Frame’s Drawback

In my opinion, for sale Adobe Framemaker has a major flaw: it doesn’t support external sytle sheets. External style sheets could be huge. Maybe I should explain.

One of the powerful things about FrameMaker is the ability to create templates that you can reuse across all your documents. For the current release of my product at work, approved I’m working on about 200 pages of printed documentation, spread out across four books and about fifteen separate documents. Before I started my project, I created a template book. In my template book I created a template chapter, and defined all the styles, or rules for formatting the text.

When most people use a word processor, like Word, they apply ad-hoc formatting. This means that when you want to create a heading, you select the text and you apply bold formatting, or change the color, or change the font size. They follow this same procedure for every heading that they create.

Frame doesn’t like that approach. Rather, you are supposed to create paragraph formats (Word calls them “styles”) that you apply to the text. You have a number of styles (my guides currently have about 50 possible styles) that cover everything from the body text appearance, to headings, to your title on your title page, to the style of the picture captions. Once these are pre-defined, you just select the paragraph, and apply the format. If you ever want to change the format, you just use the paragraph designer to apply the format. It’s pretty powerful, and it saves me a bunch of time, after the formats have been created and refined. However, here is where we encounter Frame’s weakness.

When you create a style, you apply it to the document’s template. When you create new documents, you base them off the template. However, Frame doesn’t remember that you based the document off of the template, so if you ever make changes to the style in the template, you have to open up every separate document and import the style information. Every document contains its own style information, so if you change it in one document, you have to import those same style settings into all other documents to keep them consistent.

I wish Frame supported external style sheets. HTML allows you to use external style sheets, and they work really well. With an external style sheet, you have a separate document that contains all the style information. At the beginning of an HTML document, you create a connection between the HTML file and the style sheet. When the page is delivered to the web browser, the web browser gets the text from the HTML file, and then formats the text according to the style information in the style sheet. You can have multiple (actually an unlimited number of) HTML pages that use the same style sheet, If you want to change the formatting of a particular heading, you open the style sheet and you cange the formatting options. Remember that individual documents don’t store formatting information; all the formatting information is derived from the shared, connected style sheet as the page is loaded in the brower. That means all pages are updated to the changed style as soon as the change is made in one place.

Frame doesn’t support external style sheets. In Frame, every individual document contains its own formatting information. Currently, if I want to change the style, I open up the template document for the type of document I’m working with. I make the style change, and then I save the document. Then, one at a time, I open every document I’ve based off that template, and I import the style information into that document. Its a labor-intensive process, and it is totally unnecessary. If Frame supported external style sheets, I could just open the external style document, make my change, and go on my way, knowing that all the styles would be “updated” as each document was opened.

So, if you are listening Adobe, please, please, please consider adding external style documents in the next release of Frame. It will literally save me hours of time during each release cycle of my product documentation.

, ,

5 responses to “Frame’s Drawback”

  1. That would be a big flaw in InDesign as well. Importing styles into InDesign isn’t that big of a problem for me right now, but I only have 10 or so docs that use that style. Not a problem, but not worth the time either.

    Why not build the technology yourself and then market it?

    So the real question I have is whether or not MadCap’s new product will have this feature. It shouldn’t be that big of a deal to tie that kind of technology in.

  2. Yes, it’s true, that’s how Framemaker does it. But as Dave says, and I would assume other document processors out there work the same way.

    Your idea is sound. Maybe you should suggest it to Adobe or as Dave says, build it yourself and market it.

  3. Hi Paul,

    I think alot of these weaknesses with Frame point to a lack of interest in Adobe to provide it with the strategic direction that it needs.

    Investments in Macromedia and its new range of web products have pushed Frame way down the pecking order.


  4. If Framemaker were a bit easier to customize (e.g. with something like VB or even Perl instead of requiring you to do C development) some bit of functionality like this could probably be implemented easily enough…

    I’ve done a fair amount of FDK programming and this is sort of an interesting idea. My first thought was that you could add a variable or some other method of storing the path to the stylesheet/template in the document… then wait for the FA_Note_PostOpenDoc event that opens the referenced template and imports formats from it.

    Actually this wouldn’t be hard to do at all. With time (and a C compiler) all things are possible… Alas, I doubt that I could get paid for doing this.

Leave a Reply