FrameMaker 7.x did not have Unicode support. In order to achieve proper output on all levels, third party products, considerable manual effort and workarounds were required.
DITA, DITA, DITA
DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture) has become increasingly important over the past 10 years. It enables topic-based authoring of content in reusable “chunks” that can greatly economize the storage and retrieval of sub-document modules. Combined with CMS (Content Management Systems), DITA can lead to substantial savings in language localization and other areas.
XML was 4 years old when FrameMaker 7 was first introduced. Although FrameMaker 7 combined unstructured editing with “structured” editing, “XML” files were basically composite FrameMaker documents with embedded structure. Users has to perform a “save as” XML to achieve a standard format. When FrameMaker 7.2 was introduced 7 years ago, DITA capabilities were accomplished with a series of scripts and add-ons that were optionally downloaded after installation. Considerable customization (and often consulting) was required to achieve a solution that constituted “DITA” with this earlier release.
More significantly, FrameMaker 7.x does not support books which contain documents saved in native XML format (e.g. chapter.xml instead of chapter.fm.)
Today, FrameMaker 11 has DITA “out-of-the-box”, with full support for both DITA 1.1 and DITA 1.2. A subsequent blog will go much more in depth into this topic. DITAmap may be used instead of a traditional book in FrameMaker 11.
Where much confusion about FrameMaker and DITA has come from
Incidentally, the 10-year old version of FrameMaker and its limitations has often been the cause of considerable misinformation about FrameMaker and DITA. Some existing FrameMaker 7.x users have been told by other vendors that they must choose between FrameMaker and DITA. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ironically, legacy unstructured FrameMaker documents may be swiftly and painlessly converted to DITA with far less development than is required by most competitive solutions. An expression gaining traction is that giving up FrameMaker to “switch” to DITA with another product is a bit like “burning down the house” and then rebuilding an almost identical structure on the same footprint and floor plan.
Engaging, interactive graphics
First the iPhone and then the iPad radically changed millions of user’s expectations regarding content. No longer content with text only, “static” content, users wish to have dynamic rich media, including video or 3D graphics that can be manipulated. In mainstream tech comm publishing, this simply wasn’t being done 10 years ago. The two most common delivery platforms in 2002 to 2007 were paper/PDF and computer screens for web content. Since then, our delivery platforms have multiplied exponentially with a host of computer tablets, eReaders and smart phones. On my most recent business trips (to both domestic and international destinations,) literally 2 out of 3 passengers on the air carrier were reading via a tablet, eReader or smartphone.
FrameMaker 11 supports importation of 3-D graphics and SWF files (e.g. Captivate videos.) When FrameMaker 11 is combined with Tech Comm Suite, it is possible to expand dynamic graphics to a wide range of both audio and video formats. PDF output will produce a dynamic graphic that the user can interact with. In addition, FrameMaker 11 introduced the ability to create an automatically generated table of parts of animations linked to a 3D graphics, and also to create graphic “hot spots” that will jump to related text in the same document or another chapter.
Single sourcing multiple versions of content for multiple screen audiences
FrameMaker 11 has been enhanced single source publishing by support robust customized output using conditional expressions. This is possible in both unstructured (regular) and structured (DITA/XML) documents. The support for “filter by attribute” gives a precise, almost fool-proof way to make topic-based authoring output discreet versions for different user profiles, or reduced screen real estate.
This blog is not intended to “make fun” of anyone who is still using FrameMaker 7.x. However, if you are in a competitive business environment, in which you must engage and retain your users in modern ways recently introduced, then an upgrade to FrameMaker 11 would be a wise move. There will always be some moderate sized workgroups who work within an isolated corporate silo, who have the power to create content for internal consumption any way they wish. In such cases, FrameMaker 7.x may do. But for the rest of us, the time to upgrade is now.
Have your own hands-on with FrameMaker 11 and decide how you can use it
Adobe Technical Communication Suite 4 includes FrameMaker 11, 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 11 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 4, which includes RoboHelp 10, Captivate 6 and other products in addition to FrameMaker 11.