Adobe FrameMaker 2017 (with Update 2) Review

Guest Author: Bernard Aschwanden

It’s been a few months since Adobe released the FrameMaker 2017 software on the world. In the time since then, a lot of great (and honest) reviews have been written. Now that Adobe also has two full updates (thank you for the quarterly patch releases), I’ll provide my take on the new version with both patches.

In this review:

A few core features that make the day-to-day life as an author better

So what’s new? In a nutshell, daily user interactions are simpler and faster, the interface is cleaner, publishing is improved, and structured authoring (such as DITA) has improved.

There are a lot of features added to make the daily tasks of an author better, and I’ll touch on those that I use every day (sometimes without even thinking about it):  three quick features that made the update worth it for me. Note that I’m often working with clients moving to DITA, so conversion of legacy content, template development, author work, and other ”day-to-day” things mean I have to dive in deep. The first of my three points is DITA-specific, but there is more than enough in FrameMaker 2017 for non-DITA users as well. The other two apply across the board.

Working with DITA content is now faster and easier

It sounds like marketing hype, but as a user who worked with DITA from version 7.2 onwards (yup, I got into this early on), I can definitely feel the improvements as an author. It’s tough to quantify, but the 2017 version is better for a range of reasons. Many are “as you start to work you’ll know what I mean” changes. Others include updates to the templates, an improved status bar, better cross-reference management, and an enhanced structure view. These make it faster to create, easier to manage, and generally friendlier to learn DITA.

Screenshot of FrameMaker 2017 User Interface

FrameMaker 2017 User Interface

If you DO want to get started with DITA and want to learn the basics for free, check out the Publishing Smarter playlist.

Find what you need in a split second using F7 for Smart Command search

Try this: Open FrameMaker, and insert content. Then try to remember the mix of shortcut keys to do ANYTHING. Is it an Alt key sequence for Windows? Or an Esc sequence? With 2017, the answer is “who cares?” because now you just press F7 while working. A contextual menu pops up. Type what you want to do, select, press Enter, and then move on. It sounds simple, but access to every shortcut from a single smart command search makes it SO fast to do the job at hand.

Screenshot of FrameMaker 2017 Smart Command Search

FrameMaker 2017 Smart Command Search

High resolution monitor support

Last year, I upgraded my laptop to the Microsoft Surface Book. Generally, I love it. The display allows up to 3000/2000 resolution, and with FrameMaker 2015 (as well as a few other tools), things just didn’t *fit* on my screen.

Screenshot of FrameMaker 2015 on High Resolution Monitor

FrameMaker 2015 on High Resolution Monitor

Compare that with the screen shot of FrameMaker 2017 where content is sized “right” from the very beginning. If you use a large monitor that is capable of high resolution clarity, then get FrameMaker 2017.

Screenshot of FrameMaker 2017 on High Resolution Monitor

FrameMaker 2017 on High Resolution Monitor

Bonus: Unstructured author perk in Enhanced Pods (Paragraph/Character/Table designers, for example)

Oh my. This is such a blessing. Many Designers have human-friendly terms. Look at these two images. Note that the top is the Paragraph Designer from 2015, the bottom is the one from 2017, using human-readable, instead of cryptic, icons.

Screenshot of FrameMaker 2017 versus 2015 Paragraph Designer

FrameMaker 2017 versus 2015 Paragraph Designer

There is still some room to improve here though. Consider the Conditional Tags which could benefit from an update to the icons. If you DO need to use them, they represent (in order) Create New Tag, Edit, Delete, Show/Hide, Uncheck All, and Apply.

Screenshot of FrameMaker 2017 Conditional Tags Interface

FrameMaker 2017 Conditional Tags Interface

Changes that two updates applied (no other review touch on these!)

With these updates in place, we can look at what Adobe has fixed up from the point of releasing FrameMaker 2017 at the start of the year until new.

Update 1

See the great (and more detailed) write- up by Adobe’s own Stefan Gentz for a review of Update 1.

My personal picks go back to usability. The first has to be the change to the way the Designers work.

Paragraph, Character, and Table Designer: Three buttons at the bottom of the dialog have read Update All, Reset, and Apply for years. In 2017 these got a minor refresh and read Rename, Update Style, and Apply. This was good but still annoying as there are times you are creating a style. So they fixed it. When you change the name you can click either Rename or Create Style. Minor change, big impact on the development and maintenance of templates.

Conditional content: Dialogs are clean, easy to read, showcase the condition, and the sizing is user configurable in all ways.

Command search placement (dual monitors): As a frequent dual monitor user (when docked, my laptop is screen 1 of 2), it was annoying to work on one monitor and see the F7 command search pop up on the other. This is now fixed.

Table sorting: Yes, it’s important to sort tables. Now we have a better way to do this. I cannot say enough about the dialog being usable. Microsoft Word, Excel, and even PowerPoint had this type of function. Welcome aboard, FrameMaker. The old Sort was tough to read and work with. With a simple usability change, it’s friendlier and straightforward.

Screenshot of FrameMaker 2017 Table Sort, Before

FrameMaker 2017 Table Sort, Before

Screenshot of FrameMaker 2017 Table Sort, After

FrameMaker 2017 Table Sort, After

Publishing and Dynamic HTML5: Updates to the HTML5 output (especially around DITA) really made my day. Dynamic content means that either conditions or attributes can drive output so the audience can pick and choose what to see.

Update 2

The same day that I moved to a new house, Adobe released a patch. Imagine my surprise when I sat down to write this article and found a second set of updates to review.

Page numbers: A weird bug that popped up over time is resolved. There were times my page numbering was wrong, stuck, or just messed up. This bug is now resolved.

Basic HTML output and linking: Files with spaces in the names seemed to mess things up. That has been resolved as well. Now I don’t have to change Rename My Files to become RenameMyFiles, and that’s good. Anytime that things work the way they should is good.

Large XML file support: Not everyone deals with XML files that are dozens, or even hundreds of pages in length, but when I do, things seem to be stable again. I had hated working with the large XML files for a bit, but this is fixed.

Overlapping tags: The tags in my structured documents looked really bad when they overlapped. I wouldn’t have a clue what I was looking at, but this is also fixed. Tags now size and then are positioned as expected.

Pods are fixed: A few minor issues existed with cross-reference and variables pods. These now look right on my high resolution screen.

Conclusion

If you work with FrameMaker and have held off on updating your version to 2017 while the “bugs get fixed,” then it’s time to proceed with your upgrade. Increased efficiencies, improved DITA support, faster content creation, usability enhancements, and two full rounds of bug fixes mean a stable, powerful author experience regardless of your workflow. If you have been considering a new authoring tool, now is the time to move to Adobe FrameMaker 2017.

About the author

Bernard Aschwanden founded Publishing Smarter to focus on communications. Clients contract him to reduce costs and improve quality by providing insights about communications and related technology (think tools, process, DITA), across Europe and North America. He is an Adobe Certified Expert, a Certified Technical Trainer, and the past President of the Society for Technical Communication.

He trains, writes extensively, and presents internationally on communications, publishing, and single sourcing content. Everything he does with clients is geared towards publishing better, publishing faster, and publishing smarter to provide a maximum return on investment.

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