Adobe FrameMaker 12 First Look Review

Fast and Furiously Better: What’s New in Adobe FrameMaker 12

Adobe FrameMaker 12Will 2014 be a blockbuster year? The year’s just begun and the new Adobe FrameMaker 12 is out.  I’d call it Fast and Furious FM12– because this latest release focuses on speed: application launch and relaunch, everyday workflows have been revved, and it’s faster than ever to publish because that’s what users want. And speed’s just the beginning. For the long trailer (e.g. “marketing hype”), visit www.adobe.com/products/framemaker and check out the complete Reviewer’s Guide (lengthy, in-depth and oh-so interactive with videos and demos). For a quick review of the top features in plain-speak, read on.

I grouped the summaries of the biggest features into functionality areas, so if you’re only interested in one area, you can skip over the others. I’ve also dropped in tips on how to access features, and flagged content as updated or new.  I’ll try not to step on info that Jacquie Samuels writes about in her FrameMaker XML Author review, but you might see some overlap.

1. Content Creation and Management

New:  A nice, easy interface refresh features larger, crisper, and color icons. Makes it seem like a new product at times. (Edit > Preferences > Global > Interface).

Adobe FM 12 - icons

New The Currently Opened Files pod is handy tool for managing content. It shows files (and paths) that are open, saved (or not) and you can double-click to move between them. (File > Currently Opened Files)

Adobe FM12-currently open

New: Support for QR codes (like the one below) bridges the print/online world and makes links faster/easier to work with. (Special > QR Code)

Adobe FM 12 -QRCode

New: If you want to use your uber-geek powers for good, you’ll love being able to search using regular expressions. (Edit > Find/Change).

Updated: FrameMaker 12 includes updated conditional text management features, including an easy-to-understand check box system to view the status of conditional text (Special > Conditional Text).

Adobe FM 12 - conditional tags

Updated: The Smart Catalog lets you work faster, and smarter, with conditions (use Ctrl+4, 5, or 6), elements (use Ctrl+1, 2, or 3), or character/paragraph (press F8/F9). These keyboard shortcuts access the catalog’s cleaner list, which changes as you type. Sounds like a small change, but it is another step towards cleaning up the interface and making your job (and mine) easier.
Adobe FM 12 - smart catalog

New: Does this sound familiar? Yesterday you worked in FrameMaker and when the day ended you closed all the files. Today you manually reopen them one by one, finding where you left off page by painful page. In FrameMaker 12, Adobe added session restore so you can pick up where you left off. It only opens the files you had open when you exited last, and jumps to the right page, zoom, and configuration. Makes booting up the next morning a breeze. Try it out. Open a bunch of files, navigate to some pages, then shutdown and restart. You’ll love it.
(File > Restore Last Session)

New: Love math (and who doesn’t?) and want more equation support? Test the 30-day license for MathML using the built-in MathFlow from Design Science. I’m equation dumb and made this work! (Special > MathML Equation)

2. Content Sharing and Feedback

Updated: FrameMaker 12 adds integrated support for Adobe Experience Manager in addition to EMC Documentum and Microsoft SharePoint. Not using those? The new APIs make connecting to most major CMSs (and almost every DITA compliant one) a snap.

Updated: Remember when you had to create a PDF, stop all work on the FM file, and wait for the SMEs to get back to you? Now you can conduct even more powerful PDF reviews because you can continue to edit content (caveat, not ALL edits are supported, so check Adobe’s docs) and import comments later.

Look carefully at the PDF and FrameMaker markup (below). In the FrameMaker source we added a big danger statement, but the strikethrough comment (imported later) is at the right place.

Adobe FM 12 - PDF share

You and your SMEs can add comments to PDF using the free Adobe Reader app on smartphones and tablets. It can import and insert comments to your FrameMaker source exactly where needed.

New: If you do need to share content (or PDFs), you can use Dropbox. Big Warning… As of this writing, Dropbox seems to almost randomly delete content if a FrameMaker book that is synchronized gets updated. Until Dropbox resolves the issue, I recommend that you just use Dropbox for single files, or to share PDF for review. Keep the books local or it will frustrate you. A lot.

3. Publishing: The Coolest of the Fast and Furious Improvements

Too late for a spoiler alert? Maybe, but here goes: the publishing improvements are the coolest new feature of FrameMaker 12.

New: FrameMaker is awesome for PDF generation, but you get slowed down by having to exit and use other tools to create online content, right? Wrong. You can now create HTML5, ePub, Kindle, Microsoft HTML Help, and WebHelp inside FrameMaker, so you never have to leave home. Fire up your content in FM (a book, FM file, or DITA content) and create one type of output, or even multiple output types at the same time. (File > Publish)

Adobe FM 12 - publish output options

You’re no longer limited to Adobe-specific publishing. FrameMaker offers full support to publish your DITA content via the DITA Open Toolkit. It’s integrated right into the software! (DITA > Generate DITA-OT Output)

Adobe FM 12 - DITA OT

4. XML and Other Stuff

Updated: Adobe adds better support of DITA maps. Instead of opening each file to see what you have, you can now preview topicref elements right in the map–super useful. Just open the map in Document view first… (DITA > Resolve Topicrefs > Show Content)

New: If you work with XML, take time to explore the customizable Quick Element Toolbar, which lets you insert common elements quickly, or even wrap content. It’s great for people getting started with DITA as it hides a lot of the tech and lets you add content without knowing all the tag names. (View > Toolbars > Quick Element Toolbar)

New: Lastly, there is an all-new interface that you can use for XML authoring. It mimics the functions of the new stand-alone Adobe FrameMaker XML Author software so that you see exactly what your XML authors and contributors will see. Check out Jacquie Samuels’ look at the new tool for more.

Conclusion

FrameMaker continues to be THE tool for technical communicators (and part of a suite deal from Adobe), so it makes sense that the biggest day-to-day changes impact authoring. Many of the changes speed up the way you work. You always are left wanting more (that’s why movies get trilogies, then rebooted, and then a trilogy of the reboot) and that’s the way it is with Adobe FrameMaker 12.

So much has been added, but I feel like there should be even more intuitive actions. Many little things that used to add to the day’s work are resolved, making the remaining ones seem all that much bigger. But, if it turns out that the biggest issues I face today are the smallest ones from one, two, or 5 releases ago, then Adobe is doing a great job engineering improvements based on what users want. I hope they keep it up, and here’s looking forward to even more improvements when we see FrameMaker next roll out.

Bernard Aschwanden

Since 1992, Bernard Aschwanden has excelled in technical communications as a trainer, courseware developer, team leader, manager, and as a consultant for Publishing Smarter. Bernard is a professor at Seneca and Humber colleges, sitting on their advisory boards, and helping drive curriculum development. He has written many articles about publishing, and is an active partner with key developers of technical communications tools. Bernard also serves on the Board of Directors for the Society for Technical Communication.

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