Adobe and technical writing: partly a rant, but an entirely legitimate question.

I’m currently working as a technical writer, and as such am keenly interested in issues related to this topic, especially when it comes to software. So when I got an email advising me that Adobe had released a new version of Robohelp I was keen to try it out, especially now that it’s made by the same company as Framemaker. My enthusiasm was very short-lived. I posted this on the Adobe RH forum, but I have a feeling that it won’t stay there for long, so here’s my rant…

I’m responsible for technical documentation at my company. Yesterday I received an email about Robohelp 6, and decided to check it out.

I’ve used Robohelp before and quite liked it. It’s very useful if you have an existing documentation base in Microsoft Word; owever nearly all the companies I’ve worked at that have a substantial documentation base use Framemaker and not Word as their standard documentation platform, for a wide variety of reasons.

So, I’m a little disappointed to notice that Robohelp 6 really can’t be used practically with Framemaker. Sure, I can translate all my files to MIF and import them, but then this forces me to go ahead and translate a lot of documentation manually (the functionality to do a batch format conversion just doesn’t exist). It also forces me to keep two sets of documents (you can’t generate TOCs or IXs from MIF files apparently). That’s just not acceptable considering that the same company makes both applications. Evidently RH6 isn’t even able to use Framemaker to translate documents on the fly the way that a third-party application like WebWorks is able to do.

Seriously, I can’t even say that the products are poorly integrated, because they’re evidently not integrated in any way.

This wouldn’t be so bad if Frame 7.2 included the decent version of WebWorks that used to be included with Frame 6.x, or was even compatible with that version! But it’s not. You can’t use Frame 7.2 with WebWorks. You’re stuck with using ePublisher, which isn’t even close to an acceptable replacement as it’s a huge downgrade from the previous bundled app.

So, another online help solution is a dire necessity here, and Adobe, despite owning both the Robohelp and Framemaker, is either unable or unwilling to make both work together for a reason which really escapes me. The one FAQ entry on the subject is beyond vague and noncommittal and smacks of a half-answer designed to “stop the technical writers whining about this”.

Additionally, considering that Adobe itself is still to this day bundling Quadralay products with Framemaker, wouldn’t it be the logically expected thing for Robohelp to be able to import WebWorks and ePublisher projects, at least in part? Yet I don’t see any way in which this can be done.

Robohelp 6 is not a cheap product. At a grand a seat, it costs more than Photoshop, despite being a much simpler product (certainly in technical terms). I’d LOVE to be able to recommend that my company buy a few licenses, but this is really not something that I can do at this time, nor do I foresee a time when I’ll be able to do so unfortunately.

What can I, as a senior technical writer, expect Adobe to do to resolve what I see as a serious impasse here?


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