Adobe Technical Communication Suite 5 First Look Review

Here we go…another software upgrade!Depositphotos_1386103_s

It’s likely that the following questions spring to mind immediately whenever you see a software upgrade announcement:

  • OK, when did we last do this?
  • How did it go?
  • What did it cost in labor and lost time over and above what we paid for the software?
  • Is there really anything there that makes this an easy decision?

And the truth is, when you’re talking about anything past version 3 of a product, it’s really more about ROI and efficiencies than it is about reinventing the wheel. After all, if a feature was truly groundbreaking, shouldn’t it have been part of the original package?!

So here we have TCS5, with a slew of new and improved features, and it’s time to ask again, should we hop on board and get current, or sit back and see what happens next time. For me, the choice is obvious: Mobile publishing options and improved user experience make this a must-have upgrade. Wait, the acquisition cost went down across the board? Well, that made it that much easier!

The Components of TCS5

Adobe Technical Communication Suite versions are driven by new releases of FrameMaker and RoboHelp. For TCS5, the suite includes Captivate 7, Acrobat XI, and Adobe Presenter 9. There are other related applications, but for most, these are the core products in the suite, and what I’ll focus on here.

NOTE: TCS5 no longer includes either Illustrator or Photoshop, which are both part of the Creative Cloud applications, and no longer available as versioned products. Adobe has made a significant reduction to the purchase, upgrade, and subscription prices of the suite. Hooray to them for the price reductions! For more information regarding pricing, see the last few pages of the TCS5 Getting Started Guide at http://adobe.ly/1j4tNTa, or Reason #3 below.

From a user’s perspective, I’ve been using TCS5 for a few months now, and, I can’t imagine going back to earlier versions. I have used these tools for years to do production and dev work, but have been clear about my desire for improvements to the UX (user experience) along with continued improvements to the UI (user interface). Adobe has made real strides in the usability of FrameMaker and RoboHelp with this release, but those will be the subject of other posts in the month of January. So without further adieu, here are 5 reasons I think TCS5 is a good investment in your tech comm team.

Reason #1: Publish responsive content for mobile delivery

FrameMaker 12

Adobe Technical Communications Suite 5 - Publish options

FrameMaker 12 publishes to more than PDF! For the first time, Fm12 natively produces content you can display on mobile (other than PDF…) without using any other software. No linking, no export, just content ready for phone, tablet, iOS, Kindle, and more. If you have significant versioning and format requirements, you can still use RoboHelp to create a sophisticated series of publishing targets, but for basic requirements, FrameMaker 12 will produce Responsive HTML5, device-specific Multiscreen HTML5, Kindle, EPUB, and CHM without any additional software.

RoboHelp 11

RoboHelp 11 - Layouts

RoboHelp users get Responsive HTML5 output as well, including an easy-to-use Responsive HTML5 layout editor. In fact, the Responsive HTML5 editor in RoboHelp 11 is so easy to use that I navigated it for the first time on the fly during a Google chat recorded for the TCS5 release!

Reason #2: New and better sharing and review options

FrameMaker 12

The collaboration improvements here are excellent. New to Fm12 is the option to use cloud -based services like DropBox. In fact, DropBox options have been added to the File menu to make it really easy to use. Your authors can choose to store Fm files, or to store files with dependencies (like imported graphics). This means that you can collaborate securely outside of your network, or simply move fluidly between work and home office computers with ease. Previous versions had connection to CMS. (Fm11 in particular, introduced built-in connectors to CMS like SharePoint and Documentum, with available connectors for Adobe CQ and others) Fm12 improves upon that functionality with a built-in connector to Adobe Experience Manager (formerly CQ).

Review options are also more effective. The effective PDF electronic document review available in previous versions is better, because now you can continue to edit your FrameMaker documents while reviewers are adding comments.

RoboHelp 11

RoboHelp also has DropBox functionality. When your authors add a DropBox location to the Resource Manager, they can share topics across projects and with other authors.

Reason #3: Skipping versions doesn’t save money

Common wisdom dictates that if you want to predict how people will react, follow the money trail. Well with TCS5, the price of everything has actually gone down!

Illustrator has been removed from the suite, and from all appearances, that has led to a reduction in price for all licensing options. The current pricing model for TCS5, at the time of release is:

TCS5 Pricing

TCS5 Pricing

Reason #4: Improved XML and DITA authoring and publishing

FrameMaker 12

If your team works with XML or any form of structured content like DITA or S1000D, then FrameMaker 12 is a big deal. Adobe has created a lightweight XML Author tool that gives large teams the ability to quickly create structured content. XML Author is not meant for publishing tasks (in fact, PDF created with XML Author is useful for reviews, but contains a subtle watermark making it inappropriate for final delivery. The good news: Medium and large tech comm departments now have a solution for XML authors that is far more economical than a full FrameMaker license. The “bad” news: XML Author is not a replacement for at least one full FrameMaker license! FrameMaker 12 can also start up into XML Author mode to mimic this environment for those that have heavy writing duties as part of their overall departmental admin and FrameMaker publishing duties.

RoboHelp 11

RoboHelp 11 is still an excellent DITA and XML publishing engine, but is not an XML editor, per se. RoboHelp 11 can import DITA content directly, or can be used as an output conduit for sophisticated FrameMaker 12 structured and unstructured content.

While FrameMaker 12 now publishes directly to the most popular online and mobile formats, RoboHelp’s Single Source Layouts continue to be an impressive way to document variable content and format output requirements. This fundamental component of Technical Communication Suite remains a key part of my publishing arsenal.

Reason #5: Plays nicely with others

At times I feel more like therapist than technician when working on tech comm projects. Will this format or that one be appropriate? Why is my published content not doing what I want?! I have been including rich media in my docs for years, and TCS has been the reason I can do it. Interactive learning lessons in PDF and WebHelp, video and 3D models, complete with interactive controls.

With TCS5, I can create sophisticated tech comm, help authoring, and eLearning content. The tools easily and intuitively pass content to each other, and output is straightforward. I can work with XML structure (or not…) I can place video and interactive rich media with confidence. And I have a company with Adobe’s pedigree to fall back upon if I need help.

With TCS5, I have one set of tools that does what I need, and what I want. Yes, those that know me know that I have been using Adobe products for a long time. But there’s a reason I haven’t gone to this tool or that one:

Adobe gives me everything I need in one set of tools. Each tool is optimized for a specific purpose, and by using the right tool for the right job, I get my work done more quickly, and my clients save money.

At the end of the day, TCS5 makes me faster, and with significant improvements to user interface, I am able to focus more on my content and less on the application used to create it.

Reason #6: Better interfaces in FrameMaker 12 and RoboHelp 11

Yes, I know it’s only supposed to be five reasons, but this one is more for the users than management! There are lots of improvements, both big and small to both Fm and Rh. FrameMaker has better legibility for interface items (no more shadows on text labels!!!), and options for larger and for colored toolbar buttons.

Capture038

RoboHelp’s new interface is nothing short of elegant; it’s what I’ve begged for since first gazing upon RoboHelp sometime around 1999 or 2000 (To the RoboHelp dev team: THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!) Overall, stuff moves better, is easier to work with, and just lets me smile more than in a long, long time!

RoboHelp 11 UI

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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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