Re: Word instead of FrameMaker

Subject: Re: Word instead of FrameMaker
From: Brannon Golden <brannon -dot- golden -at- WCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 1997 15:46:38 -0600

Whew! Lain--lighten up, buddy... :-)

Joo Khim,

I personally have experienced the same kinds of problems that Melanie refers to, and I strongly second *all* of her arguments. Let me also add that similar MS Word complaints appear routinely on the WinHelp-L listserv.

I faced a similar decision when I began at the company where I work now. I was the only technical writer in the IS department, and our training group was already using Word to develop their documentation. I opted for the more expensive FrameMaker for a variety of reasons (in addition to those which Melanie reported):

1. Printing support (as in final press work). I did some research in our area,
looking for publishing houses. Only a handful would work with stock Word
files. When you're talking Windows (as opposed to Mac), FrameMaker is
apparently considered more of a de facto *professional* standard (or at
least it is where I'm geographically located).

2. FrameMaker and Word *are* pretty much matched in terms of features.
In my opinion, however, Frame's capabilities are far more robust, and
they behave more reliably (even though they may sometimes be harder
to find).

3. Lain is correct in the assertion that Word is fully capable of mapping
to other formats. However, your options are limited--even with HTML.
Microsoft's free Internet Assistant (HTML converter) doesn't handle
turning your single document into multiple HTML pages--you have to
do this manually. *Several* tools exist to do this in Frame, and most
do so flawlessly. My personal favourite is Harlequin's WebMaker ($99
at www.harlequin.com). [Although, I understand that the new version
of Word (which comes out today) is supposed to address this.]

4. I've never had any problems with Word's *basic* TOC and indexing
functions. However, add to that the complexity of master documents,
and everything starts to collapse. I've *never*--that is to say, NEVER--
been able to get these features to work *consistently* in a master/
subdocument environment. Frame's book approach just works--with
no significant fuss.

5. (Sorry, Lain...) Melanie *is* right about structured methodologies in
Frame vs. Word. Many of the complex formatting things that Frame
handles quite naturally require hacks and workarounds in Word. For
example, consider paragraphs which reside in the white space
against the left margin (like tips and notes). Frame offers this as a
style option. The *only* way I found to accurately duplicate this
same look in Word was with a two-column table--not text frames,
not individual style options, etc. I've always been able to make my
Word documents *look* exactly how I want them to, but the methods
for getting that print output are not exactly elegant. Although I agree
that good templates are one of our most important tools, Frame *still*
wins this one, in my opinion.

6. For WinHelp, Word rules. I use Blue Sky's RoboHELP to do this.
(Sounds inconsistent with my Frame rantings, no?) Here's how:
I completely develop my full documentation in FrameMaker, where
it undergoes all testing and editing. When that process is complete,
I save that file as text and pull it into RoboHELP (which rides on top
of Word). Once there, I pare it down for presentation in online format.
Although at first this might seem inelegant, you just cannot escape
the fact that documents designed for print *will not* work when
simply *dumped* online. They still require work. I've found that this
reverse process--where I develop the full documentation first--helps
me immensely in determining what's truly important for inclusion
online. I would also refer you to Appendix A of the "Microsoft
Windows 95 Help Authoring Kit," which explains in detail the design
guidelines that Microsoft's developers used in creating Windows 95's
excellent online Help. I am presently developing a methodology where
I can--by using *condition* tags in Frame--bring exactly the text that I
want into the text file that I "massage" in Word.

From someone who has already made a decision similar to the one you're facing, my vote is for FrameMaker. Feel free to contact me directly if you have any specific questions about how these two tools handle things you know you'll need to do frequently. I'd be happy to offer you my own personal experiences.

C. Brannon Golden
brannon -dot- golden -at- wcom -dot- com

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