Adobe FrameMaker 7.1: Fast Software for Long Documents
Adobe FrameMaker is incomparable for producing long, technical documentation. Easier to use than other desktop publishing applications, FrameMaker contains almost all the bells and whistles required for powerhouse publishing.
OK, the Windows version doesn't have macros or scripts that the UNIX version has, the program is clueless about clipping paths, and its text boxes are confined to two tiresome shapes (square and rectangular).
What FrameMaker lacks in glamour, though, is more than compensated by its dazzling array of long document features: variables, cross-references, indices, tables of contents, and complex book support. Other invaluable features include: mathematical equations (including built-in tools for solving and simplifying expressions), brilliant tables (including tools for creating table styles), conditional text, double-byte language features, interline text, hypertext support, HTML export, and extensive structured document (XML) support (see Figure 1). We should also mention that Frame is blazingly fast and remarkably stable -- two attributes that are increasingly rare in this Age of Bloatware.
Figure 1: This screen shot illustrates one of FrameMaker's unique features: interline text. Here we show Latin text with the English translation sitting neatly on top.
Although version 7.1 doesn't exactly plow new ground, it does contain a number of worthwhile goodies, such as new and upgraded import/export filters plus conditional text and cross-references for the XML crowd.
Ins and Outs
First in line, at least in our book (pun!), are the improved Word support and import filters for QuarkXPress and PageMaker documents. When we spoke to Adobe, we discovered that the company is converging filters for all their DTP products. Thus, these filters are the same as those shipped with InDesign CS.
We found a few differences between the new Word filter and previous versions of FrameMaker. For example, footnotes now import into FrameMaker tagged as Footnote Text, rather than as the style Footnote; and tables are tagged as Table, rather than as Format A. As a result, we had to adjust our templates for compatibility. We also discovered a juicy bug in the Word filter: it loses track of referenced graphics. You have to save the FrameMaker file and reopen it, pointing Frame to the correct path. Adobe has logged the bug and we hope to see a fix soon.
We were impressed with both the QuarkXPress and PageMaker filters. Given how differently these programs handle text flow, text, and graphics, we were amazed with FrameMaker's resultant documents. Of course, some tweaking will be required for all but the simplest files, but if you are hesitant to switch to FrameMaker because of legacy DTP files, the addition of these two filters should calm your fears.
We also appreciate the inclusion of import filters for native Illustrator and Photoshop files. However, FrameMaker doesn't support layers, so your .AI or .PSD file is flattened when imported. Version 7.1 also includes new filters for JPEG 2000 and true (not rasterized) vector SVG files.
Figure 2: Although FrameMaker, PageMaker, and QuarkXPress have decidedly different approaches to layout, these new filters are remarkably intelligent.
Write Once, Read Many
One of FrameMaker's most powerful features is conditional text and graphics -- data that changes depending on the document version. Conditional text is commonly used to create multiple versions of the same basic file, for example: wholesale/retail price lists; bilingual documents; or non-printing comments. In version 7.1, XML gets conditional text support. Not a big deal for the casual user, but important for multinational companies that need to output documents with country-specific information.
Figure 3: Conditional text lets you create a single document for multiple audiences. Here we show a sample with conditional text and the resulting versions for the car and the truck. With version 7.1, conditional text is supported in structured documents.
The Adobe forum has a sticky thread for a FrameMaker 7/8 wish list. Someone at Adobe should print it out and glue it to the noses of the FrameMaker Planning Committee members. Features that other DTP programs have had for years (non-rectangular frames, simple master page assignment, standardized color matching), and commonsense productivity extras (scripting, reversed text) are stonily ignored. A few of Frame's bad habits are so lame you have to wonder -- footnotes that slip to the following page, hyphenated words between pages, and the utterly klutzy implementation for lines above and below paragraphs.
Mac users will be dismayed to discover that Adobe has no plans for releasing version 7.1 on the Mac platform. We won't comment except to reiterate our suggestion that Adobe folks read the end-user wish list.
The upgrade price of $199 may be too teep for what amounts to a handful of new filters. But if you treasure your PageMaker and Quark documents and have been too lazy to port them to FrameMaker, this upgrade is well worth the price. XML and SVG junkies will surely find the upgrade worthwhile, too.
Read more by Susan Glinert.
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