TCW: RJ, thanks for agreeing to speak with us today. For our readers who don’t know who you are, please tell us a little about yourself and what you do at Adobe Systems.
RJ: Scott, thank you. I started using FrameMaker pretty much since day one when Frame Technology owned it and have spent most of my career in Product Management for various companies, including Quadralay Corporation, eHelp Corporation, Macromedia and close to two years ago, I joined Adobe Systems, where I have one of the most exciting jobs as Senior Product Evangelist. Initially, my products included FrameMaker and RoboHelp, Captivate came next, and today with this launch, my official title is Senior Product Evangelist for the Adobe Technical Communication Suite. In this role, I’m the main point of contact for our customers first and foremost and of course I also get to present these products at conferences and through our ongoing eSeminar events.
TCW: One of Adobe’s most successful products is its Creative Suite, a product line that provides web and graphic design professionals with a combination of powerful Adobe software tools, integrated together and packaged in a single box. This week Adobe is launching a new “Suite” of tools aimed at technical communication professionals. What can you tell us about this new product line?
RJ: Absolutely! With our Creative Suite, Adobe revolutionized the way the creative world engages with ideas and information and today the revolution continues, this time in technical communication with the launch of our Technical Communication Suite. It’s an end-to-end solution for technical communicators and instructional designers, and it’s comprised of FrameMaker 8, RoboHelp 7 (the new version, also announced today), Captivate 3 and Acrobat 3D 8, which are all best-in-class applications and leaders in their own space. Also, RoboScreenCapture, a full-featured screen capturing tool and RoboSource Control, a full-featured version control system are included in the Suite. Far from simply bundling four products in a box, the Technical Communication Suite includes tight integration between all of the applications. For example, RoboHelp 7 now supports the live “linking” of FrameMaker files and books, which means that when the source FrameMaker files change, the RoboHelp project also updates, facilitating single-source authoring and multi-channel publishing.
TCW: Wow! That’s exciting news that many technical communicators and eLearning developers will be glad to hear. Let’s take a brief look at each tool in the Suite and point out some of the most important new features. And, please share with us how each tool interoperates with the rest of the tools in the suite (use an example, if needed).
Let’s start first with RoboHelp 7, which I understand you are also announcing today, is that correct?
RJ: That is correct, this new version is in my humble opinion the biggest upgrade in the history of the product. You may recall that on January 16th of this year we announced the first version of RoboHelp under Adobe, RoboHelp 6, but that was just the beginning and today we are also announcing RoboHelp 7, which is a big part of the Technical Communication Suite. Among the long list of new features are: support for Unicode and Double-byte languages; it now runs on Vista and works with Office 2007 applications; the UI is completely new and customizable; RoboHelp 7 now sports a brand new true-code editor with no more kadov tags; it also includes reusable snippets, multiple TOCs, Indexes and Glossaries and you can even include variables in your TOC and Index definitions; as for the end-user experience, both our WebHelp and FlashHelp outputs now provide breadcrumbs and search highlighting functionality.
As far as Suite integration, RoboHelp 7 is at the very center of it all. For the first time, technical communicators can easily update their online help systems in RoboHelp 7 with information authored in FrameMaker 8 without re-importing the files each time an update is needed. This means that you can link FrameMaker books with any number of chapters in them and you’re able to preserve FrameMaker’s cross-references, conditional text, variables, imported graphics, including 3D models and Captivate movies, the book’s TOC, Index and Glossary and even create context-sensitive help ID automatically by using any custom marker you may have in your FrameMaker documents. The real beauty is that you can continue authoring in FrameMaker and whenever you need to create a fresh version of the Help, you simply have to select “update” in RoboHelp.
TCW: Adobe has done a lot of work on this release. RoboHelp users certainly have something to be excited about. Alright, how about FrameMaker?
RJ: I consider FrameMaker to be the starting point for most workflows in the Technical Communication Suite. So whether you are a technical communicator or an instructional designer and need to create and publish documents in Print, PDF, XML or web-based formats, such as WebHelp and FlashHelp, you’ll likely start in FrameMaker. In the past, our users have had to choose between RoboHelp and FrameMaker, depending on what deliverables were most important to them. For example if Print, PDF or XML were more important than producing Help, they chose FrameMaker, on the other hand, if online Help was important and print was secondary, then RoboHelp seemed the ideal product. Now for the first time, our users can enjoy the best of both worlds by starting in FrameMaker and delivering pristine Print, PDF and XML and then extend the publishing capabilities beyond these formats, by linking these same source FrameMaker documents in RoboHelp and easily generating WebHelp, FlashHelp and all the other flavors of Help that RoboHelp provides.
FrameMaker 8 also brings exciting new features to the Technical Communication Suite, such as integration with RoboScreenCapture for the inclusion of screen captures in your documents, as well as tight integration with Adobe Captivate. For example you can import a Captivate movie and easily edit it in Captivate simply by right-clicking on it. It also provides an easy way to start an email-based review of PDF documents so that other people in your organization can participate in document reviews using the free Adobe Reader.
TCW: FrameMaker users and RoboHelp users are going to get a lot of mileage out of these improvements, especially the integration across products, which many have had on their “wish lists” for some time now.
The third product included in the suite is perhaps the least well-known. For those who don’t know much about it, what does Adobe Captivate allow technical communicators to do? And, for those who are current users, what changes will they notice?
RJ: Adobe Captivate is the product that brings the most interactivity and eLearning features into the Suite. It lets you create a variety of Flash-based, interactive deliverables, including software simulations via real-time screen capture.
