RoboHelp 7 provides some competition for MadCap’s Flare


My friend Tom Johnson posted an article (new window) last week about the recent release of the Technical Communication Suite from Adobe including RoboHelp 7. I added a comment to his post, more about but it got kind of long, viagra 40mg so I thought I’d post it here with slight modifications. The quotes in this post are quotes from Tom’s post, linked above.

I’ve taken a look at RH7, and I personally wasn’t all that impressed with it. As I’ve watched discussions on RH7 evolve for the last few months, my experience is that people who want to be wowed by RH7 are wowed by it. People who want to be pleasantly neutral are able to be pleasantly neutral. And people who want to hate RH7 find plenty to hate about it. Tom said:

This past month I’ve been heavily using the RoboHelp 7 and Captivate 3 components of the Technical Communication Suite. RoboHelp 7 offers some impressive new features: snippets, breadcrumbs, a pod-based interface that you can drag around, integration with Framemaker and Captivate, and so on.

So basically RH has come out with some of the stuff Flare did, and copied the terminology (”snippets” for example) just to compete. Not particularly innovative, in my opinion, especially when they are a couple of years late to the party.

RoboHelp 7 allows you to begin Captivate movies from within RoboHelp. That way you don’t have to keep re-importing the files each time you update them. […] I ended up deleting the RoboHelp-initiated movies and imported them manually instead (File > Import).

My response is: then how is this good? If you ended up importing them separately, then don’t you have to keep updating them?

Personally, I prefer the way Mimic works for referencing the Mimic project from Flare, then building the Mimic output when Flare is built. You can share variables across products so your Flare variables are available for use in Mimic. That is pretty cool. While Captivate has more features and is easier to use than Mimic, I think you’ll see Mimic improve as MadCap puts more dev time into it, and it is a project that seems be getting some more attention internally. It will be interesting to see how these compare in a year or two.

Later in Tom’s post:

You might also want to be careful about manually editing the css style sheet. […] I recommend using RoboHelp’s official style editor, and perhaps playing with the _ns.css stylesheet that RoboHelp outputs when you generate help.

I hate anything that requires post-processing. A tool that requires post processing for creating WebHelp is broken, in my opinion. I want to be able to build my target and publish it in the next step. (However, I give more allowance for printed output, because there are conventions in printed output that are currently hard to get from the available tools.)

Online Help Quality Plummets

It’s a bitter irony when a HAT vendor produces poor quality help for its products.

Tom then turns attention to importing Frame files into RH7:

Framemaker Import Groundbreaking But Irrelevant for Me
[…]
Flare is developed by a team that is experienced with help authoring, and—perhaps the most confusing distinction—Flare seems to support FrameMaker more thoroughly both for importing and exporting content than does RoboHelp.

It’s ironic isn’t it? MadCap’s product does better with Adobe’s own FrameMaker than Adobe is. But I don’t get how this is groundbreaking? I mean, Flare does this and does it better. In Flare you can round-trip your FM files. THAT is groundbreaking and innovative.

I believe this is indicative of a larger problem within Adobe: they purchase a product then get rid of the developers who understand the product. Adobe is having trouble updating and making Frame compatible with other Adobe products because it seems they don’t understand the code behind what it does. I also wonder if they really understand the RoboHelp code enough to update it to compete in the new space (now that it has to compete with Flare, AuthorIT, and others).

It will be very telling to see what happens in the next RoboHelp release. Frame 8 is bascially Frame 7.2 with a new UI and a couple of upgraded features. But there isn’t any competition out there pushing Adobe to make a better Frame. RoboHelp is now in catch-up mode trying to figure out how to emulate the innovative features in MadCap’s product suite. Now it is MadCap pushing the innovation envelope here. Will RH be able to maintain pace with MadCap’s one (or more) releases per year? Will RH be able to come out with new features that aren’t already in Flare? Maybe so, but RH 7 wasn’t proof of that yet. Again, it will be interesting to have this discussion in two years and see where the major players are at.

