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Saddle up for a FREE workshop event from Adobe at #STC2016!

What? You say this Adobe Workshop is free? Then I reckon I oughta sign up now....
What? You say this Adobe Workshop is free? Then I reckon I oughta sign up now….

While I was unable to go to the STC Summit last year, I am looking forward to going to Anaheim this year to not only being a presenter at the STC Summit, but  also to learn and connect with other technical communicators again!

I realized that one of the events I’ve always liked attending is the Adobe pre-conference event. They always have great information to share. However–what’s this? No Adobe Day this year? Nope. But wait…there’s something better.

Register for the FREE Adobe Tech Comm Tools Workshop at the 2015 STC Summit!
(Click on the wanted poster for more information)

That’s right! Saddle up, and gain some skills through this FREE Adobe Tech Comm Tools Workshop!  This looks like a great event, cowboys and cowgirls!  There are industry leaders leading the workshop, you earn a certificate for participating (which you can include on your resume, it’s that good), and lunch and snacks are included in the afternoon.  And did I mention it’s free? Who says you can’t get a free lunch AND a free certificate? Evidently not Adobe!

Oh, did I also mention that even if you can’t attend to earn the certificate, you can still follow along on my Twitter feed found at @techcommgeekmom that day, as I’ll be tweeting highlights of the event for all who come to the Twitter corral!

If you don't comply, you can't register. But these are easy terms to deal with, Sheriff.
If you don’t comply, you can’t register. But these are easy terms to deal with, Sheriff.

Now, there are some caveats in registering, namely that you have to bring your laptop, and download the Adobe Tech Comm Suite Release 2015 Trial Version (if you don’t already have the full version). Other than that, it should be like riding into the sunset.

This is a great opportunity for those who would like to either get to know the Tech Comm Suite better, or brush up on some skills.  Space is limited so you should register as soon as possible to get your seat on this great event!

Information and Registration for the Adobe Tech Comm Tools Workshop at the 2015 STC Summit

(My apologies to those who are more sci-fi savvy for mixing my space westerns together. Firefly and Cowboys and Aliens were the first things I thought of!)

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A New Year–A New Adobe Technical Communication Suite – PREVIEW

TCS5-Ball-Drop
The Times Square New Year’s ball drop has landed…it’s a new Adobe Technical Communication Suite!

As of TODAY, Adobe is releasing five new tools for technical communication professionals everywhere! Technical Communication Suite 5.0 (TCS5), FrameMaker 12 (FM12), FrameMaker XML Author 12 (FMXA 12) and RoboHelp 11 (RH11), and FrameMaker Publishing Server 12 (FMPS12) are now available. It’s been about eighteen months or so since the last big Adobe tech comm release, so you can imagine there are some new and enhanced features included.

I was privileged to be among a group of tech comm professionals who were invited to get a preview of the products before their release, and I have to say, there were so many new and improved features that it was difficult to squeeze all the information into one press conference! But I’m going to give you the highlights, and I’m sure you’re going to find that there’s something new for you.

In the last release of TCS, namely TCS4, there were several big overhauls of the product, namely that the Technical Communications Suite concentrated on providing tools that supported structured authoring, integrated interactive content, and could support the creation of content for mobile devices while providing searchable, personalized, socially enabled content in a way that would yield bigger results with less resources. It was a major step to enhance these tools, especially in regards to adding mobile and interactive abilities to content. Adobe has continued to build on those major changes with the new features in version 5.0.

The foundation of the Tech Comm Suite has always been FrameMaker and RoboHelp. With the release of TCS5, FrameMaker 12 and RoboHelp 11 have been released with big enhancements that appear to concentrate on making these tools more user-friendly and efficient for the technical writers using them.

FM12_boxshot_2014
Image courtesy of Adobe.

For FM12, the first obvious enhancement is the interface. Adobe has improved the user interface to include colored icons and larger icons that look cleaner and sharper in HD. If you like things “old school” in the original smaller, monochromatic colors, that choice is still available as well. There is also more flexibility in customizing your interface. A new “pod” allows the user to access all the currently opened files in one place, from which you can save and close multiple files at one time, while still viewing the unsaved files. There are also enhanced abilities to drag-and-drop to empty areas of the interface, close pods or panels more easily, double-click on empty areas to minimize or expand pods, and searching capabilities have been expanded. These seem like minor details, but when using a product as often as many technical writers use FrameMaker, these finer details can make a big difference! FM12 includes three samples of unstructured content and one DITA-based content sample with the product.

