Clip, clop…RoboHelp rides off into the sunset

ScriptoriumTech / Opinion1 Comment

At the WritersUA conference last March, Macromedia cancelled participation in the trade show at the last minute. Immediately, rumors began flying (although in fairness we have to say that the Adobe/Macromedia merger was not one of the myriad conspiracy theories that emerged). Before the conference ended, a content-free Macromedia statement appeared in a RoboHelp forum at Macromedia’s site.

The apparent demise of RoboHelp matches the general industry trend over the last two years. Technical publishing groups are beginning to demand that tools support open standards (XML and XSL) that offer greater flexibility.

We are being asked to produce more and varied forms of output (beyond the basic print and online help), to share content, and to extend publishing workflows to include other departments and organizations. Software customization based upon user profiles and authorization is creating the need for user assistance that accommodates a complex matrix of variations in both feature sets and user interfaces.

These demands make a transition from proprietary solutions to open standards-based tools quite appealing. Structured authoring based on XML can address all of these requirements, and XSLT is quickly becoming a popular tool for transforming data from a broad variety of applications. This is where many of our clients are moving and we are adding classes (XSLT) and offering products (DocFrame) to meet the demand.

Metro, Tube, Underground, El, Subway, PDF Killer?

Sarah O'Keefe / NewsLeave a Comment

News from the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference:

Officially unveiled as part of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates’ kick-off keynote, the new Microsoft document workflow format, code-named ‘Metro,’ sounds from initial explanations like a page-description language meant to compete with Adobe’s PostScript.

Microsoft to Pit ‘Metro’ Format Against Adobe PDF, PostScript? (eWeek.com)

All of this is still smoke and mirrors, but a few interesting tidbits do emerge from the presentation:

  • The Metro page description language is XML-based.
  • Metro is supposed to provide files for a print spooler (similar to PCL or PostScript) and an application-independent page-description language (similar to PDF)
  • Metro’s license will be royalty-free to “encourage adoption.”
  • Metro Specification and FAQ

When Adobe introduced PostScript about 20 years ago, desktop publishing was just getting started. The idea of being able to print production-ready documents from the desktop was revolutionary. Today, we expect perfect print fidelity as a matter of course. The window of opportunity for introducing, field-testing, and debugging a page description language may have closed.

So, what does Microsoft do? They introduce Metro as part of their operating system. In Longhorn, the print spooling service will use Metro files.

I don’t know whether to be appalled or impressed. Does the expression, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” ring a bell for anyone in Redmond?

Democracy. It’s a beautiful thing.

Sarah O'Keefe / NewsLeave a Comment

Each year, the Nominations committee of the Society for Technical Communication (STC) holds elections. The process is well-ordered:

  1. The current first vice president runs for president.
  2. The current second vice president runs for first vice president.
  3. The Nominations committee selects two people to compete for the slot of second vice president.

In order to become president, you must win one election — for second vice president — two years before you actually become president. To be eligible for that election, you must get the nod from the Nominations committee.

This year, things got shaken up. Instead of two candidates for 2nd Veep, there were — gasp — THREE. How did this happen? There were two candidates with the official seal of approval from the Nominations committee. And then there was a third candidate, Paula Berger, who went through a tedious petition process to get her name put on the ballot after being, well, un-selected by the Nominations committee.

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that Paula has now won the election for second vice president of STC:

STC election results

After all, only Paula had to recruit several hundred individuals who were interested enough to sign her petition. And having signed the petition, you figure that they definitely voted!

Congratulations, Paula!
(I did sign the petition and vote for her.)

Development, yes. But content management?

Sarah O'Keefe / OpinionLeave a Comment

The Adobe/Macromedia is now being described as a content management play:

The friendly acquisition of Macromedia by Adobe bodes well for both companies: Adobe has been perceived as lacking direction in recent times. It has steadily built up its document management capability, helped by the previous acquisition of Q-Link in 2004, which added workflow capabilities to its document process management solution, known as Intelligent Document Platform. However, it has seemed out of touch with the movement elsewhere in the market, particularly in Enterprise Content Management (ECM), where large players have been busy consolidating.

