My friend Tom Johnson posted an article (new window) last week about the recent release of the Technical Communication Suite from Adobe including RoboHelp 7. I added a comment to his post, but it got kind of long, so I thought I’d post it here with slight modifications. The quotes in this post are quotes from Tom’s post, linked above.
I’ve taken a look at RH7, and I personally wasn’t all that impressed with it. As I’ve watched discussions on RH7 evolve for the last few months, 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. Tom said:
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, especially 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).
My response is: 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, and it is a project that seems be getting some more attention internally. It will be interesting to see how these compare in a year or two.
Later in Tom’s post:
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
It’s a bitter irony when a HAT vendor produces poor quality help for its products.
Tom then turns attention to importing Frame files into RH7:
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 groundbreaking? I mean, Flare does this and does it better. In Flare you can round-trip your FM files. THAT is groundbreaking and innovative.
I believe 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 with other Adobe products because it seems they don’t understand the code behind what it does. I also wonder if they really understand the RoboHelp code enough to update it to compete in the new space (now that it has to compete with Flare, AuthorIT, and others).
It will be very telling to see what happens in the next RoboHelp release. Frame 8 is bascially 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 innovation 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.
In Tom’s conclusion he states:
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.
With his conclusion, he supports my theory that those who wanted to like it do like it. Despite all the problems Tom enumerated in his post, he still have a favorable impression of RH–a tool he has used in the past with good results. I tested 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.