FM12 is not all about a new façade. Adobe has enriched the authoring process with new capabilities. The first thing that caught my attention is that FM12 can generate QR codes now! They can be created for URLs, SMS texts, emails, or to initiate phone calls. QR codes are taking over these days, so it’s great that these can be both created and integrated into FM documentation. Background color enhancements allow uniform height background color and options to specify paragraph boxes. The addition of a new customer-requested feature is the support regular expression coding.

Single-sourcing has been a hot topic in the last few years, and this has been addressed with new enhancements. FM12 gives users a new way to work with conditional text, by using a new conditional tag pod which provides check-box mechanisms with multiple conditions to allow the user to do more complex filtering with conditional text enhancements. It truly simplifies the entire process, that even a newbie should be able to figure it out easily.

Productivity enhancements have also been included in FM12. A searchable smart catalog function allows the user to filter choices based on the valid choices available and phrase typed by the user, while the user can continue to use the keyboard shortcuts as before. There is also a new capability to open all files from the user’s last session in one click, including the last documents and pages in focus, workspaces such as pods, panels and palettes, among others.

Adobe has also taken care to add great collaboration enhancements in FrameMaker. Native connections to any webdev content management system (CMS), such as Documentum, SharePoint, and Adobe CQ are available. Users can now view entire CMS tree layouts, and can access several key CMS functions, such as checking out documents, editing documents, and searching within document, all from FM12.  PDF review commenting has been made more flexible. The most proactive steps towards subject matter expert (SME) reviews is that reviews can be done on PDF reader apps on mobile devices, and can also be used on those same devices using cloud technology such as Dropbox for both internal and external reviewers. As mobile devices become more commonplace replacing desktops and laptops, this is a great step forward!

Image courtesy of Adobe
Image courtesy of Adobe

Publishing abilities have gotten a boost on FrameMaker as well. It used to be that if you wanted to create certain types of digital output, such a ePUBs, for FrameMaker content, you would have to export it to RoboHelp, and have RoboHelp publish the document.  Now, that step is no longer needed for PDFs, Webhelp, ePUBs, Kindle docs, Microsoft HTML Help, responsive HTML5, or Web help! That’s a big deal, as it allows FM12 to be more efficient by skipping that step of exporting and publishing in RoboHelp. Publishing can also be done through the Web now, too, for multiple users using a FrameMaker server, allowing multiple users to publish simultaneously and automatically to multiple channels and devices. That’s a practical efficiency improvement right there!

FMXA12_boxshot_2014
Image courtesy of Adobe

With this release, Adobe is introducing a new FrameMaker product for those who don’t need the full version of FM12, but are mostly concerned in having a tool to do structured XML authoring. FrameMaker XML Author is a tool that has been created especially for the structured XML market.  Those wanting to use unstructured content will still need to use the full FM12 version.  The XML Author is fully standards-compliant for content creation, and supports the most popular XML technology for single-sourcing. It is not FM12 “lite”, but it is a streamlined, easy-to-use version that supports structured authoring without the bulk of the FM12 features that aren’t needed for structured content, yet still integrate-able with the full version of FM12 and available at a lower price. I’m sure that having this tool will be highly beneficial to many companies who are looking for a way to cut costs (it is priced at 40% the price of FM12 “full”) while still reaping the benefits of having a powerful XML authoring tool.

Another customer request that has been granted by Adobe is the integration of MathML, to allow MathML equations to be imported, created, edited, and published with FrameMaker. Adobe is even including 30-day trials of MathFlow (MathML editor from Design Science) with the shipment of FM12 for those who are interested in trying it out. There are several other features that are also included, along with 55 bug fixes, improved performance and launch time for FrameMaker, but I’d end up writing a book at this point!

Of course, with all these big changes to FrameMaker, we can’t forget RoboHelp 11, which also has had a big overhaul.

Image courtesy of Adobe
Image courtesy of Adobe

RH11, like FM12, has a new UI look as well. Based on customer feedback, RH11 has a new color scheme and a more modern interface that looks more pleasing to the eye. It’s a step in the right direction. Adobe has said that further UI improvements are in the works, but this current new UI is the first step in a long overdue makeover for the interface.

