Adobe Technical Communications Suite 3 review

Design suite for technical docs on screen and paper.
Photo of Adobe Technical Communications Suite 3
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Most people know of Adobe’s Creative Suite, now in its fifth incarnation (CS5) – a heavyweight collection for designers that includes Illustrator and Photoshop. The less well-known Technical Communications Suite, just out in version 3 (TCS3), attempts to do the same for the creator of technical publications on paper or screen.

Technical focus
TCS3 consists of Framemaker 10, Robohelp 9, Captivate 5, Photoshop CS5, Acrobat X Pro and Bridge CS5. Framemaker is a heavyweight desktop publishing program aimed at technical publications such as manuals. The latest version adds Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) creation to its XML and PDF publishing capabilities. DITA is XML-based, and is widely used in technical publishing and training.

PDF files created in Framemaker 10 can contain rich content, such as 3D and videos, as well as demos created in Captivate. Content created in the desktop publisher can be repurposed in Robohelp, though it’s not yet possible to round-trip between the two applications.

Framemaker is a complex tool, and still carries some of its heritage a little too firmly. If you’re used to using InDesign or rival Quark Xpress, you’ll find it a lot more structured and controlling, pushing you to construct each document correctly before you add the content.

Down the ePub
Robohelp is designed to simplify the creation of Help files of all kinds. It can create .chm, webhelp, Adobe AIR and ePub formats. The ability to create ePub files means TCS3 can now be used to create ebooks for distribution via Kindle and other ereaders.

If you haven’t used Robohelp before, the control screens can look daunting. The interface hasn’t benefited from an Adobe makeover, as Captivate 5 has. The new product does include some significant improvements, though, such as better support for context-sensitive content, the ability to send out Help files for review and the controlled inclusion of content from blogs and other online sources in finished Help files.

Captivate 5 is the suite’s screen capture tool, designed to grab moving actions as well as static screens. It does this through a newly revamped, CS-style interface, and animates mouse pointer and text entry as an overlay. This is a different approach from its main competitor, TechSmith’s Camtasia, and isn’t as versatile when it comes to zooming in to show details.

Perfectly formed
Acrobat X Pro is a logical inclusion in this suite, as it handles the creation and editing of PDF documents with all the trimmings. The new version introduces Actions, which lead you through common tasks such as archiving, preparing a document for the Web and redaction of sensitive material, so you can avoid getting lost in Acrobat’s depths.

It also now works hand-in-hand with Adobe Reader X, enabling you to create interactive forms that can be filled in with nothing more than this free download.

As TCS3 is aimed at technical documentation, the inclusion of Photoshop CS5 looks like overkill. Its more sophisticated introductions, like the Mixer Brush, Bristle Tips and Content Aware Fills aren’t likely to see a lot of action in the average technical design studio.

Although the suite is undoubtedly expensive, if you can legitimately claim educational status, either teaching or learning, you can take advantage of substantial discounts, which may make the product more cost-effective.

Company: Adobe

Contact: 0800 0280148

Positives
  • Better integration of Framemaker and Robohelp for re-purposing content.
Negative
  • Applications are at different stages of interface revision, making them harder to work together.

Verdict

Adobe is making a good attempt to go with the flow and broaden the scope of TCS3 to handle multimedia creation of documents for training and help systems, as well as most forms of technical documentation. Framemaker and Robohelp now work better together, and Captivate's interface overhaul is an improvement. However, there are still some aspects of Framemaker, in particular, that need streamlining and bringing further up to date.