Re: Does Frame Suck? From a new user

Subject: Re: Does Frame Suck? From a new user
From: benadam -at- cyberdude -dot- com
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Tue, 25 Jul 2000 17:47:51 -0400 (EDT)

This thread is one that is almost predictable for any technical writer first thrust into the grim realities of our profession. Without making any absolute statement, I will indicate my own feelings on the subject, for whatever they are worth.

The first mistake is to approach FrameMaker or any other new tool through the eyes of a Word user, largely because once a person gets used to Word's flukiness, it is so easy to forget the miseries that came with learning Word and keeping a knowledge of Word up to date. Word is a word processor with some added features that make it seem a bit more sophisticated, but to think that it is possible to do heavy-duty technical documentation projects in Word is like thinking that a tricycle will be adequate for making a cross-country trip. Sure, you can do it -- but why would you want to?

FrameMaker is definitely a tool for a power user; in the documentation arena, we are power users. If you compare it to Word, it does not look intuitive, but if you compare it to Interleaf, it looks almost second nature. If you remember Ventura 4.1 -- or, worse yet, Corel Ventura 4.2 -- you can understand why there was a mad scramble for something easier and more robust.

In today's market, FrameMaker has assumed the lead role as a tool for technical documentation because it delivers the most for its money. However, there are still many issues that need to be addressed with FrameMaker. If you are in the business of creating online Help, you may find FrameMaker disappointing if you predominantly create WinHelp projects; if you are using the versions of FrameMaker with Adobe's fluky HTML conversion utility, you may cry bitter tears over its conversion into Web pages that will convert all the heading tags into H6 tags in HTML. Allegedly Version 6.0 will again engage Quadralay's Web Works Publisher for HTML conversion, but Adobe's traditional apathy for WinHelp remains a thorny problem. Tools for single-sourcing documents created in FrameMaker exist, although they are costly.

If I am asked to recommend a tool blindly, I recommend FrameMaker because I know that in terms of producing books and PDF files, I'll be in good shape. However, I also realize that I'll be miserable if I have to generate documents in other formats as well. If I know that I only have to create online Help, I will recommend a tool designed for creating online Help to save myself the agony of trying to get FrameMaker to do something that it's not designed to do well.

However, if I am asked, "Does FrameMaker suck?", I'd have to say, "Show me the software application that doesn't!" It's our job to get the job done. The more accomplished will learn to work around the limitations of software; the less accomplished will not.

Comparing FrameMaker to Word is not a valid comparison. I can compare New York to Los Angeles without ever proving that one is superior to the other and I'd not add to my reputation for making such a comparison. When I hear this discussion, I'm reminded of a discussion I heard in 1993 comparing WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS with Word 2.0 for Windows, an apples-and-oranges comparison if ever there were one; there's nothing to be gained from approaching any software application with preconceived notions developed while working with another.

Just my $0.02, and no greater value should be attributed to my comments.

- Maury

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