Reactions to the TechComm Suite

Sarah O'Keefe / Reviews2 Comments

Bloggers are starting to comment on the TC Suite. Here are a few I spotted this morning:

Bill Swallow (“TechCommDood”) writes on waxing techcomm:

I’ll admit, I’m both impressed at the package (the monetary deal for the payload of technology is quite appealing) and at Adobe’s direct acknowledgement of the techcomm market. […]The workflow is still unidirectional; FrameMaker to RoboHelp to online output. There is no going back from RoboHelp should you make changes (which you can, since RoboHelp also remains an authoring tool) once you import the FrameMaker content.
This is where the similarities between RoboHelp and the likes of WebWorks Publisher and Mif2Go end. RoboHelp allows you the option to continue to edit content in the built-in (or external) HTML editor after import.

This is an important point (and a highly problematic one). If you link your FrameMaker content into a RoboHelp project and then make changes to the FrameMaker-sourced content in RoboHelp, then you end up with two copies of the content. Not good, and the temptation to just “tweak a few things” is always there. (I’d be happy to be proven wrong on this point.)

Bob Doyle writes on his techwr-l.com blog:

You can include Help in FrameMaker projects, eLearning in RoboHelp and in Frame, 3D animations in Help and Frame and in PDF documents, RoboHelp screen captures from Frame, etc, etc. All the tools include direct access to aspects of the others from within the tool. You do not have to leave one tool to “Edit with…” another tool. And no longer are conversions needed to reuse assets.

This is the first reference I’ve seen to reusing RoboHelp content in FrameMaker. I don’t believe that this is actually possible.

Another positive initial review from Ron Miller:

[…] Adobe appears to have taken care to put integration on the front burner to make it easier for training and tech writing departments to share content.

[… T]hey appear to have answered all the criticisms I had of RH6 and then some with RH 7. What’s more they have integrated it with Frame to create a fully featured publishing environment.

Until I take it through its paces with a project, it’s hard to judge but the first impressions were good and it appears clear that Adobe wants to claim a place in the tech writing market.

Dan Ortega of Astoria (via Charles Jeter) clearly identifies the strategic problem with the Suite:

[…] Adobe still appears to be focused on a desktop paradigm. [… W]hen they reference workflow, they refer to workflow integration between the products in the TC Suite. […]

If Adobe plans to succeed in the enterprise, they have to take a much broader view of how technical documentation teams work by moving beyond the creation perspective. They need to adopt a perspective that encompasses the entire production cycle[…].

Adobe’s products are evolving and becoming more integrated, but they are doing so inside the Adobe walls. Conveniently, FrameMaker and RoboHelp are now neighbor, where before they were more like rival gangs with a turf war. But the XML and XSL barbarians are at the gates, and it’s time to let them in and accept them as citizens. (This metaphor has clearly run, er, amok.)

The era of proprietary content files is over. Baseline content needs to be in XML because of the “production cycle” that Mr. Ortega describes. XML is:

  • Supported by content management systems
  • Advantageous for localization workflows
  • Enforceable (that is, you can enforce your preferred structure)
  • An excellent starting point for automated content production (via XSL, FrameMaker, or even InDesign)

Authoring tools aren’t going anywhere, but the FrameMaker- or RoboHelp-centric universe is not going to last.

About the Author

Sarah O'Keefe

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Content strategy consultant and founder of Scriptorium Publishing. Bilingual English-German, voracious reader, water sports, knitting, and college basketball (go Blue Devils!). Aversions to raw tomatoes, eggplant, and checked baggage.

2 Comments on “Reactions to the TechComm Suite”

  1. I have not run across a help tool that allows for merging different help systems. For instance, when there is a core product with a help system, that allows for “add-on” products with their own help systems. It would be great to merge these and have one TOC, one search across all help systems, etc.
    Does the latest version of RH do this?

  2. There is a lot of information on Merged Webhelp on the web. Robohelp does a pretty good job of this is you stick to some basic principles.
    You may also want to explore the RoboServer route which makes life a lot easier when merging help systems – not sure if you need all the additional capabilities but worth a look:
    http://www.adobe.com/products/robohelpserver/
    Info on merged webhelp:
    http://www.grainge.org/pages/authoring/merging_webhelp/merging_method.htm

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