A Trifecta of Usability, Collaboration and Publishing Workflow: What’s New in Adobe RoboHelp 11
Being a technical writer ain’t what it used to be, and more specifically, being a help author is far from what it was even a few years ago. The complex challenges of delivering useful content across so many platforms under so many conditions grow by the day; it’s a horse race that never finishes. Happily, with the latest release of RoboHelp 11, Adobe has provided enhancements and new features actually designed to help today’s TWs finish the race. Adobe has listened to the needs of help authors, and has designed a more usable tool with superior collaboration features, and some nifty ways to easily publish all kinds of outputs from the same source. Whether you’re ready to take HTML5 publishing head on, or your team is working with traditional outputs, RoboHelp is more versatile than ever.
Managing the Tool Your Way
Yes, like the other tools in the Technical Communication Suite, the RoboHelp team made some cosmetic changes that do in fact improve usability. The new color scheme really is easier on the eyes. The default workspace layout automatically opens all the most important work pods, and you can easily change which pods display, and go from tabbed to pop-out styles to fit the way you’re most comfortable working (this isn’t new to RH 11, but the combination of a soothing color scheme and flexible desktop layout is a happy result).
The toolbars are familiar standards, without the new supersize options available in the other TCS tools, but that’s not a big issue for me.
A Step Closer to True Online Collaboration
In my perfect world, real-time online collaboration is effortless. In reality, it’s clumsy, hard-to-manage and fraught with risk from accidental overwrites and deletions. Adobe RoboHelp 11 gets much closer to online collaboration, without leaving the RoboHelp interface, and that’s a huge step in the right direction.
RH lets you use cloud-based storage, and sophisticated synching to manage topic sharing, internal team reviews, and external SME reviews. It does take some work, and some testing to set up a configuration that accommodates your conditions, but the Resource Manager pod is a powerful tool to set up and manage topic sharing between writers or writers and editors. You’ll need to select the files that will be synched to a specific location, choose from Dropbox, Google Drive, Skydrive or even your own server-based share drives, set and modify the drive path. Refresh whenever it’s required. You’ll want to test out various configurations for different conditional builds, shared locations and so on, in order to compare files without risk, but the possibilities for more efficient content sharing just got a lot bigger. Very cool.
The round-trip PDF review capabilities introduced in RH 10 can really come into its own now, since you can share the PDF files in the cloud the same way you can project files. Anyone with Adobe Reader can edit and comment your content, without altering your working files, and you can easily import the PDF content back into RoboHelp, and choose whether to accept or reject those changes.
RoboHelp 11 Publishing Workflow Options Get the Job(s) Done
The RoboHelp product team accommodates the mobile content imperative with a very impressive Responsive layout with an easy preview capability. Like many authors, I found the multiscreen HTML 5 layouts introduced in RH 10 confusing to set up and manage. For those that have found the right settings, your multiscreen layouts are still available, but once you start using the responsive layout, you may never want to go back.
Out of the box, Adobe provides two responsive layouts, which are fairly easy to customize with your own branding requirements. You can easily modify colors, text styles, fonts, graphics and more. I duplicated one of the out-of-the-box layouts, and designed a layout with a completely different look and feel in less than 15 minutes.
For most tech comm teams, printed documentation remains a requirement. RoboHelp 11 made some small, but significant changes that users who must live with Word have been itching for. You’ve been able to import and export Word files for a long time, but you had to deal with the less-than-satisfactory headers and footers RH had available. One each forever and ever, unless you were will to do significant manual labor in Word. With RoboHelp 11, you can now customize headers and footers (even make them match those Word templates) including different first page and different right and left pages.
The Takeaway: More Collaborative, Responsive, and Usable Tools for Help Authoring
There’s no doubt that the RoboHelp 11 interface is complex and daunting to the uninitiated. The various ways Adobe provides user assistance (online help, reviewer’s guide, Adobe forums, and more) can help get newbies on their feet, and acquaint veterans with new and improved features. I’d be happy to see some additional streamlining and simplifying of the user interface. But the changes and new features in Adobe RoboHelp 11, particularly the new collaboration and publishing improvements, can make tech comm teams more productive and efficient than ever…in producing effective mobile, tablet, desktop, or printed content for their customers.