New Software Recommendations/Ideas?

Subject: New Software Recommendations/Ideas?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, "Hill, Leo" <Leo -dot- Hill -at- kci1 -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 14 Jun 2006 13:08:41 -0400

Leo Hill wondered: Our company employs six full time TechWriters here in the US. We have one Technical Author in the UK. Our UK guy is mostly an independent entity. He has been using Adobe Creative Suite (CS2) for some time. The document style that he has been producing has caught the eye of our US marketing folks and they would like us to adopt his overall "look". Here in the US we are using Framemaker and CorelDraw as our primary creative software... We've just been through a round of computer upgrades and our manager has asked if we want to budget for any software upgrades in 2007? The tentative answer is that we all would like to migrate our work to CS2.>>

Any time you want to change software when the current software is basically working well, the first question to ask is the following two-parter: "What problems are we experiencing that we can't solve with the current software? Are we _sure_ we can't solve those problems with the current software?" More often than not, the answer is "actually, we don't have any major problems, and the problems we do have can be solved easily enough if we'd only ask techwr-l." <g> That's doubly true if it's purely a look and feel issue. Frame doesn't emphasize elegant design, but it's nonetheless a powerful design tool.

The second question you have to ask is equally important: "What things are going to break badly if we move to the new software?" I'm a big fan of Adobe's products, but you want to take a long, hard look at whether InDesign can match Frame in a feature by feature comparison based on the features you actually use to do the hard work in Frame and Corel. I haven't heard anything good or bad about InDesign's long-document skills, but at least as of CS1, it didn't seem to compare favorably with Frame for long-document features. Note that this is emphatically not a well-supported opinion: I simply haven't performed a rigorous comparison, and base this solely on reading the manual cover to cover. InDesign may indeed be a Frame killer.

You'll also have to carefully examine how well InDesign will integrate with your current workflow. For example, if you use tools like WebWorks and RoboWhatever to generate help files and other single-sourced goodies, you may have significant problems. If you use a third-party indexing tool to create indexes, compare it with InDesign's indexing tool. If you publish internationally, confirm that you can continue to localize/internationalize equally well.

In short, perform a very careful needs assessment: what are your absolute requirements versus "just nice" features, and how well does each tool meet those requirements. Some of those requirements will be deal-killers.

<<And before anyone says to stick with Frame - we writers (US) have all agreed that we want to move away from that platform so we can more easily reproduce the look that the UK guy is doing.>>

That's really a poor reason to make the change. Techwhirlers tend to obsess over tools when what's really important is the content and how effectively you present it. The August 2005 issue of _Technical Communication_ offers some interesting insights into how we techwhirlers become marginalized and devalued when we emphasize tools over how those tools support the company's business goals. Best of all, the articles are real-world, not purely theoretical. Well worth reading imho.

I'd be very careful to confirm that you can't easily recreate the InDesign layouts in Frame; I'm no Frame expert, but I recall a blow-by-blow comparison of Frame with all the main competitors of the day about 5 years back (PageMaker, Ventura, Quark) by one of the big names in desktop publishing (Olav Martin Kvern?). The conclusion? The software is now powerful enough that you can do pretty much anything you want with any of the biggies. I imagine that's even more so now.

Without denigrating the importance of esthetics and good design, let me remind you that we must make great efforts to ensure that management doesn't start seeing us as font fondlers.

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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New Software Recommendations/Ideas: From: Hill, Leo

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