TechWhirl First Look: Adobe Technical Communication Suite 4.0

Adobe Systems has provided some tantalizing hints as to when it would release the new Technical Communication Suite 4.0, and what might be in it. The when is today, July 24, 2012. And the what addresses a lot requests and requirements that TCS users have been asking for. The TCS team was listening, and the result is a nicely integrated set of tools that meet the future of technical communications head on.

Adobe set out to address the major trends impacting technical communication work:

  • Structured authoring (it’s not just for early adopters any more)
  • Mobile (enough said)
  • More use of rich media (pictures, sound, movement, interaction)
  • Business conditions and culture (do more with less)
  • Content done “my way”

These trends affect everyone in technical communication, from large teams down to solo consultants and lone writers, and TCS 4 component apps have been rearranged, substituted, and upgraded to meet  the needs of the whole spectrum. The new FrameMaker® 11 and RoboHelp® 10 form the centerpiece of the new release (see Jacquie Samuels’ and Mike McCallister’s First Look reviews later this morning).

The Technical Communication Suite workflow addresses the needs of teams looking for single-source authoring and multi-device publishing

Familiar but Fresh

For those of us who’ve been away from the apps that make up TCS4 for a while, the new versions retain a lot of the familiar look and feel which makes the plunge a bit less intimidating. I remember RoboHelp as complex tool that scared the non-writers on my team, but with functionality that supported the stuff I really needed or wanted to do—frankly using it was a bit of an ego trip.  Today RoboHelp 10 seems exponentially more complex, and I know it will take a while to truly explore everything it can do. Right now I’m enjoying the shiny new gadgets and thinking about how to take best advantage of the workflows, integration with FrameMaker to manage the core content, and how to get innovative with output for multiple devices.  I’m particularly impressed with the review workflow that uses Adobe PDF and the cloud to get reviewers working together with authors, rather than despite them. The collaborative process is a round-trip—Export topics or a full project for PDF review; upload to acrobat.com, Sharepoint or even your network share drive; let the reviewers have it (they only need the Acrobat Reader); and import the comments back to the project, where you can choose to accept or reject them.

Just for kicks I decided to try to convert an old RoboHelp project—not just old, but practically an antique dating back to 2002.  It took a while, and it crashed once when it wasn’t sure whether some of the files were read-only.  But when I restarted it, it opened the project with no problem. Think of the legacy content that you could salvage!

Component Apps in the new Technical Communication Suite

TCS also includes Captivate 6, which supports both HTML5 and SWF output that can be imported to the authoring tools.  The graphic designer in me (the wannabe graphic designer) is also happy to have access to Illustrator CS6 (which replaces PhotoShop in previous versions), and Video Presenter 8 just opens up a ton of possibilities. And of course it’s hard to do anything in technical communication without Adobe Acrobat Pro X.  The suite also includes the usual suspects that come with other suites (Like Creative Suite)—Adobe Bridge, Extension Manager and Media Encoder—that are becoming the hallmark of the company’s commitment to integration. High volume, complex production teams will also want to check out Adobe FrameMaker Publishing Server 11 to manage multi-channel publishing.

The Price Factor

We’ve heard the grumbling for years about the hefty price tag for the Technical Communication Suite, and at $1899 for a full license for the suite, it’s still pretty hefty.  But with the launch of TCS 4, Adobe introduces a subscription pricing model, as well as a wide range of upgrade paths. Yes, you can subscribe to TCS 4 for $99 per month (month-to-month) or $69 per month (annual subscription). That puts it within reach for even small shops or solo consultants with tight budgets and big dreams for their clients.

One thing that TCS 4 makes evident is that the world of the technical communicator involves more tools and more complexity than ever. That means strong planning for technical content that engages users is paramount.  Tackling large projects from a single-sourcing perspective isn’t for the faint of heart, but having a solid tool kit is a good place to start.

Connie Giordano

Connie Giordano is a partner in INKtopia Limited and editor of TechWhirl's Tech Writer Today online magazine. She has been a list member and contributor since the days when 14,400 baud was high speed communications, and Windows 95 was state-of-the-art.

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