Adventures with the New Technical Communication Suite from Adobe (mostly RoboHelp 7 and Captivate)

RoboHelp 7, part of the new Technical Communication Suite from AdobeRob Houser’s recent article in Writers UA, “What’s New in RoboHelp 7?“, is a thorough, insightful article I highly recommend. After reading his review, I thought I’d post a few notes from my experiences with the same. (For more about Rob, see his site.)

This past month I’ve been heavily using the RoboHelp 7 and Captivate 3 components of the Technical Communication Suite. RoboHelp 7 offers some impressive new features: snippets, breadcrumbs, a pod-based interface that you can drag around, integration with Framemaker and Captivate, and so on. But as is the case with many new releases, there are some bugs and unexpected shortcomings.

Captivate Integration Led to Fuzzy Videos

I really love the integration with Captivate, and the inclusion of Captivate is what sold me on the product. RoboHelp 7 allows you to begin Captivate movies from within RoboHelp. That way you don’t have to keep re-importing the files each time you update them. Additionally, you can directly embed screen demos on topics or in drop-down hotspots.

I think that’s the strength of the product, and for the most part it works well. But some glitch happened in RoboHelp that resized my Captivate movies and made them look fuzzy. I ended up deleting the RoboHelp-initiated movies and imported them manually instead (File > Import).

Firefox Display Never Finishes Loading

I was disappointed to see that my custom webhelp skin wouldn’t work in Firefox. It loaded eternally and kept trying to load until I pressed the Escape key. The Back and Forward buttons don’t store any history (until you press Escape). So when you do finally click Back, it takes you out of the help. Click Forward and it takes you back into the help, but with no TOC pane.

Luckily, there is an easy fix for this. It only involves a quick change to some lines of code. Go to Peter Grainge’s site and see the section “Help is slow to complete loading or it fails to complete loading.”

Bullets and Sub-Lists Display Differently in Firefox

While you’re looking at your project in Firefox, you might want to look closely at your bullets and sub-lists (by sub-list, I mean a, b, c …). If you apply a style to either of these elements, Firefox’s display looks goofy. The bullet or sub-list is left-aligned, while the text is spaced too far to the right.

You might also want to be careful about manually editing the css style sheet. I opened up the css style sheet in Dreamweaver and edited the topics while keeping the RoboHelp project open. It was cool to bypass the tedious style editor and quickly modify my styles like this. However, when I published the file, the output in Firefox was skewampus. In addition to the bullets and sub-lists problem, paragraph spacing was absent. Plus the help’s buttons didn’t work and the TOC collapsed on a Kubuntu OS.

I recommend using RoboHelp’s official style editor, and perhaps playing with the _ns.css stylesheet that RoboHelp outputs when you generate help.

Easy to Drag Panes into Oblivion

The new graphic interface with the draggable panes looks more modern, and you can actually drag the panes onto other monitors. But be careful with this. If you have popup windows that open on a second monitor, when you switch back to single monitor mode, RoboHelp might not know you’re only using monitor. I had an Import dialog box that kept opening on a second monitor that I didn’t have, and the app would freeze until I hit escape to close the invisible dialog box.

When I switched back to dual-monitor mode, I dragged the Import box where it should appear, and that fixed it.

Webhelp Skin Graphics Lacking

I really wish Adobe would have created more appealing webhelp skins. I think they added one new skin (“Beautiful Vista”), but it’s not very beautiful. If Adobe hired more graphic designers to create up-to-date looking buttons, the output could be a lot more attractive.

Online Help Quality Plummets

RoboHelp’s online help is interesting. There’s an online and offline mode. (The online mode didn’t work at first, but they eventually fixed it.) In Rob Houser’s review, he noted how the help was careless and sloppy. I’d add the word “uninformative.” It seems to lack more comprehensive instructions specific to the Suite.  The help points out the obvious in too many places, without providing real insight.

Rob writes,

I hate to make this observation, but RoboHelp’s online help seems to be getting worse. I’m not talking about RoboHelp’s ability to output a professional and standard looking help viewer. I’m talking about the help content that is supposed to help you learn and use RoboHelp. The examples may not seem dramatic, but taken as a whole I’m afraid that new users may not be able to learn RoboHelp simply by using the online help. They certainly aren’t seeing best practices and full RoboHelp capabilities being demonstrated.

