I have used FrameMaker since version 5 when the first Windows version became available for Win95. FrameMaker has always been a solid workhorse, and Adobe has taken a - some would say very - conservative attitude towards updating the software.
The user community has a bunch of very dedicated users, who frown upon any changes with furrowed brows and fiery opinions. And that is all good, but it is difficult to hide that where InDesign today i a fantastic super efficient piece of software with a sleek user interface, FrameMaker has been left somewhat behind.
The challenges for the graphic designers and content providers of today are vastly more complex than they were in 1995. Today you are expected to be able to publish to print and web and understand the difference. Print takes a vast understanding of how the print process works in order to do professional work. Publishing to web takes even more knowledge and ability to understand all the intricasies of database, html, css and the different web formats. Not easy and bridging both worlds takes a lot of patience and a tool like FrameMaker and the Technical Communication Suite.
Review of FrameMaker 2017
I do not work in Structured FrameMaker so in this review I shall not try to comment on anything from that side of the fence.
The good stuff
New Features Welcome Screen
Adobe has made an introduction to the new features directly from the brand new welcome screen. Why it prompts to install Internet Explorer 11 is beyond me, and I could live without.
The new Welcome Screen is nice and it is certainly great that it can be modified in a transparant way. The Welcome Screen is merely a small website which can be modified any which way you like. I can’t help wondering whether this is a forewarning of an entirely browser driven interface...
Search for menu commands
... is a new feature. We have had the fast F8 and F9 for applying formatting for a good many years, and the new button works pro- vides the same fast scrolling through options. It is a fine feature actually. Most editing in FrameMaker is done using the same rather few features. Tables, Images, Formatting etc but working with color, variables etc is often outside of the ordinary and one forgets the shortcuts
The Project Manager
Here is a welcome addition! The project manager is an Explorer like tool to keep track of all your assets. You can add folders and files and move them between folders. You also drag and drop them directly into your document and open the assets in their native application.
It is very neat and handy, but one should be aware that mov- ing for instances images between folder in the Project Manager will merely make them loose their links in the Insets Pod. With no warnings whatsoever.
Folders created or deleted in the Project Manager are not virtual folders. They are real and will appear in Explorer.
For those who remember Adobe GoLive, it had a feature simi- larly to the Project Manager, but it worked more intelligently, and warned you when you were making a mess of things.
Working with graphics
Graphics are an integral part of most jobs. FrameMaker 2017 has a redesigned Graphics Toolbar which looks more modern, but basi- cally functions as it has always. Options for color choosing for instance, has now become a dropdown menu, and it is ok I think.
A new feature of the Graphics Toolbar is the hotspot editor. Hotspots have been there for a long time, but now one may choose to work with graphics in hotspot mode per default. That is nice. The icon for hotspot mode / graphics mode should be an on/off button though in stead of two separate icons. I like the new toolbar even if I miss the colors of the old one.
In this iteration of FrameMaker Adobe has given up on the col- ored icons of the last couple of versions. And no thanks from me - I liked them!
Export to HMTL5
Now here is the really good part for the likes of me who stubbornly clings to unstructured FrameMaker. The publishing facilities allows you to do an export to HTML5 and it works pretty great! There are a nice bunch of options in the export process - even the options of creating an XM L sitemap. Great! The options for enhancing and modifying the export is really great, because it allows us to make the exported material fit nicely with whatever the present company design guidelines may be for their website..
Up until now, all FrameMaker messages, like color errors, printing errors etc were delivered to you in a non savable document. Cool
- but the newly introduced Console pod is better. Especially so, because it has an option to clear messages, making sure you are not confusing old error with new errors. I like it. Great!
Hitherho when we wanted to insert for instance a variable, we would open the Variable Pod, choose or create a variable and press insert. Now Adobe has made a menu for all sorts of stuff which can be inserted. Insert was formerly known as Special but Insert does make more sense. It makes sense for most editing purposes.
Especially Insert Images is good. While inserting images formely came in the shape of a multi level exercize, it is now possible to press Insert, get the image and care about DPI, style etc later. Good!
When working with insets like images, you need the Insets pod, and that has gotten a bit of redesigning too. Which is nice. The fil- ter icon allows you to do proper filtering of all insets. Very handy
TOC and MiniTOC
Working with miniTOC is vastly more efficient. The Insert menu al- lows you to insert a miniTOC anywhere and automatically creates the corresponding paragraph styles. And FrameMaker takes care of keeping the miniTOCs updated. Cool!
... and the not so good stuff...
I only wish that Adobe would take a harder look at the user interface. It is still kind of messy, I think. Take the View menu for instance. Here you find View options. But “View Options” are merely options which you in any other piece of software would expect to find in Preferences. “Units” are a preference. “Scrolling” are a preference. Displaying rulers and grids can be found under View as separate menu items. Why they are stranded and forgot- ten under View is strange.
While it easy to like the new Insert Meny I find it more and more difficult to like the redundancy of menus. Take Paragraph Designer. You may open Paragraph Designer from:
Format / Paragraph
View / Pods / Window / Pods
... and using shortcut CTRL M
That is a lot of ways of getting to the same place. And that goes for Variables, Tables, Catalogues al. too. It is just plain redun- dant and confusing and helps nobody.
Tagging is another issue. Tags are the very backbone of FrameMaker. If you are in proper control of your tags, YOU are in proper control. A tag is a collection of properties which we may apply on for instance text or images. And designing the right tags are what makes the document work.
We have a Character Catalogue, a Paragraph Catalogue, a Table Catalogue and with FrameMaker 11 we got the ability to create tags for object properties. But why these tags are to be hid- den only under Graphics is a mystery. The Object Property styles are just tags like character tags and they should have a pod like the Character styles. And with FM 2017 they have, so please, why is that pod not to be found under View like the pod for character styles, paragraph styles and table styles? It would be logical!
Master pages tags
Master pages is another feature which might be much easier and better if it was made as a tag with its own pod, just like in InDesign. Working with master pages is insanely counter intui- tive, and it is difficult to get a fast overview over where certain master pages has been used.
Integrate Master pages with Paragraph styles
The Paragraph designer has been redesigned and that is good. But I wonder why it still is not possible to reach out to the documents master pages from the paragraph designer. It is possi- ble to assign a master pages to a paragraph
Packaging an entire book with all assets like pictures, text insets, fonts etc is an enormously practical feature. There are scripts and extensions which will help you do these things in FrameMaker, but the built in feature Package does not solve the job. It does not bring along fonts, and fonts are a major pain when you share files with colleagues and partners. Having worked as a freelance graphic artist for some 30 years I must have spent days trying to figure out font problems. InDesign will package all fonts for you. FrameMaker will not. And I wish it would!
All in all...
I like the new FrameMaker 2017 and the Technical Communi- cation Suite. Care has gone into streamlining the editing process. And a lot of care has gone into introducing the structured work- ings of FrameMaker to the people who have hitherho stayed stubbornly in unstructured mode. I think it will pay off eventually.