Adobe FrameMaker 6

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Minor improvements to book and PDF handling and the bundling of a cut-down third-party HTML export system produce a seriously disappointing upgrade.

With Adobe’s major promotion of the all-new InDesign, it’s easy to forget that for the last five years the company has also been the developer of another high-end DTP program - FrameMaker. Both are focused on publishing but it would be difficult to come up with two more different applications. Where InDesign takes a hands-on, page-by-page approach to producing high-impact print, FrameMaker takes a more automated, document-wide approach to producing longer publications for cross-media delivery. This latest version is designed to boost its existing strengths, reinforcing its long document support and Acrobat and Web output.

In terms of FrameMaker’s long document handling the major advance is a reworking of the Book Window which is used for ordering the multiple chapters of a volume ready for global printing and for generating table of contents and indexes. The revamp boils down to new icons to enable chapters to be added and deleted with one click, the option of listing chapter headings rather than filenames and the ability to reorder files by dragging. The changes are all welcome, but are so obvious that it’s difficult to be grateful. Even worse is the fact that these are the only changes to the FrameMaker interface which has been looking embarrassingly antiquated for years now.

The revamped Book Window makes long document handling easier.

At least the new look Book Window also offers some new functionality. To begin with chapter and volume numbering has been simplified and expanded. More importantly you can now work with files directly in the Book window with a selection of global commands. You simply select one or more contiguous or non-contiguous files for search and replacing, spell-checking or printing. You can also reformat the selected chapters though this remains a complex procedure. Again the changes are welcome but, while they make life easier, there’s nothing that you couldn’t do before with a bit more work. The same is true of FrameMaker’s much-trumpeted "follow-me editing" innovation which means that when you try to scroll down from the last page of the current chapter FrameMaker offers to open the next. I’ve been more impressed.

One of the most powerful of the commands available book-wide is the option to Save As PDF. This quickly and efficiently turns your document into an Acrobat PDF ready for electronic distribution and viewing through the freely available Reader program. The major changes here are the inclusion of the latest Distiller 4.05 which offers Acrobat 4 support and a new tabbed Save As dialog which enables the creation of structured PDFs, the embedding of document information and the option to automatically name all links for external referencing. It’s not just PDF output that has been improved as FrameMaker 6 now enables PDFs to be placed as graphics helping to move to all-PDF workflows. Even so FrameMaker can hardly be said to be pushing back the boundaries when it comes to Acrobat support.

FrameMaker has caught up with Acrobat 4 including features such as logical structure within the PDFs it produces.

FrameMaker’s ability to output to PDF is a huge boon, slashing the traditional costs involved in printing long documents for small audiences. Of course there’s another even more efficient means of electronic delivery – the Web. And FrameMaker’s whole mark-up based approach is ideally suited to re-purposing publications between paper and screen. FrameMaker 5.5’s ability to output CSS-based HTML output was pretty impressive when it was released two years ago, but that’s a long time on the Web and many users have since turned to third-party solutions to provide the advanced control they need.

And now Adobe has followed suit! Bundled with each copy of FrameMaker 6 is a copy of WebWorks Standard Edition from Quadralay. This standalone program is able to read FrameMaker book and publication files and format and output them according to its templates. There are four of these providing output to vanilla HTML, HTML with CSS, XML with CSS and even XML with XSL. Once you’ve chosen your output template the set-up process is relatively straightforward. Where appropriate, you map FrameMaker paragraph and character styles onto the provided CSS styles, define the image format which each anchored graphic should be converted to and decide how cross-references should be handled. Once you’ve set up the project, you can automatically process it whenever you update the source FrameMaker files.

WebWorks works by mapping FrameMaker tags to HTML/CSS and XML elements.

And it has to be said that the default results are impressive. With the HTML/CSS option, for example, paragraphs with drop caps are automatically recreated complete with a raised first letter <SPAN> while across the top of each page is a navigation bar enabling you to jump to the table of contents, index and next or previous chapters. No matter how good the defaults are though, you’ll want to customise your results and this is easier said than done. Controlling appearance is possible if you have a Web authoring package to edit the CSS file and the ASP-based page framework. To be able to create and edit your own formats onto which the FrameMaker elements are mapped, however, you’ll need to upgrade to the full WebWorks Professional Edition at no less than $845!

This is the last straw. The improvements to book handling are largely cosmetic; the new PDF functionality is thanks to the new version of Distiller; and now the all-important Web output is left to cut-down, third-party software. What on earth have the FrameMaker programmers been doing for the last two years? If they aren’t going to develop the obvious synergy between FrameMaker and XML it’s difficult to imagine what they do intend to tackle. Don’t get me wrong. FrameMaker is still a strong program and still the best option for those users producing highly structured, long documents intended for cross-media publishing. The fact that it is, however, is due solely to the underlying engine that Adobe inherited.

WebWorks produces robust XML - but should FrameMaker be devolving this to a third-party solution?

Overall FrameMaker 6 seems more like a holding operation than a real upgrade. I certainly hope so and that the much-needed comprehensive overhaul will arrive sooner rather than later.

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System Requirements: Pentium or higher, 64MB of RAM, 90-145MB of disk space, Windows 95, 98, 2000 or NT 4, CD-ROM, SVGA

Tom Arah

July 2000

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