For example, I wanted more thorough instructions on how each component interrelates with the others. When you initiate a Captivate movie from within RoboHelp, the source file (with a .cp extension) remains in your computer’s My Documents > My Adobe Captivate Projects folder — which is outside the RoboHelp project folder. To edit the movie, you right-click the .skn file from inside RoboHelp’s interface (in the Project folder) and that skin file opens the .cp file on your desktop. Don’t rename the .cp file or the .skn file won’t recognize it.

Also, don’t manually delete anything from the RoboHelp project folder (such as through Windows Explorer) because doing so will corrupt the .cpd file and RoboHelp will have to re-index the contents of that folder. I wanted more information like that in the help.

Framemaker Import Groundbreaking But Irrelevant for Me

Although the integration with Framemaker is revolutionary, I’d still rather output to a Frame file, rather than import it. Rob makes some noteworthy comments about this interaction:

The import is only one way—from FrameMaker to RoboHelp. However, many RoboHelp features are not supported in FrameMaker documents, so single-sourcing from FrameMaker to RoboHelp would seriously restrict the quality of your help system.

Another big issue: there is no capability for generating the printed documentation from RoboHelp in FrameMaker. This means the main form of printed documentation supported by RoboHelp is still Microsoft Word, which has numerous layout and formatting issues that have not been addressed for over seven years.

In his conclusion, he makes an interesting observation comparing Robohelp to Flare in terms of Framemaker interaction:

Flare is developed by a team that is experienced with help authoring, and—perhaps the most confusing distinction—Flare seems to support FrameMaker more thoroughly both for importing and exporting content than does RoboHelp.

Conclusion

RoboHelp continues to ignore some major issues, such as the lack of character-level indexing and the formatting errors when you export to Word. Despite my complaints, I like many others have an affinity for the usability of this tool. It’s like an old pair of sneakers that has some new laces and polish. Maybe some new traction too.

Adobe RobohelpMadcap Flare

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By Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer working for the 41st Parameter in San Jose, California. I'm primarily interested in topics related to technical writing, such as visual communication (video tutorials, illustrations), findability (organization, information architecture), API documentation (code examples, programming), and web publishing (web platforms, interactivity) -- pretty much everything related to technical writing. If you're trying to keep up to date about the field of technical communication, subscribe to my blog either by RSS, email, or another method. To learn more about me, see my About page. You can also contact me if you have questions.

25 thoughts on “Adventures with the New Technical Communication Suite from Adobe (mostly RoboHelp 7 and Captivate)

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  2. Paul

    Disclaimer: I’m a Flare aficionado and a volunteer MVP in the MadCap Forums

    My experience is that people who want to be wowed by RH7 are wowed by it. People who want to be pleasantly neutral are able to be pleasantly neutral. And people who want to hate RH7 find plenty to hate about it.

    This past month I’ve been heavily using the RoboHelp 7 and Captivate 3 components of the Technical Communication Suite. RoboHelp 7 offers some impressive new features: snippets, breadcrumbs, a pod-based interface that you can drag around, integration with Framemaker and Captivate, and so on.

    So basically RH has come out with some of the stuff Flare did, and copied the terminology (“snippets” for example) just to compete. Not particularly innovative, in my opinion, when they are a couple of years late to the party.

    RoboHelp 7 allows you to begin Captivate movies from within RoboHelp. That way you don’t have to keep re-importing the files each time you update them. […] I ended up deleting the RoboHelp-initiated movies and imported them manually instead (File > Import).

    Then how is this good? If you ended up importing them separately, then don’t you have to keep updating them?

    Personally, I prefer the way Mimic works for referencing the Mimic project from Flare, then building the Mimic output when Flare is built. You can share variables across products so your Flare variables are available for use in Mimic. That is pretty cool. While Captivate has more features and is easier to use than Mimic, I think you’ll see Mimic improve as MadCap puts more dev time into it. Since MadCap announced it is hiring a Mimic Product Manager, you can bet this is going to be getting some more attention internally. It will be interesting to see how these compare in a year or two.