The more important feature enhancements with this new release of RoboHelp include advances with HTML5 publishing, printed document enhancements, and collaboration and single-sourcing enhancements.

The HTML5 publishing enhancements are from the perspective that mobile publishing is central, so new single responsive layouts for all devices are available “right out of the box” when downloading RH11. This new single layout feature will work seamlessly across all devices, can be easily customized, will allow for real-time previewing based on the browser size, and can be published with one click.  There is a new wizard-based layout editor available to help with this process that shows the added responsive HTML5 output options. You can also preview layouts, and the customization is great because no coding in CSS needs to be done, as you can use the editor instead.  To me, this is true single-sourcing creation at its best while simplifying the process! This is a big deal!

Printed documents have not been ignored. Users can now customize headers and footers of printed documents by defining them in the master pages. Headers and footers can also be imported from Word. There is also the ability to specify different headers and footers for the cover, and even and odd pages for different sections of a document. This is great for consistency within branded documentation.

In terms of collaboration and single-source improvements, cloud integration and topic sharing for SMEs has now been included.  RH11 now includes a Resource Manager tool that synchronizes folders using Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft SkyDrive as shared locations, and includes filtering for specific folders. This allows the user to manage linked resources within files used in real time across projects and geography.

Image courtesy of Adobe
Image courtesy of Adobe

The Technical Communication Suite 5.0 includes FrameMaker 12 and RoboHelp 11, but it also includes the updated products of Acrobat Pro XI, Captivate 7, and Presenter 9 to complete the Suite. You will notice that Illustrator, which was included in the TCS4 version, is not included. This was a step, Adobe said, to help lower the price. Additionally, from the way I see it, it makes sense, because both Illustrator and Photoshop–another product that used to be included in prior TCS versions–are now affordably available as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. I know that I personally have a CC subscription, and I’m guessing that many active technical communicators do too, so this saves us from spending twice for the same product, which makes a lot of sense. TCS5, FM12, RH11, FM XML Author, and the FMPS12 will also be available both as a subscription and through perpetual license as well. There is separate pricing for the FM XML Author and FM Publishing Server software.

The updates made to FrameMaker and RoboHelp are extensive, as there are many more features, but I think you get the idea. Adobe is taking steps to try to stay on top of technological changes that have taken root in the past couple of years, such as mobile and cloud technology, and is working to continue to make a more robust and user-friendly products for technical communicators.

My recommendation is that if you are looking to try TCS5 or any of the TC products out, or are interested in upgrading your current TCS package or individual products, click on the Adobe advertisement in the upper right corner of this page, or visit Adobe’s TCS product page for more information.

I hope you find this helpful!

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Hard Work and Persistence (Who Says OCD Is a Bad Thing?) Pays Off! : How I won an iPad

As someone who participated in Adobe’s TechComm Conundrum contest on Facebook, I can confidently say that it was not for the faint of heart! It combined one of my favorite topics—technical communications—with the thrill a researcher gets when hunting for clues. Many of my favorite television shows and movies often combine finding historical facts and clues to find a treasure of some sort at the end, whether it be an “ah-hah!” piece of important information, or some physical prize at the end.  As it turns out for me, it was a matter of having both at the end of my journey!

The TechComm Conundrum, for those who did not participate, was a series of questions and clues to learn more about technical communication history, as well as Adobe’s role in technical communications, on the way to find Adobe’s missing employee, Tina.  Being that I was trained to do research while I was a graduate student at NJIT’s MSPTC program, I knew that sometimes answers would be very obvious, and sometimes I would have to read between the lines.

Like many who did participate, I hit some brick walls along the way.  Many of the answers were right in the Adobe Technical Communications Suite 4 videos, blog, and product page. Other answers required deeper searching, and using extensive Google searches, I found the information I needed. Some responses were more obvious than others, and I admit I learned a few new things about the technical communications field and its fantastic history. It made me proud to call myself a technical communicator, and reinforced the idea that I was glad to be a part of this field. It was fun.

