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MadCap Software Sponsors the Tech Writer Voices Podcast

Nov 5, 2007 • general

FlareI'm proud to welcome another sponsor to the Tech Writer Voices podcast: MadCap Flare.

You may be wondering exactly what sponsorship involves. Basically, it's different for each company, but I'm offering promotion on my podcasts in exchange for a free copy of the company's product. This is actually something that Heidi Hansen, my co-host, encouraged me to do long ago.

So for the past week, I've been exploring MadCap Flare Version 3.1 with a lot more depth than I explored the trial version of the 2.0 release last year. I'm thoroughly impressed with Flare. It provides a robust, functional online help tool that simply works. When I say robust, I mean it. The granularity of the style editor is powerful -- allowing you to create stylesheets for both online and print formats.

Some other things that stand out:

  • The generated output to print actually conforms to the styles you configure in the style editor.
  • The conditional tagging is intuitive and easy to apply.
  • The net DotNet format allows you to deliver context-sensitive help that is embedded and dynamic.
  • The Webhelp skin is easy to customize.
  • Flare's built-in help is excellent -- no need for a third-party book to guide you through the product.

Although some aspects aren't as obvious as I hoped, Flare is a tool that I won't easily grow out of. And their expansion into other areas -- screen capture, audio, translation, screen demo, and more -- makes their product suite compelling. In some ways Flare is similar to RoboHelp, and in many other ways it's completely unique.

I know I sound like a marketing brochure, so I will admit one thing I don't understand about Flare. A new feature of Flare is Easy-Sync, explained as follows:

A first in the industry. Flare supports two different work flows when importing Microsoft Word or Adobe FrameMaker documents. With the standard import you can leverage existing content and then continue your editing and maintenance using Flares built in editor. However, with the new Easy Sync capability you can have Flare treat the original Word or FrameMaker document as the source file. This allows you to do all of your edits and maintenance in the original Word or FrameMaker document and still get all of the powerful publishing capabilities of Flare. The first tool in the industry to support two different work flows within the same product.

What I don't understand is why anyone would want to maintain a source file in Microsoft Word and then publish to an online help format. Flare's online help editor is so much easier to format and manipulate content than Word. Working in Microsoft Word and publishing to online help seems backwards.

The only logic I see is that some authors may prefer Word due to their familiarity with it.

MadCap's pace is impressive, and the sophistication and functionality of Flare is astounding considering that the product is less than 2 years old.

Look to some upcoming podcasts dedicated specifically to Flare and other Madcap products.

By the way, are you a Flare user? I'd be interested to hear your experiences with it or any other Madcap product.

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.