    You might also want to be careful about manually editing the css style sheet. […] I recommend using RoboHelp’s official style editor, and perhaps playing with the _ns.css stylesheet that RoboHelp outputs when you generate help.

    I hate anything that requires post-processing. A tool that requires post processing for creating WebHelp is broken, in my opinion. I want to be able to build my target and publish it in the next step. (However, I give more allowance for printed output, because there are conventions in printed output that are currently hard to get from the available tools.)

    Online Help Quality Plummets

    Isn’t it a bitter irony when the help files from a HAT vendor suck?

    Framemaker Import Groundbreaking But Irrelevant for Me
    […]
    Flare is developed by a team that is experienced with help authoring, and—perhaps the most confusing distinction—Flare seems to support FrameMaker more thoroughly both for importing and exporting content than does RoboHelp.

    It’s ironic isn’t it? MadCap’s product does better with Adobe’s own FrameMaker than Adobe is. But I don’t get how this is innovative? I mean, Flare does this and does it better. In Flare you can round-trip your FM files. THAT is innovative.

    I belie this is indicative of a larger problem within Adobe: they purchase a product then get rid of the developers who understand the product. Adobe is having trouble updating and making Frame compatible because they don’t understand the code behind what it does. They also don’t understand the RoboHelp code.

    It will be very telling to see what happens in the next RoboHelp release. Frame 8 is basially Frame 7.2 with a new UI and a couple of upgraded features. But there isn’t any competition out there pushing Adobe to make a better Frame. RoboHelp is now in catch-up mode trying to figure out how to emulate the innovative features in MadCap’s product suite. Now it is MadCap pushing the innivation envelope here. Will RH be able to maintain pace with MadCap’s one (or more) releases per year? Will RH be able to come out with new features that aren’t already in Flare? Maybe so, but RH 7 wasn’t proof of that yet. Again, it will be interesting to have this discussion in two years and see where the major players are at.

    RoboHelp continues to ignore some major issues, such as the lack of character-level indexing and the formatting errors when you export to Word. Despite my complaints, I like many others have an affinity for the usability of this tool. It’s like an old pair of sneakers that has some new laces and polish. Maybe some new traction too.

    Here you again support my theory that those who wanted to like it do like it. Despite all the problems you enumerated in this post, you still have a favorable impression of RH. I used RH7, and I’m very glad my primary HAT is Flare.

    But to each their own. If anything, I hope a healthy competition between Flare and RH continues because that will help both products improve. Frame is a great example of how a product can go stagnant when no outside competition drives the need for new changes and features.

  3. Tom

    Paul, thanks for the lengthy response to my post about the tech comm suite. As I indicated, there are a lot of problems with the tech comm suite — a lot of bugs, actually, which is pretty embarrassing for a major release.

    I also agree that Flare is ahead of RoboHelp in innovation, and many of the new features in RoboHelp already exist in Flare.

    One thing about tools — when you land in a company, often you’re required to use the tools provided or used by the other tech writers. Such is my case.

    Re Mimic, I did explore that for an evening and I think that Captivate is a superior product several notches above Mimic. Mainly, Mimic lacks full-motion recording, and Captivate’s timeline is so much easier to edit. Plus Captivate movies embed in RoboHelp.

    I’m curious to know if I could use Captivate with Flare. Can you give me any details about that? Would I just link to the .htm file (that has accompanying .swf files)? Would I publish the Captivate files in another folder, outside the generated Flare online help?

    Overall, I don’t think Madcap should have expanded into so many peripheral tools (Blaze, Mimic, Capture, etc). They should have focused all their innovative attention on Flare, fully blowing RoboHelp out of the water. It would have also been cool if they had merged with TechSmith….

    I’m planning to focus more attention on Flare in my blog, especially the Feedback server. You don’t happen to have an implementation of Feedback server on your web host, do you?

    Anyway, thanks again for your comments.

  4. Paul

    Dude. I’m supposed to be on vacation. And here you find me musing on one of my favorite topics… :)

    One thing about tools — when you land in a company, often you’re required to use the tools provided or used by the other tech writers. Such is my case.