For those who got that far but got stuck, like I did initially, the last question was the trickiest of all. Finding a connection between a photo of actors Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo, the logo of FrameMaker, and a photo of produce at a market was daunting.  I found a connection between the actors, as they were all in the film titled, “The Kids Are Alright.”  But beyond that, I couldn’t figure out what that had to do with a photo of vegetables or FrameMaker.  I tried so many combinations of ideas to figure out the answer, and wasn’t getting very far. I wrote down all the answers on a sticky note by my computer, and for at least a good week, I would enter all the answers for the questions and get stumped at the last one.

Finally, I decided to look more carefully at FrameMaker’s history to see if that would yield any clues.  It was Wikipedia that finally yielded the clue I was seeking. In Wikipedia’s first line of the history of FrameMaker, it explains that FrameMaker’s original author, Charles “Nick” Corfield, designed FrameMaker to be a WYSIWYG document editor. Wait…WYSIWYG…that acronym stands for “What You See Is What You Get.” My mind started racing, as that’s an acronym I like to often use myself. Was it really that simple in the end? I was told later (after the contest) that Mark Ruffalo’s character in the movie owned a restaurant called “WYSIWYG”, although I didn’t know that since I hadn’t seen the movie. Nonetheless, I tried the acronym as my response, and gingerly hit the “Enter” button on my laptop to submit it.

EUREKA! That was it! The explorer finally had her “ah-hah” moment! There was true joy in deciphering something that was still stumping everyone else still playing. So, yesterday, when I found out that I had actually won one of the “grand prizes”—a new iPad—I was actually thrilled. I was informed that only two people—I was one of them—figured it out. The hard work to crack the code paid off!

Hopefully, Adobe will bring this contest back as a fun game, as I think the quiz is great for new technical communicators to learn about the rich history of the technical communications.  Talk about your active learning exercises through e-learning! (And I’ll bet it was created on Captivate, which is a featured product within Technical Communications Suite 4, too.)

Thanks, Adobe for such a fun ride—and the iPad!

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Using the Cloud–The Real Deal.

As a follow-up to my post about the scamming/hacking attack I had two weeks ago, this week I’m turning TechCommGeekMom.com over to a good friend of mine, Shay Shaked. We first met in grad school at NJIT as classmates, and have been friends ever since. Shay is more of a technology geek than even I am, so when my system got hacked two weeks ago by the phone scammers, he was one of the people who offered me some good advice and pointers along the way to my laptop recovery. I asked him if he would share some of the wisdom that he’s shared with me with my TechCommGeekMom readers, and he said, “Of course!” Here is TechCommGeekMom’s first guest post! It’s a little long, but I encourage you to read the entire thing– good stuff!

–TechCommGeekMom


Two weeks ago, TechCommGeekMom fell victim to the hands of a malicious scammer who managed to access her computer remotely by talking her into believing he was actually a Microsoft employee. The scammer was smart, confident, and very efficient. Reading through her post sent shivers down my spine (as a matter of fact, I am backing up my files as I’m writing this post) and made me realize that we are all vulnerable, especially these days, when technology is everywhere and computers have to be used on a daily basis.

TechCommGeekMom was able to recover rather quickly. The first thing she did was to share her experience with us, so we could all learn from what happened. She also shared a few tips about security of private information, and asked me if I would like to expand and talk in length in this post.

Today, security does not have to come at the price of convenience–quite the opposite. I have switched between four different computers in the last five years, and the transition to the cloud made each switch easy and painless. But the real benefit of cloud apps, I’ve discovered, is in added productivity. I am going to introduce some of the popular cloud services (and some less well-known ones) from the perspective of a paperless, digital person. I hope that when you’re done reading this post you will at least be convinced to give these apps a try, if you haven’t already.

Google Drive

Google Drive’s most important feature, in our case, is its ability to replace Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint and even Access, for free. Throughout my time as a graduate student on a tight budget, I calculated I could do more than 90% of my work using Google Drive’s documents.

Google Documents now features two additional important features that makes it even more effective. It has an offline mode, which allows one to create and edit files even without internet connection. It also has a research pane which allows you to research your topic (via a search term on Google) from inside the document, and add whatever reference one may find directly into the document’s reference list in APA style.

Google gives users 5GB of free space to begin with, and documents created inside Google Drive do not take any room. This includes small pictures included in saved documents, such as background for presentations, mugshots, or logos. Additionally, Google Drive makes sharing or sending files to other people incredibly easy, even if they do not have a Google account! Documents can even be sent from within Google Drive as an attachment (.doc, .docx, .pdf and more) directly to an email address without downloading anything, so no obnoxious email attachment on your end.

