Adobe Debuts in the XML Authoring and Editing Space
With the release of FrameMaker 12, Adobe offers a new product that also can be purchased as a standalone XML authoring tool, without all the typical FrameMaker bells and whistles that often don’t apply to DITA or other XML authors.
Adobe FrameMaker XML Author 12 is for people who like the FrameMaker interface (or are just used to it), but only need it for XML or DITA content. If you buy the full FrameMaker, you can also switch the interface to show you just the XML Author version of it.
First Version Features I Like
Some big things that are included:
- It takes an average of 8 seconds to launch. That’s nice and speedy.
- Both FM and the FM XML Author have optional color icons! You can also supersize them. I know this is such a cosmetic change and really shouldn’t make my list of big improvements, but after playing with this tool for a few days now, I still smile every time I see all those colors.
- It provides MathML support out of the box, with a 30-day trial subscription to Design Science’s MathML product, MathFlow. If you need to write complex equations that are still in XML, you can try out MathFlow and purchase a license when you’re ready.
- It has inline element insertion (CTRL+1) with filter-as-you-type functionality, as well as keyboard shortcuts (CTRL+2, CTRL+3) for other functions like change and wrap elements .
- You can generate and edit QR codes. If QR codes are your thing, you’ll be delighted.
- Integrate with and easily save to DropBox, if that’s how you manage or share your files.
- Both tools now offer a Restore last session option. Everything goes magically back to the way you left them when you closed FrameMaker last time. It includes not just the placement of your UI objects but also the files you had open and your place in those files (where you cursor was last resting). I’m loving this more and more.
- Last but not least on the features front, they have tackled the great whitespace problem. This has been a longstanding issue in XML opened or created in FrameMaker, which would randomly add inappropriate whitespaces in odd places. If you ever tried to open your FrameMaker XML in another XML editor, you were left with a mess. It’s now completely DITA-compliant in its treatment of whitespace and you can roundtrip your XML through a number of other editors without fear.
- The price of the standalone XML Author is roughly 40% of the cost of FrameMaker 12 at $399 USD, or $19.99 per month for a yearly subscription.
Areas for Improvement
Generally, I wasn’t overly wowed by the product itself, but FM XML Author is still a solid little tool, even though it’s a stripped down version of FrameMaker. It’s the first version of the tool, so it still has a lot of the clumsiness that more mature tools like oXygen have eliminated.
- FM XML Author contains a lot of artifacts from unstructured FrameMaker that ought not to be there if it’s really supposed to be a standalone XML editor. For example, you can still search for paragraph and character tags. In fact, the search is completely unchanged from the regular FrameMaker search, most of which simply doesn’t apply in an XML authoring environment. Also, you still have access to the graphics tools, anchored frames, variables, and conditions—all of which you should not be using outside of the full FrameMaker. While I appreciate that this is for legacy unstructured FrameMaker users who are making a transition to XML (and if that’s you, this functionality might actually be a benefit), for me, it blurs the line between unstructured FrameMaker and a true XML editor.
- FM’s PDF publishing capability is not available in this scaled down version. You can create a PDF, but it has a noticeable watermark along the edge, and is meant for internal reviews. You can, of course, use the DITA Open Toolkit (which is now bundled along with both FM and FM XML author), XSLT transformations, or publishing processes like RenderX. However, if you need to create publish-quality PDFs using FrameMaker’s built-in capabilities, you’ll need at least one full license to do so.
- Creating and working with tables is unchanged since FrameMaker 7.2.
- The Keyspace manager still fails to impress. Samalander created a tool that handles all your references and frankly blows Adobe’s functionality out of the water.
- User assistance: Not surprisingly, the documentation is much like the product, in that it has a mix of XML-related features and FrameMaker-related features, although it’s only a subset of the latter. Should I be using tabs, text insets, or system variables? Should I be inserting graphics by importing objects? No, but they are documented anyhow. The word “unstructured” occurs 71 times in just under 500 pages of the PDF that is supposedly dedicated to the XML Author. On the plus side, the keyboard shortcuts are fully documented—taking up roughly 50 pages of the guide. Adobe has established a dedicated forum for XML Author users (http://forums.adobe.com/
community/framemaker/xml_ author ).
Overall: A Great Addition to the Adobe Product Lineup
It’s very nice to see a lighter-weight editor that doesn’t include all the excess that unstructured FrameMaker comes with. It’s even nicer to see the opportunity to save a buck or two.
The new Adobe FrameMaker XML Author 12 means that Adobe can now go head-to-head and feature-to-feature with other frontrunners in the tech comm XML space. I’d like to see some improvements in the product and in the documentation by having a cleaner separation between XML and FrameMaker, and I look forward to seeing those changes as Adobe moves forward with this great addition to its product offerings.
Note: Take a look at Bernard Aschwanden’s review of Adobe FrameMaker 12 for the details on the full-fledged FM.