[Editor’s Note] Check out Captivate’s new features.
There’s an ongoing trend in technical communication where technical communicators are supplementing their Help and other technical documents with “show-me” movies, which add value to the end-user, who wants to sit back and follow the simulation instead of following a list of instructions. This is ideal for topics and tasks that are difficult to document in words or are simply better documented with video.
In the Technical Communication Suite, one of our goals is to enable our users to bridge the gap between authoring and publishing flat, static content, and delivering engaging technical documents to their end-users. Adobe Captivate makes this possible for us. It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words; if that’s so, then including an engaging demonstration or even a simulation of a task in your technical documents must be worth at least a thousand pictures, and this is precisely what Captivate brings to the table for technical communicators who use the Technical Communication Suite.
TCW: We think Adobe is spot on in providing more support for rich media (Flash, video simulations, etc.) as the world of text documentation meets video documentation. This convergence meets the changing user expectations (the importance of “showing” users cannot be overestimated…think YouTube). eLearning folks already get this (everyone has different learning styles; some learn by watching). Now they can easily incorporate rich media into PDF. Wow! That’s going to be extremely valuable. We’d expect there to be a huge demand for more “show me” types of content.
The fourth and final product in the new suite is Adobe Acrobat 3D. Most, if not all, technical communicators today use Acrobat. But, many aren’t yet familiar with the 3D version. Tell us a little about the product and how it works together with the other three tools.
RJ: Adobe Acrobat 3D is a superset of Acrobat Professional, which means that it has all the capabilities of Acrobat Professional plus the ability to convert virtually any CAD file to a highly compressed 3D PDF file to enable 3D-based collaboration and CAD data interoperability.
What this means for our technical communicators is that the Technical Communication Suite enables them to repurpose CAD design data to create richer documentation by replacing static 2D screenshots with interactive 3D-based designs, which in turn can be consumed by end-users using the free Adobe Reader.
Acrobat 3D also comes with a Toolkit software to quickly clean up CAD designs; add and modify lighting, materials, textures, or colors; create exploded views and animations; and then save the designs as 3D objects or 2D raster/vector images for use in both FrameMaker, RoboHelp and Captivate.
[Editor’s Note] Check out Acrobat 3D’s new features.
TCW: Wow, this is indeed pretty exciting news! Why did Adobe decide to put these four powerful tools into one integrated suite? What are the drivers for this change?
RJ: Today many technical communicators already use at least two of the tools included in the Suite. With the introduction of the Suite, we’re broadening and standardizing their toolkit to add the missing pieces. We see a growing convergence in roles and responsibilities, where the same person producing the user manual has to also produce the Help system, as well as create instructional design content. Providing a Suite to support this convergence was one of the biggest drivers behind our decision.
For example, most FrameMaker documents end up as PDFs and most FrameMaker users also have a full version of Acrobat Professional. The same content in the documentation is often reused in an online Help system. Many people are excited about Acrobat 3D, which handles 3D models inside a PDF for viewing and manipulating using the free Acrobat Reader, and are interested in integrating that content into their mainstream deliverables (i.e. documents). Many RoboHelp users have begun to introduce short “how to” demonstrations and simulations created with Adobe Captivate into their Help systems.
As far as our strategy goes, I like to use a puzzle metaphor to illustrate how this all came about. As you know, Adobe has had certain pieces of the puzzle, such as FrameMaker and Acrobat, for a long time and a few years ago, we introduced the Acrobat 3D version. But I believe the acquisition of Macromedia afforded us with the rest of the pieces we needed, namely RoboHelp and Captivate. This is when all the pieces started falling into place and today marks the beginning of what we believe will be an exciting journey for us and for our customers.
TCW: Where can readers learn more about the Technical Communication Suite?
RJ: There are many resources and I recommend that anyone interested in more information about our Technical Communication Suite.
I will also be delivering a series of eSeminars on various topics related to the Technical Communication Suite and anyone interested can register here.
Of course any conference we go to from now on, we will be demonstrating the functionality of the Suite.
TCW: What does the new Technical Communication Suite cost? And, what are the upgrade paths and purchase prices for existing customers who own one or more of the individual tools in the suite?
RJ: Our pricing is very aggressive, which makes this offering an unbeatable solution. If you were to purchase all of these products separately, you would pay $3,592 yet our Technical Communication Suite is only $1,599, which is a savings of roughly 56%. Better yet, if you own any version of FrameMaker, or any version of Macromedia or Adobe RoboHelp, or Captivate 2 or 3, then the upgrade is only $999. Needless to say, our goal here is to make the Suite affordable for anyone in technical communication and instructional design. Lastly all of these applications run off of a single installer and have a single serial number, which makes it easy for enterprises to deploy the software.
TCW: What platforms are supported?
RJ: All of our applications in the Technical Communication Suite now run on Windows Vista. The Suite also supports Windows XP. See our complete list of system requirements for additional information.
TCW: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
RJ: Yes. Another one of my products is RoboHelp Server 7, which is also being announced today and even though it is not included in the Technical Communication Suite, I wanted to point out that it includes many new features, such as Unicode support, synonym support, iPv6, enhanced report generation and much more. For anyone interested, here’s the main page.
TCW: Thank you for your valuable time and for sharing this exciting news with our readers. Interviews are one of our most popular form of original content and many people find them informative. I’m certain this one will gets lots of readers.
RJ: You are very welcome and thank you for the opportunity to share the great news with you and with your readers. I think these recent announcements are really going to have a lasting impact on the market segment we know as “technical communication”.