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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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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!