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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Adobe Leaks FrameMaker 7.2 Info

In which I take a break from chronicling my personal life and talk about work stuff.

Over the Labor Day weekend, various pages on Adobe’s website mentioned the unreleased version 7.2 of FrameMaker, the preferred tool of the trade for most technical writers (who often affectionately call it “Frame”). Adobe (usually one to hold its cards close to the vest) has since revised the pages, although the old ones lived another day in Google’s caches before those too were updated.

But haste often leads to things getting skipped over, and that was the case with a migration guide white paper on Adobe Germany’s site. I grabbed an unrevised copy of the PDF Tuesday afternoon; the good people at Adobe.de have certainly gone home for the day but I expect the white paper to be sanitized first thing tomorrow morning (by about 2 a.m. EDT).

If you download too late, here’s what searching the PDF for “7.2” turned up in the way of new features:

  • XSL processing at XML import and export (alongside existing read/write rules) — this is a feature I’ve wished for, but (see below) probably won’t get.

  • Conversion tables, which add structure to unstructured files, can create a “first draft” EDD (a combination of DTD and style sheet).

  • Conversion tables also support a “root element” to be applied to the converted document.

All this is structure-related, which doesn’t do you much good if you aren’t interested in moving to structured Frame. I’m sure that there will be the usual bug replacements (i.e. removing some known bugs and introducing new bugs) as well.

A group of vendors and trainers have been constantly flogging their “FrameMaker Chautauqua” conference on various mailing lists where FrameMaker is either the main or a common topic. The conference includes presentations by Adobe and will be held in early November, so I expect that Adobe will officially announce version 7.2 either at the conference or shortly before. If I’m right, it’s safe to assume that 7.2 is in beta testing right now.

FrameMaker has languished in a near-limbo pretty much since Adobe bought up Frame Technologies some years back. Frame has benefitted from minor updates from time to time, but long-standing bugs and malfeatures have persisted. That, and an abortive foray into porting the Unix version to Linux, have lead many to believe that Adobe is less than enthusiastic about supporting the program. The final straw for some of us was in January 2004, when Adobe dropped support for MacOS citing lack of sales (largely brought on by Adobe’s reluctance to modernize the MacOS version to run natively on MacOS X, leaving FrameMaker one of the last reasons to ever use the “Classic” environment).

Pretty much all summer, the “Chautauqua” people have been hyping Adobe’s presence at their upcoming conference, promising Frame users that they won’t be disappointed by what Adobe has to say about Frame’s life expectancy. Unfortunately, there’s no word on re-introducing MacOS support, preferably for MacOS X. That’s a show-stopper for me and many others: if the rest of the tool chain works well, why change the underlying platform if one tool is no longer supported?

Personally, even if Adobe repents of Windows-centricity, I’m not convinced that page-oriented WYSIWYG tools like Frame are the way forward for technical writing — in a world where our final output is more likely to be PDF and HTML than paper, it doesn’t make much sense to work on the electronic equivalent of a printed page. It makes more sense nowadays to work with markup, either directly (ooo, icky tags, say my less-technical brethren and sistren) or indirectly through an interface that provides formatting hints but no fixed margins or other page-centric details. LyX is a good example of the latter kind of program.

In the end, I expect little or no surprises come November. I’m certainly not going to ask my boss for $695 + hotel to attend a conference for a tool I’m currently planning to abandon, even if the conference is close enough to drive to.


  1. If you look real hard at that space shuttle image used by FrameMaker Chautauqua, you can almost see "Challenger" written on the rocket booster.

  2. Have you seen this FrameMaker and XML / DITA event in the UK.
    FrameMaker XML Publishing

    Its being held at Adobe UK offices in March


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