Adobe Technical Communication Suite (2015 Release) Meets Current and Future Needs Right Now

Editor’s note: Want to learn more on Adobe Technical Communication Suite (2015 Release)? Check out our reviews by Willam Van Weelden covers RoboHelp (2015 Release), and Jacquie Samuels on FrameMaker (2015 Release).

TS-iconAdobe Technical Communication Suite (2015 Release)

It’s here! A new version of Adobe Technical Communication Suite that takes aim at a huge current need (support for RTL languages, critical to localization), and reaches forward to address a rapidly emerging need, producing iOS (iPhone, iPad) and Android applications as well. If these items already loom large on your tech comm wish list, feel free to skip down to those sections. But before I cover those big ticket features, I want to discuss some broader issues, things like cost, day-to-day feature enhancements, and the spiffy new RoboHelp user interface.

calendar-18monthAcquisition Cost

I’ve spent better than 20 years working with Adobe software. That means that roughly every 18 months, I’ve had to decide for myself or my employer whether I should pony up for the new version of my favorite software tools. Sometimes I’ve passed on a version, but mostly it’s been a simple decision. Simple because at the end of the day, even if we like to gripe about it, the acquisition cost of software isn’t the expensive part of the documentation equation. The expensive part of the equation is us!

So do I have your attention yet?

If software will save you more money than its initial cost, more than the monthly maintenance, or more than the cost of the upgrade, then you should buy it. Technical Communication Suite (2015 Release) brings with it updates to its two anchor applications, now known as FrameMaker 2015 and RoboHelp 2015. And there’s more to the overhaul than just a new name. As with any software upgrade there are new features that make your day-to-day work more pleasant and efficient.

With New Software, It’s Always the Bright and Shiny

Do you need to upgrade just because Adobe came out with a new version? No. Are there “I can’t live without this version” features in these applications? No, not really. Using previous versions of Technical Communications Suite, you can create the same content you’ve been creating for years. You’ll rest easily, content in the fact that you’ve saved your company a thousand or maybe two thousand dollars. Your stuff will be just as “good” as it has been, but no better. The mandatory stuff was covered long ago and you don’t need the latest “anything” to do your job adequately. But along with easier, more intuitive editing, Adobe Technical Communication Suite (2015 Release) addresses emerging technology and reduces expense in a way that makes it a mistake to walk on by. In fact, licensing costs remain unchanged over the previous release–here’s a chart of the pricing available at time of writing.

base pricing

Improved in FrameMaker 2015

FM-iconSo maybe your company is still producing single language documentation, delivering only print and PDF, and you expect to do so forevermore. There’s still stuff here for you, too! Everyone dreads migrating content from one application to another, and Word is often the common thread in those experiences. While it can’t help teach SMEs to use a proper stylesheet, the new Word import function for FrameMaker 2015 mirrors RoboHelp’s Word import function, making mapping of consistent content a breeze.

FM-Word import

There are other productivity improvements that we’ve been clamoring for in the new FrameMaker as well. Things like drag and drop in tables, resizable dialog boxes, mini TOCs (chapter-level TOC), and dialogs that effectively use type-ahead to ease navigation.

There are also improvements on the structured side of the house. FrameMaker 2015 now has a simplified XML authoring mode that reminds me of authoring a WordPress post. This is a great feature for engineers and other SMEs, but I’d love to see Adobe create a WordPress output to go with it. Being able to publish content directly to the world’s most popular web content platform would be very cool.

Improved in RoboHelp 2015

Most notably, RoboHelp no longer looks like Word 2003. RoboHelp 2015 features an interface overhaul that’s been overdue for, well, about 12 years!

robohelp ribbon

The interface update in RoboHelp 11 was a nice start, but it still had 20-year-old icons, and didn’t really change the functionality of the application. RoboHelp 2015 is different; features are better organized and more logically labeled. It incorporates modern icons and the ribbon interface that you’ve likely grown accustomed to since Word 2007 and PowerPoint 2007. Even with the improved navigation, though, I still don’t think I’d be a fan of the new UI without adoption of the font-awesome-ish icons in this version. Now, I have a tough time going back to the old interface with its static buttons and dated icons.

rh-iconWhile for me the new interface is a great experience, I imagine there will be plenty of folks who will yearn for the old look. Give it a few days’ use before you pronounce judgement, and I expect you’ll be a fan as well. Even if you really liked the old, polished up Word 2003 look.

Many other RoboHelp improvements will likely be appreciated, but go mostly unnoticed by some users. There are large improvements to the Responsive HTML 5 editor, inclusion of social media widgets that you may or may not find necessary, and a Quick Access toolbar that mirrors what’s available in PowerPoint. Nice features, but not the kind of thing that keep you up late at night in wonderment.

Get on the Responsive HTML5 Bus

If you’re still producing WebHelp or the (ahem!) Windows-only MS HTML Help from either FrameMaker or RoboHelp, do yourself a favor and take a long look at the Responsive HTML 5 output in both applications.

responsive-devices

The skins are easier to modify, easier to look at, and respond to the width of the user’s media. They give the user a better experience, whether viewing content on a grand desktop monitor, or a myriad of smartphones.

