Now, you may be wondering, like most technical communicators, what changes have been made between the 3.5 version and the 4.0 version. Good question! There have been several upgrades to the software package, thank you very much. How do I know? Adobe was kind enough to invite me to a preview a little while ago, and even as a newbie to this software package, I can say that I could see that the company is trying very hard to keep up with the needs of technical communicators, and they are taking the necessary steps to embrace mobile technology, which is highly evident in this upgrade.
Now, I took as many notes as I could, considering the presentation went by faster than I could take the notes, but I know that there are a few major highlights that are important to cover.
As the speakers from Adobe started the presentation, they concentrated on identifying key trends they felt were happening in technical communications, namely a movement to structured authoring, rapid mobile growth in smartphones and tablets, the need to make content more interactive, the concern of technical communicators having to do more with less resources, and the need to provide searchable, personalized and socially enabled content. It sounded to me like they were on the right track, especially if the improvements they were about to present fulfilled these needs.
One of the main anchors of Technical Communications Suite is Framemaker, and here in the TCS 4 Suite, Framemaker has been upgraded to Framemaker 11. From what I’ve been able to gather from my observations, Framemaker had its heyday, then it lost favor, and now it’s starting to regain steam again. Framemaker (FM) 11 seems to be taking the improvements make from FM 10 another step forward. Structured authoring was the main focus of the improvements with this product, including multi-view editing environments providing WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) of XML and author sources as well as getting WYSIWYG output as well. Content creators can edit XML documents in any view, and the changes are reflected in all views without manual changes. This bodes well for working towards single-source creation! DITA and XML support has been enhanced as well, and performance using these has been enhanced as well.
A big addition to FM 11 is ability to include rich media objects like vector images with hotspots, video, and 3D modeling. One of the features I liked that was demonstrated was one where play, pause, and jump buttons were created around a video/animation presentation within the content. Nice! The 3D model imaging that can now be used will be great for how-to manuals, so there is better context at looking or training on physical objects, like looking at a machinery part from all angles. From a productivity standpoint, SmartPaste and SmartInsert features have been added to help auto-format pasted or inserted text or content into a new document, but one can still retain the old formatting as well. Another appealing feature is the ability to create your own Framemaker set-up. Adobe’s goal was to enable content creators to be able to author content faster by allowing the creators to customize navigation and workspaces. That sounds great! Of course, what got me most excited was to hear that FM 11 has been oriented to now enable mobile output, including multi-screen HTML5 content as well as ePub 3.0 and Kindle formats. That’s definitely a step in the right direction!
The second main anchor of Adobe’s Technical Communications Suite is RoboHelp (RH), now available in version 10. RH 10 works seamlessly with Framemaker, as it always has, but again Adobe has focused on streamlining the workflow process as well as improving the product’s output. That output includes new outputs for mobile devices. RH 10 can deliver content to iPad as well as other tablets, smartphones, and desktops now—there are 17 output formats now! It is set up so that authors can work in a multi-author, multi-reviewer environment, where it’s easier to personalize and optimize content relevance. Content can be rich media—again, like FM11, and includes various HTML5 outputs that include mobile apps, ePub 3.0 and Kindle now.
The HTML5 output has also been made to be modern looking, frameless and SEO-friendly. The output is responsive design that works well with fluid layouts like CSS 3 and media queries. Like FM 11, RH 10 can customize and optimize the appearance of the content on each screen as needed. Socially enable documentation can be produced using RH 10, which means that creative native and web mobile apps can now be produced from RoboHelp. This is a big boost for making apps for iOS and Android mobile apps. The workflow view is easier as multi-layout options are available, and there is a preview tool that allows the author to see how the output will look on different devices and subsequently, there is the ability to assign different styles to different devices, including the output publishing settings for each device. One of the other features that caught my attention was that now there is also out of the box integration with MS Sharepoint, so it provides end-to-end workflow. Being someone who’s used SharePoint at my last job extensively, that would make things flow really well for output, and I’m sure that would provide a better product for the end user as well!
TCS 4 has several new features about it. While it includes Framemaker 11 and RoboHelp 10 as mentioned, it will also include the updated Captivate 6, Acrobat X Pro, and now Illustrator has been added (most likely to accommodate vector images better) and Adobe Presenter. I think I’m most excited that not only the newly updated Captivate has been included, but that Presenter has been included as well. I think this is a really smart move on the part of Adobe, because between Captivate and Presenter, more interactive content can be created and put out for mobile. And yes, as I mentioned before, the big push for TCS 4 is being able to provide technical communicators with tools to produce output for mobile devices. To use their words, they are “embracing the mobile revolution” with the multi-screen outputs that are in HTML5 and other mobile formats like ePub 3.0, but also providing tools to make the content context sensitive, providing socially enabled apps, and support for optimizing indexes, glossaries, custom metadata and other content features.
Adobe even made sure that it was understood how TCS 4 would work very well for those in the e-Learning world, saying that TCS 4 provides “new workflows to bridge technical communication with e-Learning” by providing tools that can create m-Learning opportunities and rapid step-by-step authoring. Keeping up with other major trends, cloud-based computing is integrated into the product, as review workflows can now be done using the cloud with TCS 4.
One of the new pricing features also includes using the same cloud pricing model. There will be monthly rates as well as a reduced rate that monthly is cheaper than a month-to-month rate. Due to a lot of these new features–especially the ones that help enable publishing content for HTML5 and other mobile content, I would especially upgrade if I had an older version of TCS or older version of Framemaker and Robohelp. The fact that both FM 11 and RB 10 have customizable views is a big bonus, as well as having the capabilities to produce mobile-friendly content is a big boost. Having more efficient single-source authoring, and cloud capabilities—there are a lot of good things that are added to this.
Now granted, like I said, I’m still a newbie to using the product and using it, but from this reviewer’s standpoint based on the preview, it’s good to see significant upgrades to a product making a strong comeback in the technical communications field. I do hope that as time goes on, Adobe continues to keep up with updates to the product, especially considering the “Creative Cloud”-like option with obtaining the product.
It’s an exciting product, from what I can see, if you are just starting out, or need to revamp your technical communications software.
I hope this review has proven to be helpful. Have you downloaded your copy yet? If so, do you think these changes are big improvements or is there still something missing? Please leave a comment below on what you think about TCS 4 so far.
Adobe notified me just as I was writing this post (before I posted it) that I will have a chance to test-drive the product itself very shortly, and once I have it installed, I’m hoping that I can give my techcommgeekmom readers more information about this product–from my newbie perspective, and see if the preview information holds up to the real deal. Stay tuned!