    Yeah. I understand. When I was hired at my current job, I was the first tech writer they’d had on staff for over a year, so I got my pick of tools. It is a nice position to be in. However, in my first job, I learned Frame because that is what the company used. I was glad to learn it, even though it took a while to become accustomed to some of its less pleasant quirks.

    I think that Captivate is a superior product several notches above Mimic. Mainly, Mimic lacks full-motion recording, and Captivate’s timeline is so much easier to edit. Plus Captivate movies embed in RoboHelp.

    I will be interested to see where this discussion goes in the next couple of years. I agree with you that Mimic has room for improvement. I don’t think anybody at MadCap would disagree, which is why I suppose they are putting new development efforts behind it. And, of course, integration between products is always an obvious choice, when possible. For example, I LOVE how Capture and Flare work together, but I still can’t give up SnagIT for some features (In some cases, I end up taking the capture in SnagIT, and doing some editing in SnagIT, then taking a Capture screen capture of my SnatIT workspace–just so I can use the integration and single-sourcing options available in Capture.

    I’m curious to know if I could use Captivate with Flare.

    Honestly, I’ve never used Captivate, but you can include external HTML files or even SWF files in Flare, as far as I know–as long as they are well-formed. I could check into this, though.

    Overall, I don’t think Madcap should have expanded into so many peripheral tools (Blaze, Mimic, Capture, etc). They should have focused all their innovative attention on Flare, fully blowing RoboHelp out of the water.

    I can understand why you say that. However, to create a tool capable of blowing RH out of the water requires a suite of tools to compete with the suite of tools RH works with, if you know what I mean. And from what I understand, Blaze will just be a sub-set of Flare which only creates printed output. (So Blaze doesn’t get you anything more than what you can get from a full Flare installation.) And Capture is just a sub-set of Mimic which only creates still images. You could think of Blaze as Flare-lite and Capture as Mimic-lite.

    From that perspective, MadCap’s branching out from the core mission isn’t as wide as the product list might make it appear.

    You don’t happen to have an implementation of Feedback server on your web host, do you?

    Unfortunately, no. As you understand, many of these things are driven by employer-related restrictions — or at least what my employer is willing to purchase, and Feedback Server wasn’t on that list. And being a MadCap forum MVP doesn’t get me a copy of Feedback Server to install on my own system. Would be cool, though…

    And I want to thank you, Tom, for a great blog and podcast. I love to see tool-related dialog. I’m passionate about this subject, if you can’t tell from the word count .

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  7. Charles

    Captivate files can be used within Flare, just FYI. It’s a lot like any other .swf content. You do want to play around with how exactly the frame will work, etc. a little to see how well you like it.

    I’m trying to recall the steps to use the two together, I did it last year as a demo. I would generate a .swf and then use it within Flare as an object… Of course it’s a lot easier to use Mimic as it was designed with Flare.

    To insert a Captivate movie:

    1) Export as .swf file. test this and make sure it works.
    2) Within Flare, put your cursor inside the XML Editor where you want the Captivate file to be.
    3) Choose from the top toolbar the image icon, | Insert | Picture.
    4) Browse to your .swf file and choose it.

    Paul, Blaze will be pretty sharp on its own as a standalone product. I’ll get that podcast up today so we can all hear what Mike Hamilton has to say about it, but it’s not particularly just a Flare-Lite type of product. In fact, it’s ambitious. ;-)

    I’ve also recently reviewed MadCap’s Feedback Server/Service on my blog.
    Part 1 – http://charlesjeter.com/2007/10/04/
    Part 2 – http://charlesjeter.com/2007/10/14/

  8. Charles

    Paul, excellent points and I used to share them earlier this year. Particularly I was having a hard time understanding why MadCap would take on so many different software products at once…

    Well, the podcast that I did earlier this month with Mike Hamilton answered that question. It’s on my site – check it out at
    http://charlesjeter.com/2007/12/27/madcaps-vp-mike-hamilton-speaks-dec-7th-2007/

    or just
    http://charlesjeter.com/2007/12/27/

    Mike talks so clearly about Madcap’s strategy in building their framework around the core programming that it makes sense about the workflow.