Here’s a tip for Responsive HTML5 output: To make use of some of the new responsive features, like Dynamic Filtering, make sure you’re using the latest responsive layouts, like Azure Blue and Charcoal Grey. Older layouts may not let you take advantage of these features.

It’s Really About “What Can it Do for My Workload?”

What if you could drive the cost of localization down, not by shaving a few percentage points, but by dividing it by whole numbers? FrameMaker 2015 and RoboHelp 2015 now (finally) support RTL, or right-to-left languages, like Arabic and Hebrew. Until now, the biggest localization shortfall in using both FrameMaker and RoboHelp was the lack of support for RTL. It forced convoluted publishing workflows, and was a big cost center. Starting with Adobe Technical Communication Suite (2015 Release), you can not only create RTL docs in both FrameMaker and RoboHelp, but you can mix RTL and LTR content in the same document!

If, even with RTL support, you still have staggering localization expense then you should probably consider a migration to structured documentation. Translation/localization is expensive, and structured documents separate the content from the layout and formatting of a document, improving the efficiency of machine translation and driving down both cost and turnaround times. I have clients that have paid for entire workflow and training initiatives just from the savings on improved localization efforts.

Keeping up with the times in Tech Comm: Mobile delivery, anyone?

For the past few years, the main driver for my clients has been online help and mobile delivery of that content. I’ve had dozens of clients who’ve successfully made use of FrameMaker and/or RoboHelp to produce their help systems. (You did know that since version 12, FrameMaker natively produces online help, right?)

Because it’s been so important to my clients, I’m thrilled to see that FrameMaker and RoboHelp build upon their responsive help capabilities, adding dynamic filtering and role-based options to the responsive HTML5 output. Dynamic filtering lets the user create unique combinations of conditional content to view only the content they need. It meets your user exactly where they are.

You can even go one step farther. In addition to media-sensitive browser-based output, EPUB and Kindle formats, you can now produce actual smartphone apps using integrated Adobe PhoneGap: Build support. Yep, you can now deliver beautiful apps using Adobe Technical Communication Suite (2015 Release) that install directly on smartphones and tablets via a QR code, or that you deploy to Google Play and the Apple App Store. Imagine creating content that you can distribute as needed, or that you submit to Google Play and the Apple App Store for sale or distribution. I can imagine it, and I’ve already identified business opportunities using this feature. Come see me at the STC Summit in Columbus on June 22 to hear more.

To produce apps from FrameMaker, check out the new option in the Publishing Pod, and in RoboHelp, look at the Outputs (SSL) pod.

Both Fm and Rh require a fair amount of homework to produce the credentials required for app production. Mind you, this is not Adobe’s fault per se, but I’d love to see something that eases the pain of setting up software developer credentials.

Wrapping it up

Are these the “perfect” versions of the product? No, not by a long shot.

The menu organization of FrameMaker is still roughly the same jumble as it was in the 90’s, and labeling in some dialogs continues to perplex. (Ah well, I’ll just hope for a minor update with the same value as the free FrameMaker 12.0.3 update, which was a good mix of bug fixes and enhanced functionality.)

Side note on the 12.0.3 release: This is the version that removed the Suite installer requirement for FrameMaker to RoboHelp linking. Now if you own both FrameMaker 12.0.3 and RoboHelp 11.0.3, you don’t need to purchase a Suite license just to link Fm and Rh projects.

In RoboHelp, much of the Win ’98-era stuff is gone, but there are still legacy dialogs that I hope will be updated over time. There’s better handling of skins and really cool new options, but RoboHelp still doesn’t play as nicely with XML as I’d like it to.

So, Here’s My Bottom Line

Adobe Technical Communication Suite (2015 Release) is a big step forward. These versions address two of the biggest money pits known to tech comm: Localization and mobile delivery.

Adobe SystemsThey give you new ways to distribute your content, working directly with RTL (Right-to Left) languages like Hebrew and Arabic, and giving you the ability to produce native applications for iOS and Android devices. RTL language support and mobile delivery are the big headliners, but there are scores of improvements that reaffirm FrameMaker and RoboHelp’s place in the market. I’m excited about this release; the Technical Communications Suite 5 release started us on a path toward better mobile and structured delivery, and Adobe Technical Communication Suite (2015 Release) not only maintains but increases the pace of development. It’s worth the investment to keep up with the speed of evolving user content needs.

While the little things are greatly appreciated, the new RTL and app functionality will help me and my clients stand out against the competition. Well done, Adobe, and we all hope you’re busy working on the next release as we speak!

Matt R Sullivan

Matt Sullivan is the author of the techcomtools.com as well as co-author of Publishing Fundamentals: Unstructured FrameMaker 11. He’s a software junkie, with an Adobe Certified Trainer designation in 10 different Adobe Systems products related to publishing, video, and e-learning.

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