Re: Pro's and Con's -- FrameMaker vs InDesign

Subject: Re: Pro's and Con's -- FrameMaker vs InDesign
From: Peter Gold <peter -at- knowhowpro -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Thu, 7 Oct 2010 08:22:57 -0500

On Thu, Oct 7, 2010 at 1:00 AM, poshedly -at- bellsouth -dot- net wrote:

> Uh-oh!
> The non-English-speaking engineers at my company's home offices in China
> use
> InDesign to produce non-English-language technical manuals for the
> company's
> line of heavy equipment. The company's group translators (all young
> 20-somethings) who have no real tech writing experience simply?use Word to
> produce English-language manuals. The layout and accuracy of technical
> matter
> and English is way below par because those kids simply have no access to
> the
> machines nor the technical expertise to explain things correctly nor enough
> English-language comprehension to do a good job. The company just wants
> books
> out on deadline.
> We -- a group of 3 tech writers -- here in the U.S. all come from extensive
> FrameMaker backgrounds (a combined total of 25 years), with technical
> expertise
> and obviously dern guud englsh. What we do is use those other
> "English-language"
> manuals from China (errors and all) to somehow perform miracles and produce
> well-arranged, more accurate and professional tech pubs (operation manuals,
> workshop manuals, parts books).
> I'm now hearing grumbling that the Chinese engineers who already use
> InDesign
> want us in the U.S. to move to InDesign. We are adamant that it's a bad
> move and
> our supervisor here and who knows nothing about this stuff wants solid
> arguements why we should stay with FrameMaker.
> We've compiled a list but I'd like to hear from y'all with your own ideas
> regarding ease of use, co$t, capability -- anything we can use in our
> corner.
> I've already posted this to the Frameusers list and the silence is
> deafening.
> Help anyone?
> -- Ken in metro Atlanta

Hi, Ken:

I'm sure that in addition to your own list of arguments, you've
searched Google and have found useful information. If not, you'll find lots
of stuff that goes back to earlier versions of FrameMaker and InDesign as
well as the latest.

You didn't mention posting to Adobe's InDesign forums; Google will return
postings from them.

I'm a FrameMaker and InDesign trainer and user. I'm writing a book
on InDesign for FrameMaker users, so I've been paying special attention to
issues of migrating one's skills as well as converting content, and working
without cherished and proven features.

I haven't worked in a translation production environment, so I'll leave
comments and recommendations to those who have.

Reasons to stay with FrameMaker:

* It's part of a well-rehearsed workflow, whatever its efficiency or lack of
same. Changing anything in a pressured manufacturing workflow is always
disruptive until the change is blended in, and its consequences for, and its
impact on the existing process are resolved. Short: there's a dollar cost to

* Those who are forced to change carry resentment that may or may not affect
the workflow, and may not ever dissipate. Short: there's a morale cost.

* Usually, introducing a new workflow or tool into a production environment
is accomplished by running parallel production operations, until the
problems are resolved and the new process is blessed. Short: there's an
efficiency cost.

* Can you make a case that InDesign's lack of specific FrameMaker tools that
you consider essential, will damage your process and the quality of the
documentation? Obviously, the less you know about InDesign's abilities, the
more difficult this is. If you can post a list of your essential FrameMaker
tools, I'll try to point out those comparable InDesign.

Briefly, InDesign CS5 long-document features useful in technical
publications include:

* adding pages when typing or pasting content requires some set-up and
* variables for running headers and user-defined text - limitation:
variables can't wrap across line endings
* generated lists, TOCs, and indexes
* paragraph, character, and table styles (aka "formats" in FrameMaker-ese)
PLUS table-cell and object styles
* cross-references
* automatic hyperlinks in cross-references, generated TOCs, and indexes
* multi-file books and operations across book files, like find/replace,
spell check, synchronization (aka "importing formats" in FrameMaker-ese)
* importing graphics by reference and maintaining links
* importing InDesign files - limitation: they're graphics, not editable in
the container document, but changed linked originals replace the imported
* importing text files and spreadsheets - limitation: when linked, source
file updates appear in the container document, but formatting applied
in InDesign is lost
* master pages, including master pages based on other master pages - note:
they don't work exactly like FrameMaker's master pages
* selective loading (aka "importing") of paragraph, character, and table
styles, cross-reference formats, color swatches, PDF-generation settings,
saved find/change queries
* document, user, and standard dictionaries
* conditional text
* auto-numbered paragraphs
* page, section, chapter numbering
* independent numbered lists (like FrameMaker's N: auto-number streams)
* anchored frames
* keystroke shortcuts for almost all commands
* saved workspaces
* importing multiple media formats
* powerful interactive multi-media creation

Some FrameMaker favorites missing in InDesign:

* side headings - use anchored frames
* run-in heading paragraphs - "nested styles" look alike, but TOC and x-refs
can't capture them separately from remainder of paragraph
* reference pages - generated-document flow definitions managed elsewhere;
reusable fragments stored in libraries, as snippets, or as separate files;
master-page mapping tables for apply master pages not built-in, use
third-party plug-ins or scripts
* XML round-tripping, integration with RoboHelp, ability to use MIF2GO for
help systems, DITA

FrameMaker's layout features are suitable for print and PDF technical
materials, and its growing multi-media abilities are also
adequate. InDesign's far-superior typographic feature set and its
sophisticated page-layout tools don't automatically mean better technical

Although InDesign fits nicely into creative suites that include Illustrator
and Photoshop, Adobe's Technical Communications Suite includes Photoshop, as
well as RoboHelp for help systems, and Captivate for recording instructional

As much as I like InDesign, in the present economic climate of pinched
budgets and reduced workforces pressed to produce the same or more output, I
think it's difficult to make a strong case for disrupting a proven and
efficient workflow that incurs costs of purchasing new software (possibly
also more powerful hardware,) retraining, and redeveloping the workflow,
simply because a new tool is available.

As others have posted on this thread, there's a significant corporate
understanding and management issue here - what's the mission of a tech pubs
operation that needs to be thorough and accurate, and instruct users safely,
for audiences comprised of many different languages and cultures? Where is
the money and effort best spent to accomplish the mission?



Peter Gold
KnowHow ProServices

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