TechWhirl First Look: Madcap Flare 9

MadCap Flare 9Editor’s Note:  MadCap Software releases MadCap Flare 9 for general availability on March 5, 2013.  TechWhirl’s Andrea Altenburg participated in beta testing and provides a sneak peak at what’s coming in the new release.

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As usual, MadCap has listened to the users and made great updates to their flagship authoring tool, Flare 9. If you have never used any version of MadCap Flare before, this program is a must if you’re attempting any kind of single sourcing project. If you’re already a Flare fan, you may find that upgrading from version 8 just makes a good thing even better.

One change that is pretty major is a new feature with this release: MadCap Pulse is a community feedback server that when enabled, allows readers to add comments to the information. This “socially enabled output,” while challenging to plan and manage (there’s no ability to hold comments for review prior to posting, but an admin can delete them after they’re published), opens up a lot of possibilities for making documentation relevant and timely. Tech pubs groups that understand the importance of building relationships with users who can contribute and share their knowledge and experience will embrace Pulse.

And although I don’t currently have a need for it, I can certainly understand the buzz surrounding MadCap Flare’s native right-to-left language support for Persian, Arabic and Hebrew – this is big news for tech comm teams that must deal with the challenges of translation and localization.

MadCap Flare gives technical writers the ability to single source content to multiple output channels. Flare is ideally suited to tech pubs teams with complex documentation requiring regular updates. Users can perform updates to content in one location and then easily produce all online and print outputs they require. Managing content in one source helps maintain the organization of the content, which is crucial for complex, large-scale projects. MadCap Flare gives us the ability to publish content anywhere – online, print, and mobile. I find this program a terrific way to keep my online and print versions synchronized and always up to date –without the duplicate writing effort.

MadCap did some important work to enhance integration—Flare now supports Microsoft Office 365 and Adobe FrameMaker 11, and their own MadCap Capture tool. Whether or not you use all of the integration features, having them available provides some peace of mind when contemplating how to manage more complicated workflows as your needs change.

Users of previous versions should be happy to see that the ribbon has been continued in the new version, and overall setup remains the same in MadCap Flare 9. You’ll also see smoother imports from Word documents as long as your Word documents have headers established before a build. MadCap also enhanced integration between the XML editor and the text editor. Selecting the text in the GUI and then changing to text mode will now show the highlighted text is still highlighted in both modes. I found this to be a big improvement over having to open the same document once in each mode to see them simultaneously. Similarly, they enhanced Split Code View for topics to allow horizontal viewing of the XML and Text Editor tabs, although this feature is not available for stylesheets. Split Code View also includes color coding for syntax editing, which is helpful touch.

madcap flare 9-split view

The split-view screen in Madcap Flare 9

MadCap made some nice updates to the screen layout. The thumbnails along the right side of the preview window are bigger than in earlier versions, and hot keys have been added to list items. Rather than having to go to the toolbar to create a bulleted or numbered, you can now click on the start of the paragraph, then scroll the left panel until the <ul> or <ol> tag is highlighted in the tag bar, and then press Ctrl+Shift+H.. I’ll be an even happier camper when hot keys are available for displaying bullet and numbered lists. For now they are still only available by using the toolbar.

In the beta version I tested, I found one minor problem with the synchronization of selected/highlighted item in two views—it didn’t always work. For example, if you selected something in the XML editor, it didn’t always jump to the corresponding place in the text editor. I also found issues with the program not displaying the ribbon when I open it through a remote desktop program. I discussed this with the company and was told they are aware of this issue and are working on the fix. When I checked back, indeed it had been fixed.

MadCap-Horz-Logo_HiRes_black_200This is why I am a fan of MadCap. They are always quick to respond to bug reports and other questions I have regarding their product. I appreciate this kind of rare customer support from a company. It’s an important part of the package, and a big reason why I look forward to continuing to use Flare.

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