WASHINGTON (07/24/2000) - FrameMaker makes few claims about its ease of use, which is a good thing because the program is famously difficult to master.
Rather, FrameMaker's achievement is to make a very tough job manageable.
The job? Constructing and maintaining consistent documents of whatever complexity, on scales ranging from tens to tens of thousands of pages, across platforms and media. Although that job can be daunting, it's one that frequently rears its head in large departments and agencies.
The key to FrameMaker's power is a template-based approach that goes far beyond what is employed in most word processing programs, including Microsoft Corp.'s Word, combined with tools for publishing to Portable Document Format (PDF), the World Wide Web and - with FrameMaker+SGML - Standard Generalized Markup Language. This new version of Frame-Maker offers a host of enhancements to make those chores easier to perform compared with previous versions.
For starters, Adobe Systems Inc. has bundled WebWorks Publisher Standard Edition into this version. Now, in addition to FrameMaker's built-in tools for Web content creation, users can employ WebWorks to map FrameMaker elements to Extensible Markup Language (XML) and HTML elements in conversion templates.
WebWorks also supports automatic generation of cascading style sheet in both formats.
Other improvements in this version include drag-and-drop functionality for book building and the ability to perform spell checking and find-and-replace operations across files in a book. Version 6.0 also makes automatic generation of tables of contents, indexes and lists easier to perform. I tested the Windows version of FrameMaker+SGML 6.0. For use on a Windows workstation, you'll need a Pentium or better running Windows 98, NT 4.0 or Windows 2000; 32M of RAM (64M recommended); 100M to 165M of hard drive space (depending on installed configuration); and a printer capable of supporting PostScript or Printer Control Language (PostScript recommended). If you'll be running the program from a network server, each workstation will require only about 5M of hard drive space.
I started my testing by creating an unstructured document from scratch and defining character and paragraph formats, much like using Word's Style Gallery.
These formats went into the respective character and para-graph catalogs, from which they could be applied as tags. Alternatively, I could open a document from a template, which meant that formats were already in the catalogs - and any content in the template was reproduced in the document as well. Still another option is to apply a template after the document's creation.
For those used to using the program in unstructured mode, the switch to structured documents can be a challenge because you are then required to use SGML document type definitions (DTDs) - or rather, the FrameMaker equivalent, element definition documents (EDDs) -rather than formatting elements from the paragraph and character catalogs.
If users are accustomed to working from existing templates, structured mode doesn't have to be vastly different. But the power in this model of document creation can be glimpsed when you see that some structural ele-ments require certain sub-elements and cannot accept others. For example, a document's EDD may call for a major heading at a given place in the structure, which must be followed by specified author information and at least one paragraph of text description, and it may not accept a graphic element ahead of the text.
An advantage to working in structured mode is the ability to work in structured view, which is a schematic representation of the document. This is a bit like working in outline view in a word processing program, but Frame-Maker's schematic approach and the power of the underlying EDD combine to make the method both more usable and more useful when performing certain tasks, such as reordering chapter elements.
Of course, as an industrial-strength document creation application, Frame-Maker provides most of the tools you are likely to need. These include strong equation formatting, a reasonably complete set of Adobe Illustrator-like vector drawing tools, and features such as hyperlinks or cross-references and conditional text.
Book creation tools include automatically generated tables of contents and indexes, but the real strength here is in the wrapper. The program offers a schematic view of the book in a separate window. This view allows you to easily manage not just tables of contents but also lists of tables, illustrations, page numbers, running heads and footers, and so forth across all the files of the book. And with this version, the feature has become object-oriented enough that I could drag and drop to create and reorganize books.
For years, FrameMaker has provided the ability to publish to cross-platform electronic formats, including Adobe's PDF and HTML for the Web. The bundling of Quadralay Corp.'s WebWorks Publisher with Version 6.0 is clearly an attempt to redefine the mission to include enterprise-scale document management capabilities for the Web. With the emergence of XML, this could be crucial.
When I tried converting a Frame-Maker file to HTML, the results were at first disappointing. Then I discovered FrameMaker's HTML Setup feature, which allowed me to alter the mappings of FrameMaker paragraph and character tags to HTML tags.
For finer tuning, I resorted to the reference page command and scrolled down to the headings page, which was created automatically when I used the HTML setup procedure. (Had I saved the file to HTML, that would have created a headings reference page as well.) Here I could view an entire mapping table at a glance.
The reference pages also contain a section of eight HTML conversion macros.
These are useful in converting cross-references, which might read "see page x," to HTML, where page numbers are generally meaningless.
WebWorks adds a measure of robustness and flexibility to FrameMaker 6.0's native capabilities with its output conversion to both XML or HTML, with or without cascading style sheets. But the HTML results are not necessarily better in every respect, and users should compare output from the two methods for themselves. (For example, Frame-Maker's native converter retained the various colors of headings, but this was lost when using WebWorks for HTML conversion.) WebWorks commits the faux pas of stamping its own logo prominently on your Web output, with no provision for removing it easily. I could open the file in a text editor and replace the logo (which is apparently what the company expects), but this highlights the lack of a built-in editor to modify either the conversion template or the output.
The bottom line: I've seen commercial Web pages looking worse than the WebWorks Publisher output, but serious organizations will still want more control over the results.
Conversion to PDF, on the other hand, was surprisingly impressive. The 4.05 release of Acrobat Distiller was included on the FrameMaker CD, so I could open a FrameMaker file in it and output PDF with all the options, including production of structured PDF.
But FrameMaker itself now provides direct output options for enhanced PDF - among them bookmark generation, tables of contents, cross-references and hyperlinks, all available when saving directly from the application. And we could convert an entire book to PDF almost as easily as a single file.
FrameMaker+SGML 6.0 won't singlehandedly make all of an organization's structured information usefully and reusably available on the Web. To do that, you'll need FrameMaker's applications developer - the Frame Developer's Kit - and Adobe GoLive or a similar product, at a minimum. You'll also need to perform a fair amount of grunt work and use some good design intelligence.
That said, FrameMaker 6.0 adds significant XML output capabilities to an already impressive set of creation, publishing and management tools for documents and document sets. And the enhancements to PDF output will be welcomed by many.
If your agency or department is already using Frame-Maker, you'll find this upgrade to be worthwhile.
-- Marshall is a freelance writer who has been reviewing computer software for the past 10 years.