For years now, Adobe FrameMaker has had a dedicated following, thanks to its unique feature set. Best described as a cross between a very powerful word-processing application, a structured authoring environment, and a book-building program, FrameMaker provides a lot of functionality for people and organizations that produce complex, structured, or long documents. The new release, FrameMaker 7.0, is no exception. With the ability to maintain multiple indexes and cross-references, and to export to an astounding number of formats, FrameMaker is definitely not the average word processor.
Two Become One
FrameMaker 7.0 consists of what was previously two products: FrameMaker (also known as plain-vanilla FrameMaker), and FrameMaker+SGML, the structured-document-authoring version. FrameMaker 7.0’s main attraction is its ability to both import and export valid XML (Extensible Markup Language) for repurposing documents, a boon to publishers who must deliver an array of formats from a single source document.
FrameMaker’s complex nature means that it takes a fair amount of time to master. And it isn’t OS X native, so it has to run in OS 9 or in OS X’s Classic mode; however, it performs quickly and reliably in either environment. (At press time, Adobe had not announced plans to bring FrameMaker to OS X.)
The Power of XML
FrameMaker is already commonly used to publish technical documentation, for which support for cross-references, automatic numbering, and the like are essential, but now that it lets you use a WYSIWYG editor to create XML, it will certainly gain broader use in other publishing arenas.
The ability to author, edit, import, and export XML and SGML; support for Unicode; and the variety of output formats it can deliver make FrameMaker 7.0 a publishing tool without peer on the Mac. This extremely powerful package can deliver output to print, PDF, HTML, XML, SGML, eBook, Palm Reader, and MS Reader while retaining the integrity of the original document. Given this range of formats, it’s possible to repurpose FrameMaker documents for a variety of distribution methods, such as Web sites, database applications, and basically any program that can make good use of XML.
FrameMaker retains its Save As HTML option, and it’s customizable through mapping tables, but to give greater control over HTML export, Adobe has bundled WebWorks Publisher Standard Edition 7.0, instead of the Lite version it included with previous versions of FrameMaker. (If your HTML needs are very complex, the Standard Edition may not suit you; you may need to step up to WebWorks Publisher Pro.)
On the import side, FrameMaker can display most popular raster-image formats, EPS, text insets, native Adobe Illustrator 10 files, PDFs, and now SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics). You can even import a QuickTime movie into a document; however, if you then choose to output the document to PDF, the movie won’t survive the trip.
These import and export capabilities are bolstered by FrameMaker’s new support for workgroups. Version 7.0 includes some basic document-management tools that let users define shared servers or folders and check files in and out as needed. And like many other Adobe products, it includes support for WebDAV (Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning), which allows for easy identification of the various iterations of a document.
Next on the Wish List
Even though FrameMaker 7.0 has some small but significant improvements, there are still a few items on our wish list. You can’t drag and drop text blocks, and long footnotes still don’t break over multiple pages. And the program can’t create automatic endnotes, though you can construct them manually with relatively little effort.
Among FrameMaker’s new features is the ability to select unstructured or structured mode, and you can also determine which mode launches when you start the program. The program can also automatically assign a particular master page layout to a body page based on the latter’s contents. And the number of allowed automatic running headers and footers has been increased from 4 to 12.
Speed and Performance
In our tests with documents of 1,000 pages and larger, FrameMaker 7.0 was stable, reliable, and surprisingly fast, even on one of our older test machines, a 250MHz Wall Street PowerBook G3. We didn’t encounter any bloat-induced sluggishness, even with the inclusion of the new tools. FrameMaker also ran just fine in OS X’s Classic mode.
Our one performance-related complaint is that screen redrawing is dodgy, with occasional lingering text artifacts. You can update the display via a key command, but with the processor power available in modern Macs, there’s no good reason for this glitch. A more irritating display issue sullies FrameMaker’s otherwise superb table function: in table cells that have a color fill, selecting the cells doesn’t reverse the color around the text, so you can’t see what text you’ve highlighted.
FrameMaker gains much of its productivity and efficiency through the use of properly designed templates. Given a template, the average user can learn to work with FrameMaker in a relatively short time. (FrameMaker comes with several sample templates, and more are available through the FrameMaker user community, which you can find on Adobe’s Web site and other FrameMaker sites.) Becoming a template developer takes much longer, but the intrepid developer can, without too much difficulty, learn to build templates for creating unstructured documents. But if you intend to develop structured documents, you’ll probably want to hire outside expertise. If you plan to write your own DTDs (Document Type Definitions) and EDDs (Element Definition Documents) for XML publishing, you’ll likely need some specialized training.
FrameMaker’s user guide is shorter than earlier versions’ but serves as a decent reference manual, with a new design and a good index. The FrameMaker installation includes more than a dozen online PDFs that cover various topics in more depth. FrameMaker Help is easy to navigate and addresses many common questions reasonably well.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
FrameMaker is overkill if all you need is a simple word processor or page-layout application. But if you maintain documents that are both long and long-living, such as books or technical manuals you want to repurpose, you owe it to yourself to check out FrameMaker 7.0, and for authoring structured documents, it’s the only game in town.
FrameMaker 7.0 is powerful and well behaved. The strength of its tool set and the efficiency with which it handles long, complex documents and multiple delivery formats more than compensate for its few irritating flaws. With its variety and depth of useful features, it will no doubt pay for itself in very short order.