The last few weeks–in fact, the last couple of months–have been so busy for me that I can’t always finish what I need to get done. One of the things on my long to-do list has been writing up a review of the new RoboHelp 2015 release. I shouldn’t have waited, because let me tell you–there are some great things happening with this updated product! Additionally, Adobe has already released an update, which I will include details from that as well in this review.
Back in May, Adobe held a preview press conference to let us know what’s new in Robohelp (2015 release). It was hosted by Maxwell Hoffmann, one of the Technical Communications Suite (TCS) product evangelists for Adobe. I know Maxwell fairly well, as I first had a chance to work with him on the webinar I did for Adobe three years ago, and I know he knows and understands the TCS products very well, especially since he worked for some of these products before they were originally acquired by Adobe! He’s also a master storyteller and pays a lot of attention to what technical communicators have to say, so he’s excellent at explaining the benefits of features to users.
The first thing that Maxwell noted was that like the newest release of Framemaker, the naming convention for current and forthcoming releases from now on will be reflected in year instead of version 12, 13, etc. This allows for some consistency, and it’ll be easier to know if you have the latest version based on the year it was released.
Going forward from that, Maxwell explained that RoboHelp (RH) now offers a new degree of usability to both help authors and their users. There are several new features going on in the 2015 release that I have to tell you, truly impressed me, and I think you will find to be great upgrades as well. The highlights of these new features include:
- A brand new user interface
- Best in class multi device publishing capabilities
- Dynamic Content Filters that enable end users to quickly find relevant content
- Single-click mobile app creation workflow
- Miscellaneous productivity enhancements
Let me go into more detail about each of these highlights.
Brand New User Interface
Even though RH was already able to have its configuration customized by the user, many of the icons were rather small and hard to see–the interface had a lot going on in one screen. Even so, one of the advantages of RH has always been that you didn’t have to work with code in RH. The new interface, when demonstrated, was significantly cleaner and more concise. Not nearly as busy looking as its predecessor! The interface has a much simpler look that resembles modern MS Office interfaces with the task ribbon, project manager window/frame, and the main designing frame. The icons are larger and much clearer to figure out what they are. You also have a choice over the user interface being light or dark, and with or without color. It’s totally customizable to your preferences. Nice! Maxwell noted that it’s also helpful if you have two instances of RH running to keep different projects straight.
The commands are clustered in the tab ribbons. As the different tab ribbons were demonstrated, I could see this was so much easier to decipher! There is also an icon in the first two tabs called “Pods” which can help you manage the pods you are working on. The ribbons allow you to see all the commands readily available to you in a consistent manner. All the tab ribbons seem consistent with MS Office-style ribbons, so new users should be able to adapt easily to these command choices.
The new Output tab ribbon, which contains one of the most frequently used clusters of tools, replaces the single-source layout pod that was in previous versions of RH. The Primary Output tool icon within the Output tab is customizable so that you can choose what outputs you want to use if you have a certain set of outputs that you standardly use. You can still do output of individual things as well, and the generation of output is faster now. There is also a great “Primary Output View” which allow you to prototype and see what your output will look like before you actually publish.
There are several other interface features that are great enhancements. The Quick Access Toolbar used to display your favorite, most commonly used commands can be easily and quickly customized. The tabs will reformat with window resize, and the ribbon can also autohide.
Within the workspace, table creation is similar to MS Word. Tables can be created in color, and have greater flexibility. When creating a table, just like Word, RH creates a specific tab for formatting and layout tables when needed. When creating content, commands that don’t make sense will gray out. Keyboard tips and shortcuts can be customized. The opening window is much more graphical and easier interface to use to start projects. When opening up a file, it will remember what documents you had open. Of course, if you are used to the old interface, this is an option as well.
With the update released in late August, the layouts have been optimized
Boy, Adobe has really gone all the way with making RH an easier, more user-friendly tool to use! If nothing else, this was the one improvement that in my eyes that impressed me the most, because I think this new, user-friendly layout is much less intimidating than the old one, which will help those who are new to the product or not as proficient on the product more willing to use it.
Best in Class Multi-Device Capabilities
RH now has new dynamic content filters that empower users by allowing them to find revelvant content faster. Adobe created brand new HTML5 layout enhancements which include:
- The ability to easily show or hide widgets such as the Table of Contents (TOC), Glossary, Index, or Filter panes
- Configure media query boundaries for different screens
- Support native social media widgets
- Flip to Right-to-Left (RTL) layout by changing language in single-source language
- Show or hide branding band for mobile output
The HTML5 responsive layout has easy off/on icon control in layout, which is different from previous RH versions due to the clearer icons in the toolbar. Search enhancements include:
- The ability to have topic descriptions and control what that text is to make the description more meaningful.
- Breadcrumbs are now also part of the descriptions.
- Output search results are available in a collapsible left panel for easier navigation.
- Native social media widget control allows Facebook and Twitter icons to appear on the output so that you can share the information. This is displayed as an arrow on the side that can pop out the content as needed, so it’s not in the way, yet still available.
