Assessing the potential savings from single sourcing

One of the main benefits from single sourcing is the ability to reuse existing content. Different departments can avoid duplicating work, which means they can save time and money.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to quantify these savings before you move to an authoring or content management system that enables you to single source. Analysing all the existing documents in a business can be overwhelming, which means often organisations only quantify the savings after the single sourcing content management system has been implemented.

There are a few software applications that can help you analyse your existing content and determine how much duplication exists. You get a sense of how much time and effort was wasted in the past, which is a pretty good indication of how much waste you’d avoid in the future.

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Super MadCap quite fantastic; are other tools atrocious?

With the imminent release of DITA support in MadCap Flare, will competing Help authoring tools (HATS) suddenly seem inadequate to the task of technical writing?

Where does this leave Adobe’s RoboHelp?

I suspect it will be difficult technically and commercially (Adobe also owns FrameMaker) for Adobe to add DITA support into RoboHelp.

If writers are collaborating on a project or if a Help system needs be localised into foreign languages, then RoboHelp and other HATS may well lose out to Flare.

However, if a sole author just needs to write a straightforward Help File, then many may not feel the need to change from the tool they use today.

So what would you do if you were Adobe?

I wonder if Adobe will choose to compete with MadCap in other ways. RoboHelp could become more of an online training, performance support, tool. Also, Adobe could bundle RoboHelp with FrameMaker at a price that makes Flare seem very expensive.

This, of course, may be all academic if the DITA standard isn’t taken up by more authors.

Does the Google Chrome browser show Web based Help correctly?

We took a quick look at Google’s new Chrome browser this morning. MadCap’s Flare Web based Help seems to work fine, but there seems to be a problem with RoboHelp’s Web Help – specifically the Table of Contents.

We dragged some old RoboHelp 5 generated Web Help files into the browser, and we looked at some of the examples listed on Adobe’s Web site (http://www.adobe.com/products/robohelp/customer_examples/). We haven’t had a chance to do any further testing.

Update – The problem is also there with RoboHelp 6 generated Web-based Help.

We suspect it is a JavaScript with Frames issue. The “Section 508″ (non-JavaScript) version displays without any problems.

Which vendor wins the battle of the Help Authoring Tools?

With the recent releases of new Help Authoring Tool versions for RoboHelp, AuthorIT and Flare, plus the release of Quadralay’s ePublisher 9.3, does this affect which Help Authoring Tool you should purchase?

What I find interesting is the different ways in which the tool vendors perceive the issue of creating user assistance. If you want to create great online Help, with paper being a secondary consideration, you will probably prefer RoboHelp or Flare. If you have a team of people writing, you will probably prefer AuthorIT or ePublisher. If you need to translate the content, then all four of these tools have strengths in their different ways. If you want to generate XML, then Flare, ePublisher or AuthorIT.

The best approach is probably to create a statement of requirements for your situation and then use this as a benchmark when considering each tool. Here are a few factors to consider:

The need to localise content.
How many writers will be involved.
Whether you are creating new content or re-using existing content.
If you need single or multimedia output.
Your view of users and the feedback they might provide.
How much content you might be able to re-use.

MadCap Flare Version 3 released

Version 3 highlights (from the press release):

Source Control Integration
– Direct integration with Microsoft Visual Source Safe and Microsoft Team Foundation Server
– Integration with most other industry source control systems (that use the MS SCC API interface)

WebHelp Plus
– Faster server-side search
– Searching of non-HTML content (MS Word documents, PDF files, etc.)
– Automatic runtime merging of projects without any in-project work
– Auto-merged search functionality
– Auto-merged TOC options

Advanced FrameMaker Import and Support
– Pass-through marker support (pass raw content or data from FrameMaker to Flare without any processing or modification)
– Drop-down support
– TopicAlias marker support
– Hypertext Marker / Jump to Named Destination support

Enhanced Style Support
– Expanded table print styles for more control when sending output to MS Word, FrameMaker, or PDF
– Optional basic Style Editor for the new user
– Import styles
– Search highlight styles (customize search highlight colors)

User Interface
– Carrot tag neighborhood markers(a new method for working with inline formatting when necessary)
– New TOC grid view provides more control over TOC editing
– New customizable columns for various Flare interface screens

For a full list of new features and enhancements in Flare v3,see: http://www.madcapsoftware.com/products/flare/features.aspx#v3

MadCap Feedback Service is also now available. With the Feedback Service. Now you can get feedback on how your audience uses your Help content, maximizing the effectiveness of your documentation.

Web 2.0 features in upcoming MadCap Flare products

MadCap Software has announced more details on its upcoming “MadCap Feedback Server”. In addition to feedback reports on how your readers are using your Help, it includes some of the Web 2.0 features we have been promoting.

These include:

- Web 2.0 community capabilities, allowing readers to add their own comments to existing documentation
- The ability to allow readers to rank the quality of the topics and content

This will make the incorporation of these Web 2.0 capabilities into Help files much easier to implement.

MadCap will also be offering the option of a MadCap Feedback Server hosted service.

They claim “Now you can get feedback on how your audience uses your Help content, allowing you to maximize the effectiveness of your documentation.”