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RoboHelp 2015 Release is a big step forward!

Adobe RoboHelp -- 2015 release
Adobe RoboHelp — 2015 release

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.

The area circled in red shows the customizable Primary Output tool, which provides a one-touch customizable option to publish to your primary outputs.
The area circled in red shows the customizable Primary Output tool, which provides a one-touch customizable option to publish to your primary outputs.

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

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.

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Three ways to look at the future: perspectives from a writer, reader, and marketer of content

My friend, Parth Mukherjee of Jifflenow, created an excellent SlideShare presentation that he shared at the STC India conference while still at Adobe, but shared recently on LinkedIn. While I didn’t attend the conference, he created a great conversation about the role of content in marketing that still applies now, and is highly relatable for technical communicators and digital marketers alike.

Take a look:

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Do we take our technical abilities for granted?

Princess Leia is thinking, "Geez, I hope these guys understand how to update my laptop."
Princess Leia is thinking, “Geez, I hope these guys understand how to update my laptop.”

Last week, my son celebrated his 14th birthday. He only wanted one present to mark the occasion, namely a gaming computer. Now, this is something that he’s been pining for months now. Originally, he wanted something in the $3000 range. Um, no. I wouldn’t even spend that much on myself, if I had the funds or the need. He only uses his computer for entertainment, whereas his dad and I use ours for both entertainment and business. Over the months, we told him that he had to get the price significantly down on the parts for the gaming machine he wanted to build, and eventually he figured out that he didn’t need the Bugatti (one of the fastest street cars out there) version of a machine, but a Ford Mustang level of speed was fine.  Thanks to Ed Marsh of ContentContent, we found a place called MicroCenter that sold parts so that my son could build his new computer, and the sales guy helped us not only find all the parts, but also helped us find parts that were better and cheaper than some of the parts my son had chosen. As a result, before tax, my son’s new system cost $8 less than his budget. He was pleased.

RedSpeed15 (his own moniker) looking over the goods before assembly.
RedSpeed15 (his own moniker) looking over the goods before assembly.

My son and husband spent the weekend building the machine, and setting up the system. It’s still not perfect, as some of the components won’t work until he can upgrade his OS to Windows 10 next month, but it’s still an improvement over the machine he had. He’s thrilled with his new machine at this point. My husband and I felt that there were some good lessons learned with this birthday gift, which was that he learned to work within a budget, he learned teamwork as he built it with his dad’s help, he learned some patience (not much–he was anxious about it for a few months) in receiving it, and he gained some confidence that he actually knew what he was talking about when he’d talk to the sales guy. Perhaps this it the start to some career skills that will serve him later (he’s only in 8th grade right now).

Coincidentally, I got a new laptop myself. Unlike my son, I spent more money on it because I do use mine for business purposes quite heavily.  Since I’m trying to move data from a Windows 7 machine to a Windows 8.1 machine…well, the transition hasn’t been so smooth. I’m doing it little bit by little bit. The Windows Easy Transfer was not cooperating in any way, no matter how I tried. Some things have ended up working out more easily, like having the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription to download programs to the new computer. Other ones…not so much. I’m still moving my own documents and content over as well, and there will need to be some tweaking done as well. It gives me a chance to clean up some of the data on my old computer so as not to mess up the new one too much.

During the process, I kept thinking, “Gee, what would someone who doesn’t have a lot of know-how about these systems do this process, if it’s like this for me?” Between my husband and I, who aren’t hardware/software experts, we still have a better clue than most people on how different software and systems work on a Windows computer, at least. Between us, we’ve been in the IT business in one form or another for 35+ years, so you’d think that we’d have some idea of how this stuff works.

This all lead to me thinking about the technical abilities of my family. My paternal grandfather, who lacked a formal education, was someone who should have been an electrical engineer based on his work and hobbies. He was a natural at that stuff. My brother inherited that mind too, as he is an architect. I was the other “tech” in the family. My father in law is a mechanical engineer, and my husband’s undergraduate degree is in mechanical engineering, even though he is a computer and web developer now. So I supposed it was inevitable that it would be part of my son’s genetic code (get it, code?). 😉

Luke, use your technical abilities for your technical communications. I mean, USE THE FORCE!
Luke, use your technical abilities for your technical communications. I mean, USE THE FORCE!

I started thinking about it more deeply in terms of how this technical ability has helped my own career, and how it has related to technical writing and technical communication. After all, “technical” is the big modifier when describing these professions. How many of us are actually “technical” in what we do? We probably need to better define “technical” first. Do we mean that we understand the finer details or writing or related work (like web design, etc.) that we can be more “technical” than the average person? Or do we mean that we understand and work with technical content, which requires a higher level of knowledge on less than average topics? In my mind, it’s both. You could be one or the other easily, but probably the best technical communicators are a bit of both.