    Additionally, he talks a bit more about Blaze. I’ll have to interview Sharon Burton (Product Manager) to get as much as possible, but the downlow is that Blaze could be very heavy indeed.

  9. Paul

    Charles,

    I’ll check out your podcast a little later today. I’m curious to know what views you and I shared earlier this year that you no longer espouse, and what caused you to change your mind?

  10. Charles

    Paul,

    It was just about the Blaze being Flare Lite, and also earlier this year I was of the same opinion of ‘why in the world are they launching so many products’ mindset. I think either you or Tom mentioned that, and I was totally in that frame.

    Until… I sat down with Mike Hamilton and I started to understand the road they had set down upon. That podcast is part 2 of my discussions with Mike this year, earlier in June I had taken the time to attend a briefing in San Diego with other Help Authoring people where he’d talked about the products they had. I kept thinking, how in the world are they going to support all these different products and keep the dev cycles from spinning out of control?

    So… the podcast answered that for me. Check it out, around minutes 32 through 36 on the podcast he talks about how their core technology is shared through Flare and Blaze, and Capture and Mimic. So that answered a lot of my skepticism about MadCap’s being overambitious.

    Mike also explained that they were ‘attacking the workflow’ (my terms) instead of competing product to product. This was important because that justified why launch a screen capture utility and a desktop simulation tool when the market’s full of those, and already dominated.

    So… Mike convinced me that how they had done it was viable, and this was already after touring the spaces and not seeing a bunch of stressed out techies. I had the feel of accuracy and truth coming from him, and they’re in a good position after all.

    — Charles

    PS: Podcast: http://charlesjeter.com/2007/12/27/madcaps-vp-mike-hamilton-speaks-dec-7th-2007/

    Program for podcast:
    http://charlesjeter.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/dec07mikehamiltonpodcastprogram.pdf

    Hopefully those links don’t break. ;-)

  11. Tom

    Charles, thanks for the extra insight on reasoning behind the authoring suite. I listened to the podcast the same day you posted it, and then listened to most of it again today. I found it really informative. I plan to write up my notes and response to it — I just haven’t had the time yet. The podcast brought more clarity to the variety of their products.

    I’m curious to hear how you recorded the podcast. What device did you use? And how much editing did the audio file require afterwards? Any surprises, or was it totally easy to produce?

    Also, if you want an audio player for your site, I recommend this one: http://www.1pixelout.net/code/audio-player-wordpress-plugin/

  12. Tom

    Charles, have you used the Madpak authoring suite much? If so, can you share more insight and feedback about the interaction of the various products?

  13. Charles

    Hey Tom,

    Thanks for the link to the player content! I’m going to start adding more rich (overused term, I know) content to my blog and using your podcast widget was instrumental in my deciding to get that done.

    I used my Pentax Optio W10 camera with the sound recording option. Wait – my W10 had been dropped a week prior, it was the Pentax Optio Z10 I was giving my Mom for Christmas. She was kind enough to understand that I needed to use it, and couldn’t keep it myself because Dr. Girlfriend got me this killer Olympus waterproof camera.

    Anecdotal: I had to cut out the trash truck which pulled into the alley right behind Mike’s office. Neither of us knew that Fridays were trash day.

    As far as the sound file went, I have just had a really rough month and no time at all to sit down and edit the sound file. Because of the trash truck I knew I had to at least kill that part and I had already started slicing up the file when Paul mentioned that long ones are okay. To keep things on track conceptually I settled on writing a program guide (the .pdf file) while I edited the content to take out my ‘UMMs’ which is a really bad habit of mine.

    Took me about two hours to do both at the same time so time management was the only problem I had with getting it done. I’ve done audio editing before, so there weren’t any surprises. I usually can’t do much else when I’m doing audio; I cannot multitask effectively at all with audio but with blogging or other writing it’s not as big of a deal.

    I’m pretty confident of Flare as the editor of choice. The ancillary products like Mimic, Echo, and to a slighter extent, Capture have some improvements to bring them up to speed but you already knew that and commented on it.

    My perspective after my visit is that just about everyone there feels very confident in the sprint through innovation with Flare and now will come the time to beef up the rest of the MadPak. That whole bit in the podcast where I asked Mike – are you sure you want me to tell this – that was about what he said about their core technology being integrated across the entire product line. They’re single sourcing their own dev pipeline, so it’s like rolling feature requests from one product right into the other one, effectively halving their workload.

