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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

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.

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!

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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Get your motor runnin’…Head out on the [mobile] highway…

Peter-Fonda-and-Dennis-Hopper-in-Easy-RiderWhen I first read the title of John Daigle’s Adobe Day presentation, “Enjoying a Smooth Ride on the Mobile Documentation Highway,” guitar riffs by Steppenwolf echoed in my mind thinking of the song, “Born to Be Wild” and scenes of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper riding down the information highway. OK, maybe not the information highway, but with mobile, it’s an open road right now that is waiting to be explored.

While I hadn’t heard John speak before, I was familiar with his “rock star” status due to social media–mostly through Twitter (you can find him as @hypertexas)–in my e-learning and m-learning forums.  It turns out that John is a big RoboHelp and Captivate expert, so being tied into the mobile highway scene makes sense!

John Daigle

The premise of John’s talk was that there are shifts and trends in mobile, and we need to look at organizations as early adopters, figure out the mobile landscape, and look at how user assistance is used on mobile as compared to how reference documentation is used generally. He pointed out that writing and designing for a mobile audience is very different from traditional methods (I agree!), and that he would be offering some hints on how to approach technical communications for mobile.

John pointed out that fellow speaker, panelist Joe Welinske, created the “bible” for Windows Help,  and now has created the “bible” for mobile apps, referring to Joe’s book, Developing User Assistance for Mobile Apps, which talks about the “screen wars” between the smartphones and tablets of various size. These various sizes produce a challenge for technical communicators. John went on to point out that e-readers, such as Kindle and Nook, are still alive and well and doing well as compared to other tablets such as iPads and Samsung Galaxy Tabs.  The initial conversion of print text to Kindle ePubs was a big change in electronic documentation. He also stated that at this stage of the game, Windows Surface and Windows Phone are a little late in the game, but they are catching up rapidly.

Following some of the comments of keynote speaker, Charles Corfield (the post on that talk is forthcoming!), John explained that other products including voice-activated devices, such as those found in some cars these days, are becoming more prolific. Google Glass, which is getting a lot of press right now, is a new game changer in mobile devices, and time will tell what kind of impact it will have.

John told us that as of February 2013, there were one billion smartphones and 150 million tablets worldwide–proof that mobile is becoming more widespread! Corporations are even getting more involved in mobile by buying mobile devices for employees, but many companies are also allowing BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Companies are starting to embrace the idea of BYOD a little more lately.

Finance and healthcare industries are quickly adopting mobile delivery of information because of the portability of the devices. Mobile devices are being used more in industry and shop floors because they allow users access anytime, anywhere. John informed us that many of the same technical communications skills and experiences needed to write standard information apply to mobile. QR codes are gaining popularity as a  part of the movement of accessing documentation through mobile. John quoted Jakob Nielsen saying, “Killing time is the killer app of mobile.” With that in mind, John advised that technical communicators should learn to use more economic words for mobile, such as  “extra” instead of “additional.”

John also quoted John Caroll, who said, “Minimize the extent to which the systems and the information get in the way of what the user’s really interested in.” Progressive disclosure is key in writing for mobile. It allows one to gain information by revealing what’s needed when it’s needed. Ways to show this in mobile interfaces could be drop-down navigation or overlays. This allows a user to not leave the page, but he or she can still get to information quickly. In this sense, mobile can go right to the source or the heart of information needed.

So the question is, are huge documents (such as what’s in those big company binders) going mobile too? The answer is that technical writers can’t just dump desktop layouts and information onto mobile. This is where technical communicators need to work with developers to do what they do best–help “champion the end users.”

Going mobile is about flattening navigation–but not going button crazy, and getting back to context sensitive help. Technical communicators need to tap into social media to keep content current and accurate, thus becoming curators of user generated content.

It helps to prototype mobile layouts with rapid wire-framing tools, like Balsamic Mock-ups as a popular example. There are many specific tools on the market that are available to assist the developer in facilitate context-sensitive help.

However, there are several design controversies involving the need to upgrade browsers, progressive enhancement, adaptive design and responsive design. Some argue that responsive design is not the best because it makes a device’s CPU works harder, thus it becomes a virtual memory hog when resizing images as needed. Yet, responsive web design can adapt layouts to the appropriate viewing environment with fluid, proportion-based grids.

John suggested using the site, , to help test how compatible your site is with mobile interfaces. He also pointed out that help-authoring tools can do much of the work with single source layout concepts, as different settings in authoring tools can help determine how to make user outputs work properly. Another such tool he recommended was Adobe Edge, as it helps writers to preview and inspect web designs on mobile devices directly ON the devices. For additional tools and information, John pointed us to his website, .

I particularly enjoyed John’s talk, as I’ve been following many of his posts on Twitter for more than a year now. He’s very good at explaining the power of mobile in technical communication, and I think John put this perspective well into view for the Adobe Day attendees.  As many know, I’m a big believer in the power of mobile, and the mind-set for writing for mobile isn’t that difficult if you understand the basics. So, it’s good that Adobe continues to include information about technical communications in the mobile world, as that’s where a lot of change is coming in the future. Adobe made a good choice when asking John Daigle to present information about mobile documentation.

John, if you are reading this, please feel free to add any comments or corrections in the comments! 🙂

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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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Be a warrior with Technical Communications Suite 4!

One of the things that many people don’t know about me is that I have a first-degree black belt in Songham Taekwondo. I was even a state champion in weapons as a color belt for my age group. I enjoyed TKD a lot, until a knee injury took me out. What I like about taekwondo is that it’s a versatile martial art; one doesn’t spend all of the time studying forms alone, but rather a student learns basic moves that will help in other areas such as sparring and weapons. The more skills one gains, the more adept to changes when sparring or using weapons. This is what trained the ancient warrior as well as the modern day warrior.

This kind of mentality is also needed to be a technical communicator. How, you may ask? Well, like a black belt in taekwondo, one has to have many skills to get the job done. One needs to know a little bit of this and that, like technical writing, editing, and content curation–among many other skills–to produce kick-butt documentation and output.  But it also helps to have the right tools as well.

For today’s taekwondo student, one can wear various protection pads, and learn how to use weapons–including hands and feet–as the tools to achieve the end goal.  For technical communicators, there are various software tools out there.

One of the foremost products out there is Adobe’s Technical Communications Suite 4. With this latest rendition of the Technical Communications Suite, technical communicators have even more options and choices in how documentation and other technical writing output is achieved.  There are reliable standbys like Framemaker and Robohelp–both of which have been updated, but there are also additional tools as Acrobat, Captivate, Presenter, and Illustrator. Combined with the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite, it seems to me that there is nothing that can stop a technical communicator from being a tech comm warrior!

Tomorrow, on August 21st, 2012 from 10:00-11:30 AM Pacific Time, one of Adobe’s strongest tech comm warriors, Ankur Jain, is going to be presenting the What’s New in Technical Communications Suite 4 webinar,which is not only going to talk about the strengths of this tool, but also the newest and latest features to make it a more effective tool for technical communicators everywhere, including features that now allow technical communicators to bring finished products to a mobile audience. (And you know how pro-mobile I am!)

Register here:

Tell Ankur that I sent you by telling him, “I am a TechComm Warrior!” 😉