Don't listen to Vader and become a Sith!
Don’t listen to Vader and become a Sith!

Is this something we take for granted? Perhaps we do. That’s something that we should change, and I think there’s been a movement within the technical communications field to embrace that. We have a special set of skills that many people don’t have. Many can write, and many can be technical, but not many can be both.  You have been gifted with “The Force”, so to speak, so it’s your responsibility to use it for good like a Jedi Knight, and not turn to the Dark Side.

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More localization and user-friendly features in the new Framemaker 2015

Framemaker2015BoxYou might have heard by now that there have been some updates to the Adobe Technical Communications Suite (TCS) that were released today! Both Framemaker and Robohelp have been updated significantly, while the other programs (Captivate, Acrobat, and Presenter), have had some ongoing updates as well.

Adobe held two virtual press conferences in early May 2015 to let insiders learn about these latest and greatest releases for updating Framemaker and Robohelp. I’ll start with Framemaker in this post, and post about Robohelp in a post coming soon.

The biggest take-away that I took from the Framemaker press conference was that Adobe has worked to make the application more user-friendly so little or no coding is needed, even though access to code is still available, and that efforts are continuing to push forward to make more global and mobile outputs available.

The latest version of Framemaker will be titled Framemaker (FM) 2015. The reason for this is that way, all the versions within TCS will be in synch based on the year that the version was released. So, Robohelp (RH) and the other applications will also be known by the 2015 label for this release. It makes sense, and easier to track than version 10, 11, etc. for different products.

The presentation was given by Kapil Verma, who is the Group Marketing and Product Manager for the Adobe Tech Comm line of products.

Kapil reminded us that in the last four years, there have been a lot of advances in FM, including DITA support, multichannel publishing, mobile publishing, CMS connector API, multiview XML authoring, AEM connector,  native multi-channel device publishing, FM XML author, MathML, Enhanced collaboration w/mobile and cloud based tech, and other productivity boosters. So, while a lot of upgrades and enhancements have happened in that short amount of time, further enhancements found in this update are sure to make technical writers rather happy.

What’s new in FM 2015? There are six main points that were given, and while Kapil did a “deep-dive” into each of these highlights, I’m going to be giving you the highlights of those points.

Framemaker 2015 will allow you to work faster and smarter with several core feature enhancements.

  • Working with tables is much easier and faster now. You can conditionalize columns and rows (formerly only on rows) now, and there are usability improvements to allow arrow keys to navigate cells, tab to insert rows, and drag-drop rows and columns. There are several new table styles available out of the box. When demonstrated it, looked REALLY easy, very clear, and highly flexible.
  • FM writers can now more easily work with conditional text–including applying it at the book level–due to visual indications of conditions applied on tables and graphic objects. Again, when Kapil demonstrated it, it was very clear where color coding was applied so the writer could more clearly see the associations of what conditional text applied in different areas, making it much easier to make appropriate changes and see the changes.
  • You can now generated a “mini” Table of Contents (TOC) in the middle of a document, simply by placing the TOC where you want, then easily modifying it and styling it the way you want!
  • Enhanced Word import provides more options and control, with the ability to map styles for paragraphs, characters and tables while retaining Word formatting for matched styles or inline Word formatting overrides.

Serve a global audience with new right to left language support.

  • Arabic and Hebrew are now included and supported in FM 2015! There is also leveraged support for Right-to-Left (RTL) languages and the ability to create bi-directional documents. This support for bi-directional content means that you can have both RTL and LTR (Left-to-Right) in the same document–you don’t have to choose one or the other. You can have just about any combination of languages in a document now!
  • New object direction properties for document and object such as paragraphs, tables, text flows etc. can be inherited from the direction imported from Word, whether it’s LTR, RTL, or both. You can leverage the direction inheritance model to enable 1-click flip of all objects.
  • You can publish your RTL content into multiple formats including Acrobat, HTML5, HTML, ePub, Kindle, iOS, Android, and Webhelp.

Publish for mobile devices–including mobile apps–natively.

  • FM 2015 has a brand new HTML5 layout with several enhancements, including topic descriptions and breadcrumbs, with the ability to show search results on the left panel for easier navigation. HTML5 layout comes with host of customization abilities including the easy “off/on” functions in which you can choose the component to customize, then view and customize the component properties in a visual/tabular format, allowing writers to achieve frameless outputs.
  • Writers will now be able to publish natively mobile apps using Framemaker that are iOS and Android supported, using PhoneGap:Build, which is an Adobe product. PhoneGap is available for a single app generation for free, while creating multiple apps requires a PhoneGap/CS subscription. The way it works is that once the app is created, it creates a QR code so that a user can scan and download the app, or save the info to your local drive. The content itself can be published to Google Store or iTunes.