    So not only will Flare continue to take customers from RH and the others – even a slight loss to each HAT provider gives Flare more of a rabid customer base, because they get energized when they get into the forums – but the sequel will be in the MadPak’s feature improvement.

    The triple threat Adobe and other HATs will be facing as MadCap spools up to full speed will be in competing with the killer apps they’re integrating into the help authoring community.

    Check these out and you’ll know why I say killer apps:

    Analyzer – how do you even measure metrics on this one? It makes all your topics work smoother through some sort of algorithms that make me think of Google’s garage days. Never been done before. Now it’s another way that software can replace hours of tedious work done by experienced help authors, not to mention killing a grip of those stupid conference calls and worthless meetings.

    Lingo – there are tools out there but sorting through what works is a full time occupation for localization middle management making a decision that thousands of dollars rests on. Lingo cuts through the crap and disrupts that entire model because of how Flare was designed and how it works into the workflow.

    Blaze – this thing is going to be freakish in adoption if the rumors I’m hearing are true. Mass defections are expected all over the XML / Frame space once it gets rolling. Remember that feature integration time will be halved because of the core technology shared with Flare. Frame and RoboHelp can never share their core tech unless Adobe razes their code and builds brand new, and that’s not likely given Adobe’s quarter to quarter financial goal concepts.

    Feedback Server/Service – of course this is where I did my October visit. It’s super simple, should have been around years ago, and I’m sure it’s somewhat easy to duplicate. Therefore Adobe will probably integrate something in the future into their RH product. But for now they’re chasing the 2.0 of MadCap’s Feedback.

    This gets even harder as the RoboHelp Server updates these past two cycles were mostly bug fixes, not true innovation like Web 2.0 integration. Imagine having to negotiate your way through legacy code already patched, now imagine it’s dependent upon MSFT server technology, and NOW start talking about Web 2.0 integration, including user permissions, wow. Tough break, hard act to follow.

    Besides, according to the Adobe Tech Comm blog back in March 2007, they’re looking to the PDF side for the review and commenting capabilities. Which is not single sourcing and doesn’t make sense any more today than when I first read it – it’s online documentation, so why on earth would I output it into PDF and then round-trip it back in after comments were done?

    Competition: Adobe’s going to have to spend real money to even get that done because of the software limitations. Their RH code is like a sourdough starter batch recipe that’s been handed down for a hundred and twenty years; when I was at eHelp the dev teams all talked about implementing one feature and having three others start dumping.

    Not only did Adobe dump the tech support team which was their remaining brain trust on past code issues, when I was there the tech support team ran the external beta testing, so they also lost their remaining beta brain trust.

    So imagine having, midway through a software dev cycle for RH7, totally green techs located halfway across the world trying to communicate with long time community MVPs who have known the prior team for, in most cases over five years. And that’s why RH7 is buggy in a nutshell.

    Adobe sadly cored out their team just before kickoff of the big game. Those bugs you and others saw in the final release? Their users will have to get used to them.

    Surprise of all surprises, Vivek Jain railed in a blog post that “…quality is innovation”. That was back in March, here’s the url:
    http://blogs.adobe.com/techcomm/2007/03/quality_is_innovation.html

    My firm opinion is that I don’t envision Adobe being capable of outwitting MadCap. They’re outgunned in the innovation department, and even if Vivek’s ‘quality is innovation’ speech wasn’t proven to be completely wrong in less than a year, they would still have the hard task of convincing users that they can do their job better with RoboHelp than with Analyzer, Feedback, and whatever other aces MadCap’s not even told me about.

  14. Tom

    Charles, thanks for posting so much detail and insight in the comments. Re the audio, I’m surprised that you were able to get such good sound from a camera’s recording device. I thought it sounded excellent. I didn’t even realize you had edited out a garbage truck sound.

    Re innovation and quality, I like your enthusiasm and I’m eager to get more hands-on experience with some of these other Madcap tools. I agree with you that Adobe will have a hard time catching up with Analyzer, Blaze, Lingo, and Feedback Server. Madcap is really going forward full throttle.