Evernote

As great as Google Drive is, it is not the best place to upload files and scanned documents. Google Drive’s interface is still too clumsy to be used for organization, and I often need t search for what I need. For scanned documents and quick notes, I use Evernote.

In my opinion, Evernote is the best place for PDF files. Evernote’s excellent tagging system, flexible folders and powerful search (which can read texts from inside images) is exactly what’s missing from Google Drive’s system. I use it to save anything from receipts (using my phone to take snapshots) to a copy of my driver license (I will explain how I protect sensitive documents shortly). It is extremely easy to email documents directly from the app to someone’s email.

Evernote comes in a free version which allows users to upload up to 60MB per month, or a paid version that allows up to 1GB per month with many additional benefits. I have used the free version for a while and never ran out of space allowance.

Important information tip 1:

One of the best ways to protect your personal information is to keep it separate from your “public” information. It just so happens that Evernote and Google Drive create this separation for me automatically: anything that I need to share, publish, or have others edit and work on, is on Google Drive, while all my personal documents and more sensitive information is stored in Evernote. This means your personal files are stored under different username and a different password (because you do use different credentials for each website, right??)

Adobe Acrobat Reader

Adobe Reader is mentioned here because the newest versions come with a very simple, yet powerful feature: the ability to sign your name electronically directly into the PDF file. In the past, I had to download the PDF file, print it, sign it, scan it, and then send it back as an attachment. Not any more. Today I open my PDF file, sign my name, save it (to Evernote) and send it. Done.

Information tip 2:

When you’re not sure what kind of file to send your document in, use a PDF file. If you don’t know what Word version the HR department has, or you want to make sure your resume looks on their screen exactly the same way it looks on yours, send a PDF. PDF files also happen to be the easiest to open, encrypt (protect with a password) and are the industry standard for scanned papers and official documents online. Make sure you have the most recent version of Adobe Reader installed and save yourself the headache.

FoxyUtils

FoxyUtils is a website that does one important thing: it protects your PDF with a password. Upload a file to FoxyUtils, and choose to restrict the file from opening, printing, and copying its context to the computer’s clipboard (which means, no copy-pasting). FoxyUtils also allows users to split one multi-paged PDF into several PDF files, or do the opposite by combining several PDF files into one big PDF file.

Information tip 3:

I believe my personal information is safer inside a password protected PDF on a protected server in a locked building than it is in a drawer at my desk. If you’re serious about using the cloud to store your files and using PDFs, I recommend buying Adobe Acrobat (not just the free reader), which comes with additional features, most notably, better encryption. Keep in mind though that if you password protect your file, programs such as Evernote won’t be able to read its content and make it searchable, as it would with non-protected files.

Hardware – The Non-Cloud stuff for the Cloud

1 – Scanner

Most people would assume an external hard drive with good encryption is the best and safest way to store sensitive documents. In my opinion, that’s a bad mistake to make. The most important thing to consider about your information safety is a scanner.

If you don’t already have one, you can probably find an all-in-one printer (a printer, scanner fax and copier) for a price tag of less than $50. Most printers also ship with software that allows users to quickly convert scanned documents into PDFs, but even without such software, users can quickly upload a file into Google Drive and download it as a PDF if needed.

Information tip 4:

Why a scanner? Because prevention is the best form of protection. Your computer should never store your important documents, and an external hard drive with these documents available is nothing but an extension of your computer. You might as well just glue a glowing sticker to it saying, “My most important information is in here!” Remember, when you store sensitive documents on your computer you’re not only putting yourself at risk, but also others whose information is on these documents as well.

2 – The Backup External Hard Drive

The second device you want to have available is an external hard drive for backups. There are two very important rules when it comes to backup hard drives. First, don’t use the backup hard drive for anything else but backups. Second, don’t use the backup hard drive for anything else but backups.

Your external hard drive should be connected to your computer periodically to store files that are either in the cloud already, or on the way to get there. It is a secondary stop; it is an emergency storage in case you have no connection to the internet–like an airplane black box. And, it should be treated that way. Do not use this hard drive to store anything else under any circumstances.

