Getting experience with expensive tools?

Subject: Getting experience with expensive tools?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: Technical Writing <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Becky Edmondson <beckyed -at- rcn -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 09 Mar 2009 15:24:53 -0400

Becky Edmondson wondered: <<Anyone have any creative ideas on how to
get experience with expensive tools like Flare and Robohelp, when you
can't afford to just buy them and don't ever work at places that can
afford them or have the bandwidth to deal with changing to a dedicated
doc tool?>>

Most companies offer free trial versions of their software as
downloads. That's the easiest way to get a copy you can play with.
Typical trial versions either have a limited shelf life (they expire
after X days), lack various features (e.g., the ability to work with
documents longer than a certain size), or add annoyances such as a
watermark that prints over top of all output. But they'll let you get
up to speed and show off the tool's features to your colleagues.

Also check whether they offer a competitive upgrade price. For
example, Madcap offers a competitive upgrade for Blaze for $299 if you
have Framemaker, versus the full price of $699. (Didn't recheck the
price, so I may be off by a few bucks.)

<<All my clients are startups, and all they ever have is Word and
occasionally Frame. I now have tons of experience setting up
shoestring singlesourcing systems, but I can't figure out how to
expand into other tools.>>

The usual answer is that you submit a business case for adopting the
tool, in which you demonstrate how you plan to recover the cost of the
purchase. If you can't demonstrate that payback based on time savings
alone, odds are good you either don't really need the tool or are
choosing the wrong tool.

<<I'd prefer to stay a contractor now...>>

Then you need to create a budget that will let you purchase your own
tools. Would you hire a car mechanic or doctor if they asked you to
pay for their tools? I think not. <g> I have purchased and own all the
software I use in my work, and most contractors operate similarly. The
exception is when, as part of your contract, you'll be setting up a
workflow for the client. In that case, it's reasonable to insist that
they pay for the tools, since they'll be using them once your contract

<<Maybe I should be looking at opensource HATs? I can't find anything
other than industrial-strength stuff like DITA.>>

I believe that Microsoft still offers their help development workshop
for free. <checks the MS site> Indeed they do: <
>. It's not as elegant as the commercially available tools, but you
can't beat the price.

You should also check out the MadCap products. They are currently
offering an "impoverished contractors who can't afford new tools given
the current state of the economy" deal for Flare that substantially
reduces the price. Details available by e-mail, but you can see the
link to the offer on their home page (towards the bottom right): <
>. You might be able to sweet-talk them into providing a similar deal
for other products.

Geoff Hart (
ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca / geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com
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getting experience with expensive tools: From: Becky Edmondson

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