    After listening to the podcast, I thought you had worked at eHelp before, but I wasn’t sure. Your comment clarifies that. It must have brought back memories to do the interview in Blue Sky’s old office building.

    I saw some construction photos on your site. Are you building a house in La Jolla or something? Keep up the good posts. Glad to see you’re using WordPress.

  15. Charles

    Thanks for the opportunity, Tom. Yeah, those little cameras really do well. The mikes they have are something the manufacturers probably intended for the video capture mode, however I’m lucky that Pentax also provides an audio-only mode.

    Yeah, the garbage truck was just starting to slam around in the back alley. It was so loud Mike and I had to raise our voices to be heard so we started laughing about it.

    I did work for eHelp five years ago for something like a year and a half after they had changed offices. I was hoping to work for them while they were in La Jolla, but they gave me my own office once they had the increased space so it was a cool tradeoff. :)

    I’m currently working on the http://www.vets2vines.com project located up near wine country in Northern California. I’ve been trying to finish up this energy efficient building way behind the schedule. Luckily it’s nearly complete, and eventually that building will be the office from which to do the rest of the operations. Overall Vets2Vines is kind of a big project and may take a couple more years to finish!

    Loving WordPress. Just switched over from Adobe Contribute to Windows Live Writer two days ago, very impressed with how MSFT did Writer.

    Thanks for the article on my podcast, by the way! Mike really did open up. Not that he’s an introvert or anything, and it was pretty cool to catch up with him for the first time in a few years.

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  17. Tom

    Just a small follow-up note on the integration of Flare and Captivate. You can insert Captivate movies into Flare by importing the Captivate’s .htm file into the Flare by following the instructions here.

    Here’s the text:

    “1. Open up a Microsoft Windows Explorer session and locate the .htm(l) files for importing into the project.
    2. Select and copy the .htm(l) files.
    3. In Flare, find the folder that would like to add the .htm(l) files too. Right-click on the folder and select “Open Folder in Windows”.
    4. Paste the .htm(l) files into the folder that opens.
    5. View the converted XML files in the Content Explorer within the MadCap Flare user interface.
    6. Double-click on the .htm(l) file and the HTML -> XHTML Wizard dialog will appear.
    7. Click the Yes button to proceed with the conversion.

    Note: You will need to open up all of the .htm(l) files that were copied to be converted into the XHTML format using the HTML -> XHTML Wizard.”

    My summary: You can just drag the Captivate output files into your Flare project. Then double-click the htm files, convert them. Then just link to them like any other topic. They open and display fine.

  18. Charles

    Now my question is whether you see the same fuzziness in the Flare-imported Captivate files as you did in RoboHelp 7?

    That would be funny if it worked better in Flare than in RoboHelp, as I suspect it might.

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  20. Douglas K. Beagley

    Hi Tom,
    I am in an unusual position and would appreciate your opinion.

    I have been writing all of my documentation in straight XML code, using a text editor (vi), and then compiling it using DocBook to produce identical HTML and PDF output. This is very raw single-sourcing, fast and nifty, but I need more direct control. I can’t really control text layout, headers and footers, fonts and colors, sidebars and other document features, and learning advanced DTD/DocBook Stylesheet design is not appealing. I have been considering Adobe Technical Communication Suite along with MadCap’s products and have even taken a look at AuthorIT.

    And another thing: We have never produced help files before, just PDF and HTML versions of manuals. We’ve never needed a program like RoboHelp or Flare. But we will. Big time. We are producing new software that will definitely need a built-in help system of some kind. (They are using C++, with the Qt library.)

    So now is the time for me to make a decision and learn a new product. And I can pick anything I want and implement it company wide, as I am the whole department.

    I have been using Adobe Captivate for training videos, and I like the product very much.

    I’d love to import my existing DocBook code into a program’s XML-level editor, find and replace all the tags that don’t work for whatever reason, learn to make the style adjustments using that program’s higher-level tools, and then recompile my documentation into HTML, PDF, and help files. I would also love to incorporate videos into the help files, as you describe.

