Adobe Technical Communication Suite 2 review

Price when reviewed

Producing technical documentation is a highly demanding job that requires multiple online and offline authoring applications to all work well together. With its acquisition of Macromedia, Adobe realised it had the three major components it needed to produce an integrated suite: the print-oriented FrameMaker for structured document handling; the HTML-oriented RoboHelp for dedicated Help authoring; and the Flash-oriented Captivate for producing interactive training materials.

The latest versions of these three core applications are reviewed on the following pages, but they’re not the only programs included in the box. In fact, according to Adobe, the highlight of this second version of the Technical Communication Suite (TCS) is the inclusion of Photoshop CS4. There’s no denying Photoshop’s power, but this sounds worryingly like padding. All authors will already have their own bitmap editor, and Photoshop’s advanced photo-editing capabilities are largely irrelevant to technical documentation. In fact, the typical TCS target user would have benefited more from a makeover of RoboHelp’s antiquated RoboScreenCapture utility.

The inclusion of the latest Acrobat 9 Pro Extended is potentially far more useful. PDF is the most common route to commercial print, and a very popular choice in its own right for the delivery of online and offline documentation. Acrobat 9 Pro Extended also offers two advanced capabilities that can prove useful for technical documentation: the ability to embed 3D models and the inclusion of Adobe Presenter, which converts PowerPoint presentations to Flash and PDF.

Despite the extras, however, this suite ultimately stands or falls by the integration, output and quality of its three central applications. In terms of getting FrameMaker, RoboHelp and Captivate working together, TCS tells a very mixed story. It’s now easier to add Captivate work to FrameMaker and RoboHelp, and it’s possible to save and reuse FrameMaker import settings for RoboHelp conversion. On the other hand, such integration never feels seamless. To add PDF files to RoboHelp 8, for instance, you have to add an <iframe> tag. Most disappointing is the lack of XML-based round-tripping; you can’t make changes in RoboHelp files that are reflected in the FrameMaker equivalents.

Nevertheless, the underlying integration between the TCS applications based on Adobe’s Acrobat PDF, Flash SWF and now AIR technologies, has improved. First, TCS addresses the need for workgroup collaboration, adding document review capabilities for each of the core applications. Second, Acrobat 9’s new support for Flash allows the production of more interactive and engaging PDF files, and provides an offline delivery route for previously online-only material.

Where these technologies come together is the suite’s AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime) output. Here you can combine RoboHelp 8’s XHTML output with PDF documentation from FrameMaker 9, and SWF Flash-based online demos and training materials from Captivate 4. All can then be delivered in one, elegant browser app.


Software subcategoryOther software

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported?yes
Operating system Windows XP supported?yes

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