MadCap Software Expands Reach Into Adobe’s Realm

Apr 24, 2008

May 2008 Issue

Article Image"Shrink-wrap level pricing for enterprise level technology" is how Mike Hamilton, VP of product management for MadCap Software, Inc., describes his company’s multichannel content authoring software.

But that doesn’t tell half the story of MadCap, an upstart software development company competing with the Goliath that is Adobe. MadCap has achieved acclaim from the March 2006 launch of its flagship content authoring product, MadCap Flare, designed to compete with Adobe’s RoboHelp. In 18 months, use of Flare has grown to 25% of the content authoring market, according to the 2007 WritersUA Skills and Technologies Survey, while usage of RoboHelp declined from 63% in November 2006 to 56% a year later. The company reports being profitable since its first month shipping the Flare product.

On March 17, MadCap announced the launch of its XML Documentation Suite to provide a native XML alternative to Adobe. The product offers authoring, review, collaboration, analysis, translation, and localization tools, including an authoring tool that supports DITA.

At the same time, the company announced a special promotion to gain early user access to the MadCap Blaze product, which will compete with Adobe FrameMaker for creating long, complex print documents. "Within 10 hours of the Blaze launch, we were getting reviews," Hamilton says.

MadCap has made significant inroads against Adobe and other software makers by offering a tightly integrated suite of products based on newer XML standards. Underlying code for many products was built in the early to mid-1990s and has been updated to work in new environments and with new operating systems. A built-from-scratch system will have fewer bugs and work in a more integrated fashion than a system that was once new but has had many parts updated and replaced, Hamilton explains.

Mary Laplante, senior analyst at Gilbane Group, believes the time is ripe for a shakeup in the authoring space. The Gilbane Group focuses on content technologies. "There are opportunities for new players with contemporary architecture and a new approach, and I think MadCap comes to market at an interesting time," says Laplante. "The need for granular structured content has brought new opportunities for authoring software."

Other players in the market include Adobe’s FrameMaker, PTC’s Arbortext, and XmetaL from JustSystems, Laplante notes.

MadCap was founded by several managers, engineers, and support personnel who helped develop RoboHelp in the late 1990s as part of eHelp Corp. That company was later bought by Macromedia, which Hamilton said essentially quit supporting the RoboHelp product and shed staff in early 2005 before Macromedia was acquired by Adobe.

"That was the worst day and the best day of my life," Hamilton said of the day he left Macromedia voluntarily as RoboHelp product manager to join MadCap. "But there was a need for new code and new technology, a C#, Unicode, standards-based products, and that’s what Flare is."

ANIMATRIX Computer Arts, Inc. made the switch from RoboHelp to Flare because of lack of innovation in the Adobe product, says Debbie Richards, president of the Houston-based provider of development and technical consulting support.

"Madcap allows you to compose in XML, which was something we wanted to do," Richards says. "And the company is very R&D structured."

Richards adds that Flare allows the addition of "Mark of the Web" (MoTW) to WebHelp files so that they run locally in Internet Explorer. The MoTW basically tricks Internet Explorer into thinking that an HTML file is running from the web. "We weren’t able to do this with RoboHelp, and it was essential for (this particular) project, which ran via CD," Richards says. Note that, according to Akshay Madan, product manager for Adobe RoboHelp, MOTW (Mark of the Web) has actually been part of RoboHelp since January 2007 in version six.

A software product should grow with the user, as updates address not only fixes but enhancements that make the product more valuable. "Ask the company if they plan to address your needs or will consider them when developing software upgrades," Richards advises. "If the answer is no, then you should start shopping!"

With the XML Documentation Suite, MadCap hopes to bolster its penetration into documentation processes. After its first 2 years, MadCap’s Flare is being used by 1,700-plus companies in a diverse range of industries. About a third of those uses are for documentation, Hamilton notes. Other uses include standard business documents, HR manuals, policy manuals, and knowledgebases for call centers and customer care centers. Flare’s translation and analyzing methodologies particularly have struck a chord among users, Hamilton says.

"Our goal is to look at the content authoring space and try to solve the problems that users encounter," Hamilton says. "If that means we wind up on Adobe’s doorstep, then so be it."