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My current employer produces mainly non-GUI middleware applications. So, there
hasn't been much need for online help products in the past. We've got a few
configuration applications that have online help, but we're talking less than
50 topics. Small potatoes.
We're starting development on a Very Big New Technology which is going to have
a user interface. So, we are getting ready to start documentation. We know that
this one is going to require online help as well as paper-based documentation.
We also know that there are two of us, and that we're not likely to get much
doc from our programmers until toward the end (though, the programmers actually
write well, so at least we're ahead of the game there!).
A former coworker of mine (Hi, Martha!) is the WebWorks Publisher guru at her
company, and has shown me some of the stuff that they do with their docs with
it. So, I decided to play around with the Standard version that comes with
FrameMaker 6. After working with it for 20 minutes or so, I had pretty much
figured out the user interface (it has a very simple interface...one window
about maybe 3 tabbed dialog boxes).
I went to the company's web site (www.webworks.com), and looked around for
information on training. I found out that they have a CD-based multimedia
tutorial for $300. So, I got my boss to invest in two copies of it (one for
each writer). I got mine a day or two later, and went through it in an hour.
Maybe less. And I learned only one thing that I hadn't already figured out in
the aforementioned 20 minute play-time with the product. And the text in the
tutorial was in DIRE need of some copyediting. The run-on sentences and other
Really Bad Grammar made it hard to concentrate on understanding the content.
I checked with my former coworker, and she indicated that the documentation
wasn't much better than the training, but pointed out that the wwp-users Yahoo!
Group was very active with very knowledgeable folks, many of whom I recognize
from this list. She also pointed out that she had been able to figure out how
to do a lot of stuff by reading the existing doc from beginning to end (she
actually does that when she gets new software...I've seen her do it!).
So, I decided to go out on a limb. After talking with the sales guy at
Quadralay and convincing him to give me a credit for the $300 spent on the
really bad training, I decided to shell out my own $400 to upgrade to the Pro
version of the application. I'd always wanted to learn how to use the tool, so
I figured this was my chance to do it a little more cheaply. And, I figured if
my company wanted to go with it, they'd reimburse me for it.
I got the app a few days later, and installed it. I read through the
documentation, which is actually very good. (My former coworker had read the
docs from the previous version...apparently, they started over with the doc for
this release.) I liked the organization of the docs. You start with the Getting
Started Guide, which gives you the overview of the application structure and
some of the user interface. Then you move on to the User's Guide, which gives
you more user interface stuff. Then you move on to the Templates Guide, which
shows you how to set up your project and modify the mappings and the styles to
make it look how you want to. Then, if you're really ambitious, you can move on
to the Macros Guide. (I haven't done that, yet.)
I spent about 2.5 workdays setting things up. I created a new FrameMaker
template based on our existing template. (The existing one had a lot of
duplicate styles, unused styles, poorly configured styles, and so on.) I also
set up a default WebWorks Publisher project.
After that 2.5 days, I applied the new FrameMaker template to an existing
project, created a new WebWorks Publisher project by importing the settings
from the default WebWorks Publisher project, and then generated the output
(with no extra fiddling). This whole process probably took me 10 minutes.
I kid you not...the output from this 10-minute process was 95% of the way to
shippable. I didn't even go through the FrameMaker source docs to apply the new
styles. Since then, I've had to go do some stuff to some of the line graphics
to get them to convert, and am applying some styles to fix some of the numbered
lists (the old FrameMaker template had problems with getting numbering to start
over). On the outside, it'll probably take me a day per 200-page document to
get it to generate shippable-quality output.
I can't believe the high quality of this product. Very fast to get up and
running. (Granted, I do programming and know FrameMaker templates fairly
well--most of that thanks to the aforementioned former coworker!--, but I
really didn't have to use much of that knowledge to get this to work.)
If any of you are considering using WWP Pro as a single-source option for
creating online help, consider this a newbie's vote for the product. This
product is basically replacing RoboHTML. As fun as RoboHTML can be, I'll take
the 10-minute conversion over dealing with the RoboBeast anyday.
Develop HTML-Based Help with Macromedia Dreamweaver 4 ($100 STC Discount)
**WEST COAST LOCATIONS** San Jose (Mar 1-2), San Francisco (Apr 16-17) http://www.weisner.com/training/dreamweaver_help.htm or 800-646-9989.
Sponsored by ForeFront, Inc., maker of ForeHelp Help authoring tools
for print, WinHelp, HTML Help, JavaHelp, and cross-platform InterHelp
See www.forehelp.com for more information and free evaluation downloads
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