The situation with Macromedia was the reverse, in that it had a clear strategy in offering advanced tools for Web page and application creation, built around the ubiquitous Flash engine, in anticipation of a growth in [rich Internet applications].

CommentWire by Datamonitor – Adobe / Macromedia: strategically positioned for content riches

I’m a little confused by the reference to content management. Neither Adobe nor Macromedia has an enterprise content management solution at this point. Both are mainly focused on content development. I think that getting into content management would be an excellent idea for the combined company, but I fail to see the current relevance of content management to this merger.

Angst about Adobe/Macromedia

Sarah O'Keefe / OpinionLeave a Comment

Some have suggest that the merged company be renamed. “Macrobe” appears to be the leading contender.

There is lots of anxiety about software, especially where the two product lines intersect. Illustrator or Freehand? GoLive or DreamWeaver? I would bet on the tool with better market share, which would be bad news for Freehand (Macromedia) and GoLive (Adobe).

You’ll notice that Freehand doesn’t even make it onto the main products toolbar at Macromedia’s web site. Mouse over the Products link in the navigation bar. You’ll find Studio, DreamWeaver, Flash, ColdFusion (in that order), and eventually the humble “More.” FreeHand is part of the Studio suite, but so are DreamWeaver and Flash, and they merit separate links on the main navigation bar.

This article also mention possible implications for Quark. Charlie Corr, group director at InfoTrendsCAP Ventures, said:

Clearly Adobe has picked up share and they have a broader play [both in multimedia as well as enterprise]. Quark has become sort of a one trick—well arguably, they’ve always been a one-trick pony.

The merger shouldn’t be a problem for unique products. Thus, we have:

  • PDF (Adobe)
  • Flash (Macromedia)
  • InDesign (Adobe, print publishing)
  • Director (Macromedia, multimedia authoring)
  • ColdFusion (Macromedia, high-end web development)
  • Breeze (Macromedia, online presentations)
  • Premiere (Adobe, digital video)
  • Typefaces and PostScript technology (Adobe)

Generally, Adobe is much stronger for print publishing while Macromedia excels on the web side. Both have a strong presence among professional users — graphic designers, print publishing professionals, and the like. Adobe has made more of an effort in the consumer market with software such as Photoshop Elements. Macromedia has almost no presence in the consumer market — with the possible exception of DreamWeaver.

You had me at “structural markup”…

Sarah O'Keefe / OpinionLeave a Comment

Have you thought about the evolution of publishing recently? Here’s someone who has:

Typewriting (like most handwriting) is a process of applying ink to paper and making the text readable — in more or less one operation (by pressing down keys, letters are punched on to the paper). It probably makes sense to say that you must write before you can read, but clearly the storing and making a representation of the text are performed in one inseparable operation; by applying ink on paper.

In digital writing, by comparison, writing is performed by the execution of a series of discrete steps. By touching the key of a keyboard, signals are sent to the computer. Here the signaled information is converted and handled by the central processing unit and temporarily stored in main memory. In the computer, new signals are created and transported to the display unit. On screen the text is represented in a visual, readable way. In this digital cycle storing and making a representation of the text are performed in two different operations.

The article, Digital Text Cycles: From Medieval Manuscripts to Modern Markup (January 2017: Updated to fix broken link) is long, but worthwhile except for an odd digression:

The belief that a text can be rearranged and moulded by technological means, presupposes that content and presentation can be treated independently, as logically distinct features: it rests on the false supposition that any kind of written or verbal content can be presented at will in any medium and for whatever purpose.

My approach to single sourcing is much more nuanced. Certain types of information are well-suited to reuse and changes in presentation. For example, glossary entries could be presented in alphabetical order at the back of a book. In online help, it makes more sense to create pop-up links from the term to the definition. Both presentations can easily be generated from a single glossary source file.

But it’s a long way from my glossary example to the assumption that you can present any content in any medium.