Sweet Suites

Oct 02, 2007

I have been writing for some months about the many benefits of component content management and structured publishing. They include content reuse, multi-format, and multi-channel output from single sources, and ease of translation and localization when the components are translated and approved independently.

Writers who are skilled at creating topic-based content components are in great demand, not only in technical publications departments, where they have been preparing help documentation this way for years, but in general corporate marketing, which also wants the return on investment and faster time to market, including international markets, provided by structured publishing.

I have been enthusiastic about the new DITA standard, which is now being specialized and extended into new areas like eLearning and Help. Some software vendors are also noticing the appeal of these benefits and are redesigning their tools to offer them, but not always by implementing the new structured information standards--at least at the moment.

A lot of what is called reuse is simply copy and paste from the source. The best way to reuse content is to have that content only included by reference to the location of the original. This is called an "Xinclude" in XML, or a "conref" (for content reference) in DITA.

With reuse by reference, you can change the original and it changes in all the places it is being reused.

Suite Creativity
Now we are seeing this kind of reuse in the latest Creative Suites from Adobe: Creative Suite 3 Design for graphic designers, CS3 Web for web developers, and CS3 Production for audio/video producers. Note that these comprehensive suites all include some tools that Adobe acquired with their Macromedia purchase, most importantly Flash, but also Dreamweaver, RoboHelp, the former RoboDemo (now Captivate), and Breeze (now Connect).

So what does reuse mean in the context of a Creative Suite? It means creating an asset in one tool then incorporating it in another by reference. When you edit the original material, it gets changed wherever it is included.

This is nowhere more important than in a new Adobe tool suite, to be released later this month and aimed at technical writers, subject matter experts who want to try their hand at producing their own documentation, and instructional designers hoping to produce their own course materials.

The new suite is called Adobe Technical Communication Suite. It combines the just released FrameMaker 8, RoboHelp 7 (the second release of RoboHelp this year and proof of Adobe's commitment to maintaining their user assistance tool as a market leader), Captivate 3 (also recently released and filling the eLearning hole left by Macromedia Authorware) , and Acrobat 8 (with its extraordinary ability to integrate 3D files that can be viewed in interactive 3D in the latest Acrobat Readers).

The Technical Communication Suite is fully multilingual with Unicode support throughout. Not only are font menus showing options in the font itself, menus and other options display in their native languages.

Suite Help
You can include Help in FrameMaker projects, eLearning in RoboHelp and in Frame, 3D animations in Help and Frame and in PDF documents, RoboHelp screen captures from Frame, etc, etc. All the tools include direct access to aspects of the others from within the tool. You do not have to leave one tool to "Edit with…" another tool. And no longer are conversions needed to reuse assets.

If you reuse some Frame content in a RoboHelp project, and then update the Frame document, it automatically updates in your RoboHelp. This is meaningful single-sourcing without XML includes or DITA conrefs.

It's like one big toolset for technical communicators and for instructional designers.

To add to their total integration, all the Creative Suites include Adobe Bridge to organize and locate assets. The next step in asset integration for technical communicators would probably be a full component content management system. But short of that Adobe is adding its Adobe Connect technology to enhance collaborations between users of their suites.

Acrobat can produce PDFs for review and approval and then initiate an Adobe Connect session to move the approval process forward.

Since FrameMaker has considerable DITA support, and since DITA is now being extended to create Help (and eLearning) content, I am looking forward to RoboHelp (maybe even Captivate) importing and exporting DITA documents some day.

One vendor set to do this now is WebWorks. Earlier releases of FrameMaker were bundled with Quadralay WebWorks to provide the HTML output. Now that FrameMaker includes HTML among its many output formats, I am keeping an eye on Quadralay, which has just released the latest version of ePublisher, which it calls a "publishing platform." It has considerable support for the DITA structured publishing standard and can merge DITA XML documents with FrameMaker and Word content to make a single online deliverable.

With a standard like DITA, every compliant tool becomes interoperable and your toolbox becomes one big interoperating toolset. Now that is a sweet suite future.