In Tom’s conclusion he states:

RoboHelp continues to ignore some major issues, such as the lack of character-level indexing and the formatting errors when you export to Word. Despite my complaints, I like many others have an affinity for the usability of this tool. It’s like an old pair of sneakers that has some new laces and polish. Maybe some new traction too.

With his conclusion, he supports my theory that those who wanted to like it do like it. Despite all the problems Tom enumerated in his post, he still have a favorable impression of RH–a tool he has used in the past with good results. I tested RH7, and I’m very glad my primary HAT is Flare.

But to each their own. If anything, I hope a healthy competition between Flare and RH continues because that will help both products improve. Frame is a great example of how a product can go stagnant when no outside competition drives the need for new changes and features.


7 responses to “RoboHelp 7 provides some competition for MadCap’s Flare”

  1. Hey Tom,

    Great breakdown. I’ve been reading Tom’s post and, without fully testing the TCS I’m not seeing much true innovation also.

    Fully updated and ready to use with Vista – Check.
    Not yet ready to fully compete with Flare – Check.

    Thanks for your breakdown. I’ll have that podcast ready sometime tomorrow.

  2. Paul, excellent points and well, the podcast that I did earlier this month with Mike Hamilton is finally up. It’s on my site – check it out at
    http://charlesjeter.com/2007/12/27/madcaps-vp-mike-hamilton-speaks-dec-7th-2007/

    or just
    http://charlesjeter.com/2007/12/27/

    Mike talks so clearly about Madcap’s initial strategy taken in building their framework for their product line so the variables makes sense.

    Summing up, it’s about the workflow. Madcap, according to Mike, attacked the problems technical communicators had with their workflow. Because they use the same core technology within each product, Blaze and Flare for example (and Capture and Mimic) save development dollars because of their shared core architecture. Changes in one release will be carried through to the other, i.e. Blaze changes can be carried through to Flare, and vice versa.

    Additionally, he talks a bit more about Blaze. I’ll have to interview Sharon Burton (Product Manager) to get as much as possible, but the downlow is that Blaze could be very heavy indeed.

    If you can imagine that in order to get the same efficiency as the production environment for Blaze and Flare, FrameMaker and RoboHelp would each have to be completely rebuilt… using the same core technology.

    After that part of the podcast interview I was totally getting the point of Madcap’s competitive edge. Two completely different dev teams (and feature requesting product managers) work on FM and RH, so things have to be coded and tested and implemented twice.

    That costs money.

    Lots of money.

    Adobe’s got lots of money but as I’ve pointed out, returning shareholder value is critical. This past third quarter is going to squeeze things for them next year. It’s going to be a hard call about whether they become innovative, as you mention, however it’s a hard call specifically because Adobe execs are not going to want to keep tossing money into two non-top tier products such as FrameMaker and RoboHelp without some substantial gains in the marketplace.

  3. Hi Paul,

    You have put up really hands-on coverage of Flare. As I have started using the tool recently, I am finding your content helpful. Just a side-question, what is the name of the font of your titles (red colored text). Looks pretty!

    Thanks,
    Storymaker

  4. Storymaker,

    Welcome to my blog! The font is called Jenkins 2.0. I found it while surfing some font website.

    I hope you like Flare. I think it is a fantastic tool. If you haven’t already, you should join us in the MadCap User Forums.

    Have a great day!

  5. Great review. I think adobe’s commitment to robohelp and frame and the new Tech Comm suite is making madcap nervous. They need to be kept nervous as their own product suite is badly tested and difficult to use……potential perhaps, but a long way to go.

  6. Interesting stuff – currently looking for a Robohelp alternatives (used it since it was really innovative i.e. pre Adobe!) – now totally fed up with lack of new features and the rip off of non-US customers (twice the price and you can’t buy the US version outside the states).
    Looks as though Madcap’s Flare might be the way to go…

    Guess Robohelp is heading into the footnotes of software history

  7. Would like some advice on either upgrading robohelp 6 to 7 or switching to something else. Our main issues are the search and index features. Is there any HAT available that can actually be setup to search like Google with improved cross referencing of items that are searched? Thanks for any helpful info….

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