- Flip layout to right to left with language attribute for Arabic and Hebrew. This will also work with linked or imported RTL Framemaker documents.
- Generate faster, better responsive HTML5 output. Faster loading times reduced by half, smaller sized output–2MB less for every 100 topics, and no flickering screen are the result.
- You can maintain the Table of Contents state in the left column, and in fact, you can expand more than one section at a time within that section.
- Cleaner HTML5 coding.
Some other bonuses are that custom fonts can be embedded when generating high fidelity ePub, and more skins have been added for output formatting to provide more flexibility and to accomodate for RTL projects.
Dynamic Filters and Faceted Navigation Improve The End-User Content Consumption Experience
The new HTML5 layout and contextual search results can let your end users quickly navigate to the relevant content through dynamic filters. Based on existing conditional tags/expressions functionality, users can use the tags/expressions OR/AND at the build time and display these tags/expressions for dynamic filtering by the end users.
Tags can be grouped and filters shown in a two-level hierarchy. All the content is dynamically filtered (TOC, Index, Topics, Search Results etc.). You can choose a display name for both tags and expressions, which works for merged projects as well. Tags can be shown in the output for better testing (Maxwell said that Adobe is most likely the only one doing that with its product), which is currently supported ONLY in responsive HTML5 output and mobile apps.
Enhancements include the ability to enable a single selection or multiple selections of the tags in final output, and enhanced CSH support through a dynamic content URL, so the filter choices are actually seen in the URL of the output, which is great. In the demonstration given, Maxwell showed how you can navitgate through filtered content so only certain things show for certain audiences, which I thought was a great use of this feature.
Content Centric Apps (developing mobile apps)
Robohelp can publish content as mobile apps for iOS and Android which can be read remotely or downloaded directly on your device. Adobe has made it super easy to create mobile app for your documentation by using a PhoneGap:Build/CS subscription to generate multiple apps for both Android and iOS. (PhoneGap is considered an inexpensive subscription.) Mobile apps can easily be downloaded by scanning a generated QR code that can be shared, although a URL that can be shared, too.
Miscellaneous KEY enhancements
There are several extra enhancements that don’t fall under the other main categories, but are still equally important.
- Users will be able to work more productively with a ribbon UI and enhanced search functionality, including bi-directional and multiline searches. The support for languages like Arabic and Hebrew, which was a major feature upgrade in FM 2015, is also included in this RH release. As of the new update released in late August, Farsi is also supported.
- The “Find & Replace” functionality and searching abilities are significantly improved. Key enhancements include the ability to find results in Design Mode and open the files directly from search results.
- Search scope has been extended, so you can also set the search scope to a current project, specific folders, the current window (including TOC/Index, etc. which is new), and all open files (also new), as well as do a multi-line search.
- The standard keyboard shortcut of “Ctrl-F” now works to help do searches.
- There are now separate tabs for find and replace. In the demonstration given, we were shown that you can find and replace within design mode instead of the HTML mod. There’s also the ability within the find/replace that if you have a long list of items, and you want to find where a specific item in located within that list, then you can go into the Project tab and click on “locate item”, and it will take you directly to the page in design mode. Really nice!
- Search direction support–both forward and backwards– is available. You can also search within the source code as well through the line numbers listed in the search lists, which makes this feature very flexible.
- Conditional text control has been improved with tagged output so that you can see what is conditional or not for QA purposes. Before, RH had slashed color tags that made it difficult to read and not always an exact match to what the conditional tag was. Now, it has a more intuitive conditional build tag display that is much easier to read text while editing–the overline color exactly matches the tag. The overline is used as a conditional indicator with better readability than cross hatches, the color of the overline is exactly that of the tag, and easy to figure out the tag boundaries.
- Support is now provided for named expressions.
- Other enhancements enhancements at the time of the release included miscellaneous search enhancements, better scripting support, remember project state, and “find now” works in project manager frame.
Within the update release in late August, some additional enhancements were made in addition to those already mentioned above. Windows 10 support, online video derived from HTTP URLs can now be embedded in RH output, playback settings for multimedia are available, and more than a dozen bugs have been fixed. They’ve evidently been working hard at Adobe to add such features in a short time since the May release!
Pricing & Availability on June 2 (in USD and AUS):
|Product||Full Price||Upgrade from last release||Upgrade from 2 releases||Subscription Price||Languages Supported|
|RoboHelp 2015||$999||RH 11: $399||RH 10: $599||$29.99/mo||English, French, German, Japanese|
|Technical Communications Suite 2015||$1699||TCS5: $699||TCS 4, 3, 2 or 1: $1199||$49.99/mo||English, French, German, Japanese|
TCS 2015 Release includes RoboHelp, FrameMaker, Captivate, Acrobat, and Presenter–all at a price that is 57% less expensive that buying all products individually. It’s something to consider!
I think the thing that impresses me the most out of all the great new features truly is the new interface. Having a simpler, more user-friendly interface is going to bring more users–especially new users–towards this already powerful product. The continuing development on content design flexibility and inclusion of mobile output helps Adobe keep this product as one that will assist technical writers with creating more user-friendly help guides for customers.