Long: Omni MIF2RTF makes Frame to Help (or to Word RTF) a cinch

Subject: Long: Omni MIF2RTF makes Frame to Help (or to Word RTF) a cinch
From: Alexia Prendergast <alexiap -at- SEAGATESOFTWARE -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 22 Oct 1997 13:44:37 -0400

Hi, all,

As you know, I've been looking at the Omni MIF2RTF tool as a way to go
from Frame directly to online help. Well, I have seen the light.

My initial impression was good, but now I realize that I didn't even
understand half of what this thing can do! (Being a skeptic by nature,
my original expectations were fairly low. When I though "conversion", I
thought "half-baked file" and "fewer features" -- as you'll see, I was
waaaaay off base. You can do more and you can get more.)

Here's what you can do:
-Reuse info in Frame files for help as-is (in other words,
single-source)
-Customize info in Frame files to use for help (so you can have distinct
help and doc files from one set of Frame files)
-Use Frame to author help from scratch (for the purists ;-)
-Supply RTF source files to customers (not just by converting to RTF,
but by controlling every aspect of the conversion--very different from
using built-in Frame or Word RTF filters, improved or not.)
-Share Frame files with internal Word users (again, by controlling the
conversion)

My original goal was to customize files in Frame (using conditional text
and variables to control what goes in the help vs. the docs) and be able
to create PDFs, HTML (future), WinHelp, HTMLHelp (future), and maybe
NetHelp (future) for end users and OEM customers on a variety of
platforms and to meet a variety of requirements. In the meantime, I've
already had a situation where controlling a clean Word RTF conversion
came in handy with a customer.

It's a cinch.

The process for what I wanted to accomplish looked like this from start
to finish:

1. (optional) Set up my Frame file by importing a help-specific
template and adding some help-specific items like macros.*
2. Saved my Frame file as MIF.
3. Changed a few Omni INI file settings to control the conversion.
4. Ran MIFtoRTF. (Single command at DOS prompt)
5. Set up help project and contents file as usual.
6. Compiled the help.

*You can skip step 1 by using the Omni INI file to map fonts from Frame
to help, etc. However, I created a Frame help template based on, but
separate from, my doc template so I could really control every aspect of
the look and feel of the help. I made a copy of my doc template and
customized the formats while retaining the same tag names, variables,
etc. By avoiding overrides, you can switch between the two templates
with no problem. (Go and sin no more ;-)

Worked like a charm. Plus, the process gets easier -- you only have to
set up your INI file (step 3) and your help project and contents files
(step 5) at the beginning or when you want to tweak something. If you
are single-sourcing or authoring help from scratch, the process is even
easier. If you have many files, you can apply an optional template
through a book file (to apply the template to all files at once), batch
save them to MIF, and batch convert them. This app is FAST. We're
talking seconds for several fairly large Frame files.

I was able to hook the help file to an app using map files and aliases,
which is what I do currently. Keywords, macros, browse sequence, jumps
to secondary windows, pop-ups, etc. worked fine (even with my modular
text insets!). You can use build tags, and just about any other help
feature you can imagine. In fact, I couldn't find one that didn't work.

Once I had the WinHelp file, it converted easily to HTMLHelp and NetHelp
using RoboHTML. (Are there other WinHelp-to-HTML/NetHelp conversion
tools out there? RoboHTML looks pretty good, but I want to make an
informed decision. :-) To get back to doing books instead of help, I
just reapplied the book template and hid the help-specific conditional
text. Very handy--I was ready to do HTML and PDF again.

I think what I like best is that you decide how much control you want to
have over this thing. Don't want to touch the file? You don't have to.
Want to control every last bit? You can. It can be as simple or as
complex as you need it to be. (If you have a special case and need
custom work done to the tool, Omni will do the engineering for you. See
their web page for details.)

The only recommendation I would have is that the folks who use it
understand Frame's paragraph tags, character tags and cross-references
and understand basically how WinHelp works. (WinHelp is not
mysterious--if you haven't done WinHelp before, go through a book like
Hickman's _Building Windows 95 Help_ in a day and you'll know enough to
get going.) You do not need to be an expert, but some knowledge will
help.

If you don't already have FrameMaker, then the more cost-effective
solution is probably one of the HATs like RoboHelp or ForeHelp. However,
if you have Frame and don't want to maintain two separate development
efforts and two separate sets of tools for doc and help development,
this may be a good solution for you.

You can get more info at http://www.omsys.com/dcl/mif2rtf.htm or
mailto:info -at- omsys -dot- com
If you email me, I'll be glad to send you a zipped simple sample file.

Thanks,
A.
--
Alexia Prendergast
Tech Pubs Manager
Seagate Software (Durham, NC, USA)
mailto:alexiap -at- seagatesoftware -dot- com

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