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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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Adobe has Tech Comm Suite 4 Superheroes? Find out in August!

Scan of the Adobe TCS4 software cover by TechCommGeekMom
Scan of the Adobe TCS4 software cover by TechCommGeekMom

Adobe has a lot going on this year with, seemingly, many of their major product lines. First, they upped the ante with the Creative Suite package by not only upgrading it, but putting it in the cloud and creating the Creative Cloud service, allowing users access to many more products for a fairly reasonable monthly fee (especially with the starter fee for students and those upgrading from ancient editions like myself). I love having access to more products this way.

Then, some other major productivity tools also got updated in a major way as well, namely the Technical Communications Suite 4, which included the latest updates of Framemaker, Robohelp, Captivate, and now included the latest update to Presenter as well as several other programs.  This is a big deal! I’m so thrilled that all these technical communications tools that I can use for both general tech comm and e-learning uses are the latest and greatest versions now. 

Ever since my Adobe webinar in June, I’ve had a very nice relationship with Adobe’s Technical Communications Suite group.  They invited me to the preview of TCS4 several weeks ago, and they are nice enough to keep me informed of new things going on, and now and then ask if I can pass along information to my readers as well, knowing how much I do like Adobe products in general.  So, it was great to see that the TCS4 marketing department is pulling out all stops to make sure that technical communicators everywhere–whether they use Adobe’s Tech Comm Suite or another product–know what’s going on with the Tech Comm Suite products. Saibal Bhattacharjee, who is a Product Marketing Manager at Adobe, let me know that Adobe is making August their “What’s New?” month within the TechComm Suite products, and they have several Adobe experts (seen as some superheroes to some) lined up to do informational webinars to introduce the new Tech Comm line-up of products in Technical Communications Suite 4.

Having been part of Adobe’s “thought leadership” webinar series back in June, as well as having attended several Adobe webinars myself in the past few months, I can tell you that Adobe seems to go to great lengths to provide quality information in a way that is not only easily accessible (they are done through Adobe Connect), but also accessible in that there’s no fancy talk–it’s real people who actually know and have made an effort to know the products and how users are using them.  So I can only guess that this new “What’s New?” series is going to be just as top notch.

So far, for the month of August, there are three webinars–all free of charge–set up to get technical communicators up to speed on the new Technical Communications Suite 4.  They are the following:

I predict that a lot of great information will be coming out of these webinars that will help technical communicators with these great new products, and understanding how Technical Communications Suite will help them become more productive workers producing state-of-the-art documentation and output, especially when it comes to single-sourcing and mobile projects.

For more information about the webinar series, check out the Tech Comm Central by Adobe blog.

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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!

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Tools? We don’t need tools. (Or do we?)

One of the things that is highly debatable in the tech comm world, as well as the e-learning and m-learning world, has to do with software.  It’s always the eternal question.

WHAT’S THE BEST SOFTWARE TO USE?

I’m here to tell you….I have no idea.

Really.

I’m not joking.

One of the regrets I have about the Masters program in technical communications I’ve been in is that while we were introduced to several different types of software, most software applications used were either free or low cost, or we’d have to use the free trial version as quickly as possible, but they were not necessarily the industry standards employers use.  If it weren’t for the fact that I would read industry magazines and look at plenty of “help wanted” ads, I wouldn’t have any idea what these software packages werethat many tech comm and e-learning professionals use. The arguments that my school made for not teaching us some of these software packages was a) it was too expensive, and b) upgrades on packages are made so often that they’d never be able to keep up with the constant upgrades.  While I understand both arguments–and they are valid ones–I don’t agree that they are doing us any favors.  I am taking classes through a technical institution, and it seems unfair that many types of similar or more expensive software packages are being purchased and licensed for the engineering students, but not for tech comm students. We can access MS Office products…and that’s about it. No Adobe. No MadCap. Nothing like that. And yet, that’s what prospective employers ask for–not only technical communication know-how, but experience using “X” software or something similar.

I know that it can be expensive, but it’s more expensive long-term not to help us learn the basics of these packages.  I’ll use the example that I’ve mentioned to some most recently. The first version of MS Word that I ever used was the very first one–Word 1.0. Yes, it was a long time ago, and I know I’m old, thanks. But the point is, I haven’t taken a training session or class on how to use Word since learning that first version. I’ve just figured out the upgrades through trial and error, like most people, but I already understood the basic concepts.  If I was taught from an “old” version of Flare, Robohelp, FrameMaker, etc. I’m sure that I would figure out the upgrade pretty quickly, since I already understand how the software program works generally. See my point?  The software packages that I just listed, and more of them, are a technical communicator’s bread and butter.  While exposure to using MS Office in a creative way, and using free products is good to understand concepts, it’s not what will help burgeoning technical communicators like myself find work. I can write storyboards, and I understand the basic principles of instructional design, but if I can’t use Captivate, Lectora or Articulate to expedite those things, then none of that matters unless there is an employer willing to either train me or let me figure out how the software works.

As I just mentioned, this applies to the e-learning and m-learning world too. If you don’t know how to use Captivate, Lectora, Articulate, or one of the other great instructional design software packages, you are up a creek.  Add the mobile factor in it, and considering that not all software packages– for e-learning or tech comm– have kept up with the mobile revolution…it really makes things difficult, to say the least.

My main argument is that if you learn one package, more than likely you can figure out the others–there’s just a slight learning curve.  Bringing back that MS Word example again, up until the time that I started using MS Word, I was a diehard WordPerfect user, and had used that for many, many years. (Okay, you can stop with the old jokes now!) Because I understood how to use WordPerfect, I understood how to do word processing, and it was just a matter of learning which types of buttons or commands were the same, and which ones were different. I haven’t used WordPerfect for many years, but I’d bet you that I could figure out whatever the latest version is, simple because I know how to use a word processor in general.

I’m not promoting any specific product here–I mean, I’m willing to learn any of them! Part of what holds me back is the cost. It’s expensive to try to buy these packages, even with my student discount when applicable. I was looking at one of these software packages just today, and for a single license it was $1000.00! Really? I supposed if I was in business for myself and I already knew the software, I could consider it an investment and make it a business write-off in my taxes the following year. But a thirty-day trial isn’t long enough in most cases, or they are limited as they will only allow you to use the product, but not save your work. Or, let’s say you have one of those thirty-day trials with full access, and you get hooked, but then you can’t afford the software. What good is any of that? You can see why this would be incredibly frustrating to a fledgling technical communicator.

So, if I am to learn any software products, and I can’t spend a fortune to buy all of them, which ones are the best to learn that would allow me to adapt to other software packages easily? Should I learn Flare, or should I learn Framemaker and Robohelp? Should I learn Captivate, Lectora or Articulate? These are all industry leaders. But for all I know, some other product might work better and be the best at teaching me how to be adaptable to all of these.

Any suggestions? Please comment!

This topic totally exhausts me.