Adobe FrameMaker 7.0 beta

Adobe FrameMaker's legendary status in the DTP (desktop publishing) world is undisputed, but does it have much of a future? The recent aggressive promotion of stablemate InDesign has prompted some to question Adobe's continued commitment to the venerable DTP giant. While the appearance of FrameMaker 7.0 doesn't give the program the backing it deserves, what's on the inside provides answers for many of the doubters.

FrameMaker's importance in publishing markets -- particularly the book and medical journal field -- was established a decade ago through its powerful indexing and long document management features. This upgrade attempts to maintain the program's following by extending its appeal into fresh areas.

The significant upgrade in version 7.0 lies in the program's enhanced support for two structured markup languages, XML and SGML (standard generalised markup language), which allow documents to be easily repurposed for different media. XML allows a document designed for print to be easily recreated for Web output without affecting its structure. SGML support isn't new to FrameMaker -- version 6.0 offered it via an expensive add-on -- but its incorporation into the main body of the program is a significant boost to the program's affordability, particularly if you're thinking about switching to structured output.

Thanks to the growing importance of cross-media publishing, support for such structured output is appearing in DTP applications, including InDesign and QuarkXPress. However, neither offer the range or power of FrameMaker, which can now open and save XML natively. You choose between structured or unstructured authoring when you first launch the program, but you can switch between them.

XML-based document creation has always been seen as complicated, but FrameMaker removes much of that mystery. It parses XML so it appears onscreen in Wysiwyg (what you see is what you get) format, while you see an overview of the XML content in Structure view in a separate window, with XML validated as you go.

The program's HTML and XML export options are enhanced through the bundled WebWorks Publisher Standard Edition. WebWorks allows you to map document formats to specific XML or HTML tags, with cascading stylesheets and hyperlinks seamlessly retained during conversion. Microsoft's eBook and Palm's Reader formats have been added as export options and you can now export SVG (scalable vector graphics) images with your documents, whether they are destined for print or the Web.

As a cross-platform output format, PDF is as important as XML, so you get a bundled copy of Acrobat Distiller and extended PDF authoring support. This allows you to create tagged PDFs, which reflow according to the capabilities of the reading device.

Like other Adobe products, FrameMaker 7.0 is now WebDAV (web-based distributed authoring and versioning) capable, which means you can collaborate more easily over the Internet, but that will offer little solace to those in FrameMaker's traditional print constituency who will have to make do with more limited usability enhancements. This includes the ability to freely reorder customised master pages and tie them to particular page elements.

Long-awaited features such as multiple undos are still missing from FrameMaker and the interface is virtually untouched. It's now beginning to look positively ancient alongside the common look and feel shared by most other Adobe products.

Adobe FrameMaker 7.0 beta

For long document creation there's still nothing that can touch FrameMaker. And if you're involved in XML-based content creation, version 7.0 offers an affordable entry point. For others there is precious little to get excited about.


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