My employer’s products require user assistance that covers both the traditional and the trending, so the tools I use to provide product documentation have to be versatile. I’ve been using MadCap Flare since 2009, so I was thrilled to be invited to participate in reviewing the release of Flare 9. The enhancements they’ve made to MadCap Flare 9 fit my needs for traditional PDF/print outputs, while supporting our needs as we transition to HTML 5. Here are just a few of my thoughts on making the leap to Flare 9.
As someone who often uses the Internal Text Editor, I was happy to see that there is now syntax coloring in the code. This definitely makes it easier to find the tags you’re looking for, instead of fatiguing your eyes looking for that one open-ended <p> tag that’s causing issues. I love the fact that you can now easily toggle between the XML editor tab and the Text editor tab, instead of having to hunt down the button on the topic toolbar (in Flare 8 and earlier, it was usually the last button, and sometimes hidden based on your window size).
Since my company’s products all still have PDF outputs, and we use print-based layouts to generate those PDF files, it was nice to see the updates to the page layout editor and the new page types. One or two of those new page types will solve a couple of nagging issues we’ve had to work around in previous versions of Flare. The new Page drop-down field in the Page Properties window makes it easy to make the same changes (for instance, changing the left margin on all pages to .5 inch) to all pages at once, instead of opening each page type individually. This will save time and make the workflow easier. And should we ever need to send a print-based PDF to a professional printer, we can turn on bleed, crop, and registration marks.
My company is heading towards using HTML5 help for all products, so I checked out the new features in Flare for search highlight and partial word search. This will definitely help our customers find what they are looking for in our current cloud-based help and our future products. At the same time, it’s easy to turn off the highlighting. Another enhancement that will be useful to our HTML5 help is the image icons added by default to the left of the tab text. Nicer still is the fact that you can easily replace the default image icons with your own images if you have a corporate icon style. We’re also starting to add short videos, so the capability to add standard movie file types in the Multimedia drop-down is a feature we’ll be using soon.
The mobile publishing enhancements, especially the WebHelp optimized for smaller screens, will be useful in the near future and will save a lot of work. I’m excited that MadCap Flare 9 now supports Adobe Framemaker 11 and Microsoft Office 365—it will be a lot easier to import legacy product documentation on the fly without a lot of rework. Three years ago, we had a 20-page conversion document we used to convert our older documentation into Flare; now, we’ll be able to easily convert and not have to do a lot of cleanup afterwards.
While I’ve used MadCap Capture before at a previous employer, it hasn’t been the capture tool of choice at my current employer. Now that it is bundled free with Flare 9, I have a feeling that it will get used, both because of the content reuse factor, and because you can apply the same conditions and variables to images and callouts that you use with text.
Someday, we hope to have a social component for our online documentation, but we’re not ready for it yet. Flare’s integration with Pulse adds a great layer of social collaboration that will help us connect with customers when we’re ready.
Enhancements that Begin When You Launch MadCap Flare 9
One of the newest updates happens as soon as you open the new project wizard. There’s now a “Web Print Mobile” project template, perfect for single sourcing projects where you send content to multiple formats. I’ll definitely look into using this template for the next major release of my product, as I already single source six PDF files and three DotNet help files from my current project. The template is also already set up to allow you to generate all the multiple targets using a batch target, as well.
One of the new features had an unexpected impact on my own help project. MadCap Flare 9 requires that you have .NET 4.0 and SQL Compact 4.0 installed on your computer. Because of this new requirement, the older version of the MadCap Help Viewer (if you generate DotNet Help) will not work with Flare 9, and a new version of the Help Viewer is required. Since my help project generates three different DotNet help files, I will not be able to upgrade to Flare 9 unless the lead developer on my product also does so. My DotNet help is hooked up through Microsoft’s Team Foundation Server, and the lead developer uses a build license of Flare to compile the help files and PDF files when the product is built. We’ve had issues where I’ve been so eager to use the new features of Flare, I forget to let him know he needs to upgrade his version too.
Yes, I’m eager to upgrade to MadCap Flare 9, and can’t wait until I have the opportunity to do so. The new features and enhancements I’ve mentioned here (and there are more than 30 total) will definitely enhance the value of our user assistance products, and that’s the right case to make for moving to MadCap Flare 9.