Why am I so strict about this? Because the second you start using your backup hard drive to store music, movies and pictures, it is the second it ceases to be an “in case of emergency” black box and becomes an entertainment storage unit. Soon after, you will start to taking it to work, and your crucial information will be moving along with you in a storage unit that isn’t meant to handle traveling. You could actually severely damage your hard drive by shaking it too hard, not to mention, forgetting it or losing it. Leave it at home on your computer desk, where it belongs.

Information tip 5:

Not storing personal information on your computer means not storing it on your backup hard drive either. If you use a cloud service that downloads files into your computer (like Dropbox), do not use this cloud service for your sensitive information. Remember, your information is and more available on the cloud.

Information tip 6:

A couple of years ago someone came up with the genius invention: a USB drive. To this day, despite the millions of cloud services out there available, there is no more reliable and simple way to keep files you need. An 8GB USB drive is available today for less than $20 (and you can probably get one for less than $10 if you don’t need so much room). That size is enough to store about 2000 songs, or about 7 high-definition movies. Never store your sensitive information on a USB drive! If you need to send someone sensitive information, make sure it’s in encrypted PDF file, and send it directly from the cloud.

Private Information Hard Drive

No matter how secure the cloud is, some information is simply too private. In that situation, I suggest getting an additional, smaller hard drive that can be easily carried and encrypted. A good example for a hard drive for traveling is Western Digital My Passport line. These hard drives do not require a separate AC connection and built with less movable parts that can get damaged. They are also small and light enough to fit in your pocket. Do not mix this private information with your other personal information. Your driver license, passport and tax returns do not belong there.

Shredder

No home-office today is complete without a shredder. No matter how technology savvy and paperless person you are, chances are that some company (especially bank and utility companies) still insist on sending paper statements. These are dangerous and can lead to identity theft if not disposed of correctly. Do yourself a favor and spend the $30 or so on a simple shredder. Not only will you feel safer, you will also save room in your trash bin and become more recycle-friendly. Get rid of any copies of documents you have laying around. After all, a new copy can always be printed .

Some Final Words of Advice

These suggestions are probably not the only ones out there, but they are based on years of personal trial and error experience. Each one of the apps mentioned have many more features than what is covered in this post.

One area not mentioned as it would require a whole blog post to itself is smartphone security. Smartphones, if used correctly, can be an additional security measure and a crucial addition to cloud capabilities, especially if the goal is to go completely paperless. Investing in a smartphone doesn’t have to be expensive, and it can save users a lot of time and frustration.

Use your brain. Learn to create hard-to-guess passphrases, and remember to change them periodically. Most hackers out there still use brute-force methods to break passwords, which means they would use a software to guess any possible combination of letters and numbers until they get it right. If you use a 20-character passphrase, you are probably much safer than using a 4-digit pin number. Wipe out your computer regularly, and restore your files from your backups. This will not only make your computer safer, it would also keep it faster and free from malicious software. Protect your computer with a screensaver password, so every time you get up from your computer and leave it for more than 5 minutes, it would require a password to resume using it. Never store any passwords in your web browser–you would be shocked to know how accessible these passwords are. Create a guest account on your computer and log out of your account before handing it out to a friend, a coworker or your children–especially your children. Children are smarter than you think and they will snoop around, out of curiosity.

I hope this post was useful to you! If you have any questions, suggestions or any words of feedback, feel free to contact me at my blog, blog.shayshaked.com.


Shay Shaked is an aspiring teacher and educator, specializing in technology and special education. He is currently a teacher at the innovative New Shul School in NYC, and pursuing two Masters degrees, one at NJIT in Technical Communications, and the other at Touro College in Special Education. Shay is also a personal communication and health enthusiast, and blogs about these topics at his blog, blog.shayshaked.com, on Twitter as @blueeyednyc, and on Google Plus.

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Upgrade Time! PREVIEW of the NEW Adobe Technical Communications Suite 4!

I’m very excited as this is my 100th post here on techcommgeekmom.com, and with this 100th post, I am able to present all of my readers with a special preview.

Adobe’s Technical Communications Suite 4.0 (TCS4) is now out!

Woo hoo! It’s great to see that along with upgrades to the Adobe Creative Suite and e-Learning Suite, now the Technical Communications Suite is getting a major update as well.

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!