Personalized content can be delivered dynamically to your end users.

  • Dynamic content filters are provided in the navigation for the end users to allow them what to see what they want to see. The creation of how to do this reminded me of how taxonomy tags are used in Adobe’s AEM to filter content for readers. This can be done by enabling the dynamic filter in the output, then creating and customizing with the conditional tags used in the content for the end user filter. The Dynamic Content Filter applies to all content, meaning the main content as well as TOC, topics, and search results. Existing tags can be re-used, based on existing conditional tags/expressions functionality.
  • Generate high fidelity ePub outputs by embedding your custom fonts.

XML authoring is easier now for SMEs/Contributors.

  • There was the realization that the current XML authoring workflow in FM 12 has been too complex for SMEs and other “casual contributors”, so a simplified XML authoring environment was created.  This new XML Authoring environment is ideal for SMEs, Casual contributors, and even technical writers who are new to XML/DITA,  as it was created for those who have not been exposed to XML, allowing them to work with common objects rather than elements that will always produce valid XML. The input for these users looks like a form, which is easier for most anyone to figure out.  You can create a free form authoring form, or a guided authoring form where you ask for specific info. (This looked really good, because I could see some benefits for this for a project that I’ve been working on.) This simplified form-like environment allows the end user to enter various types of content quite easily, with a simplified menu and tool bar, an enhanced quick element toolbar which mimics many of the same features as an MS Word text editing toolbar. A DITA toolbar is also provided out of the box, as well as a BYOT (build your own toolbar) feature for your custom application.
  • MathML has been enhanced so you can easily do in-line MathML equations through MathFlow Editor, pick up paragraphs properties so that the equation merges well with the surrounding text, and high quality, searchable vector (EPS) output as opposed to raster (PNG) in FM12.
  • A new connector with DITA Exchange by Content Technologies will be shared natively with FM 2015. An enhanced FM-SharePoint connector with claim-based authentication support and support for SharePoint 2013 is also available.

Enjoy a rock solid product with improved usability and performance.

  • To improve usability and performance, Adobe addressed many bugs from its prior release of FM. In fact, more than 90 bugs were corrected in this release!
  • UI enhancements include the ability to resize dialogs (both TOC, Add/edit and show/hide conditions, x-ref, conref, link-ref), conditional text checkbox behavior mentioned above, and no grey areas when you reduce pod width.
  • Performance enhancements include EDD update performance improvements (same operation has been reduced from hours to minutes!), a smart pod refresh, the FM-Adobe Experience Manager connector  has improved performance with multi-threading support), and contextual in-product tips as needed are now included.

There were SO MANY more details about these new features that I left out for the sake of the length of this post, but if you have any questions whatsoever about this new product, I highly encourage you to contact Adobe. To make it easier for you, click on the ad in the right column of this post to find out more!

As mentioned earlier, this will be part of TCS 2015, which will include the 2015 versions of Framemaker, RoboHelp, Captivate, Acrobat, and Presenter. Buying it as the Tech Comm Suite is a 57% discount from buying buying each of these separately, and you can use these in an end-to-end workflow, so it’s worth getting the entire package!

Pricing & Availability on June 2 (in USD):

Product Full Price Upgrade from last release Upgrade from 2 releases Subscription Price Languages Supported
FrameMaker 2015 $999 FM 12 :$399 FM 11: $599 $29.99/mo English, French, German, and Japanese
FrameMaker 2015 XML Author $399 (no upgrade) $19.99/mo English, French, German, Japanese
FrameMaker 2015 Publishing Server $14,999 FMPS 12: $5999 FMPS 11: $8999 $499/mo English only
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

Overall, as the main foundation product of Technical Communications Suite, Framemaker 2015 looks to be a significant update that will help provide technical writers with the user-friendly, flexible tools needed to truly create the best content possible for their end-users that serve their ever-growing global and mobile needs.

Oh, and there’s a FREE webinar on June 16th, 2015 to launch the product. If you would like to attend that, register on the Adobe Online Event site. The event runs from 11:00 AM-1:00 PM Eastern Time.

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Content Content Podcast – Fire fingers featuring Danielle Villegas – episode 3

fast-typing-fingersEd Marsh of ContentContent has a new podcast out, and it features me! Who would’ve guessed? Ed and I recorded this on April 11, 2015, and had a great time recording our conversation. We could’ve gone on for hours! (Or at least I could’ve gone on for hours, LOL.)

Check out the podcast, and be sure to check out more of what Ed has on ContentContent. He’s got good stuff there! Enjoy!

Content Content Podcast – Fire fingers featuring Danielle Villegas – episode 3