    I’m nervous about going with ATC suite because I’m worried I’ll have to switch to “higher level” formatting of a proprietary file format and I won’t be able to drop down to the precise control of tagged, standardized text. I’m worried that ATC isn’t a true single-sourcing, standards based solution. But I’m worried that Flare is too immature and won’t allow me to produce professional PDF manuals the way ATCS can… but then there’s Blaze… immature, sure, but maybe I don’t need MUCH for my PDF output… big printed manuals are dinosaurs.

    But my real problem? Having never used either of these programs or anything like them, I can’t just download the demos and explore. My learning curve is going to be nice and steep! How I can I make a decision about this universe when my favorite editor is vi? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vi)

    I’d appreciate any advice you may have on how to make this decision intelligently, given my details. I’ve been reading all the reviews and comparisons between the products I can find, but generally they spend a lot of time on features that I probably don’t need or legacy support for a legacy unrelated to my position.

    If you were starting from scratch, had a love for open-source, bare-bones style coding and layout, yet you needed advanced layout tools, and needed to produce manuals, help files, Web-based help documents, and videos, how would you go about investigating the options? And are there KEY factors that would inform your decision?

  21. Tom

    Doug, this is a hard question to answer. You might ask Alan Porter (aporter@webworks.com) what ePublisher can do to transform your content into the outputs you need. I’m not that familiar with the ePublisher solutions, but it looks like you’ve already got the material authored and just need to transform it into more robust outputs. ePublisher is a publishing platform rather than a help authoring tool.

    You might also want to ask Char James-Tanny at helpstuff.com this question. She’s a strong advocate of AuthorIt, and is knowledgeable about many other tools as well.

    Finally, Neil Perlin is a good person to ask also. His blog is here: http://www.hyperword.blogspot.com/

    If you use ATS, the online help and captivate integration will look great, but the printed manuals will require manual reformatting. If you use Flare, the online help will look good and the printed manuals will look good (requiring only a little tweaking), but there is a learning curve with this application. It’s not the easiest to use, but with a little bit of study, you can do some amazing things with it. Flare includes Blaze features, so you don’t even need to think about Blaze. Blaze is useful if you’re outputting only to PDF and not to online help.

    AuthorIt is excellent as well, but since I’ve never used it, I can’t say much about it other than that it single sources your content well and allows multi-authoring.

    I don’t know how much legacy content you have. That’s a huge factor in your decision.

    Someone who knows a lot about DocBook is Scott Nesbitt over at DMN Communications. Ask him for his advice too.

    Today there isn’t just one solution for help authoring. Sorry I can’t be more help. If you ask around and find your answer, will you please return to this post and leave a new comment about your solution?

  22. Charles

    Hi Douglas,
    I know your question was directed at Tom. I’m really impressed with the workflow based products that MadCap’s using, along with their very open editing tools which might be what you’re looking for.
    Because you’re lucky enough to be in the planning phase of your software buy, I would recommend talking directly to one of the MadCap people because this would be a killer workflow case study for both you and them.
    Why Flare? Well, as you can see with the discussion, I’ve been impressed in the past few months with what the MadCap crew has done. I’m not sure about docbook having never done it personally but even if Flare doesn’t do it, I’m sure the support team over there would be able to convert it somehow and send it back to you as a .flprj file.
    One of the powerful resources for MadCap is their user community. I’d suggest crossposting your comments here into the Flare Support Forums, an area where other non-MadCap Flare users might have already done some of what you’re looking to do.  In fact, I just ‘ate my own dog food’ and went to the support site where AndyR has posted his recommendation of how to convert DocBook cheaply and cleanly… Someone else pointed out the use of XML Spy to pont to a DocBook DTD in the same thread.
    After posting there, I would start with a phone call to Jennifer – she does sales at MadCap – don’t just download the demo because she can make sure you get help pre-sale really easily from the guys across the hall. It’s easier when you can talk to real people and Jennifer’s pretty cool.   Since your application seems to fall into workflow collaboration – what the propeller-headed Project Managers over there are tinkering with, you might get some response from Mike or Sharon as well. I think they’re up in Vancouver right about now but it’s a thought.

    Charless last blog post..Starting a Conversation: The Art of Comment Fetching

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