Monday, December 1, 2008

If it’s not easy to use, it’s not used

Debates about Microsoft Word vs. Adobe Framemaker appear regularly on the tech-writing mailing lists I am subscribed to. Everyone agrees Frame is an awesome publishing tool. Yet, everyone keeps cribbing about it. So, why does a bright bunch of people who are masters at figuring out stuff, otherwise known as tech-writers, only hesitatingly agree Frame is “kind of great”?

Confession: I love Frame.

I think it’s mostly because Frame is so difficult to use. Its user interface is not intuitive (it doesn’t even have a print preview), and its Help sucks big time. Word, on the contrary, has a fantastic Help, and a user interface so easy even a child can use Word. Developers love Word - they can open Word files in any browser (or even WordViewer or Open Office), and they can review Word docs easily by putting in coloured lines of text (most I know never use the Track change or Comment features). Try turning a black word into red in Frame - and you need to go through a process!

“So what the heck”, thinks a bright techwriter. “If I can learn Frame, I might as well learn XML.” And thus is born a host of companies who get in place a documentation system that can handle big documents effortlessly (the single-most crib against Word) and can also offer single-sourcing (Frame’s big plus): their docs are written in XML by writers who need not worry about structure and formatting, which are taken care of by the XSL, DTD or FOSI that the consultant came in and wrote for a one-time fee. And their XML docs still get converted to HTML-like things that developers can open in their browsers and add their red-ink comments to.

And Word continues to sell - in the home segment as well as in the office (as a part of the Office Suite) - at rates and at volumes that keeps Microsoft happy and profitable. Frame, on the other hand, is so steeply priced that even companies think before buying it - and its steep learning curve doesn’t help.

If something is not easy to use, is anyone going to use it?

1 comment:

Anne said...

This seems to be an endless debate for most Tech Writers: Word Vs. Frame. I have used mostly Word, and though I used to hate it initially, I am now comfortable with Word because:

- If I need to jot something down, or hand information to someone quickly, I use Word. The alternative would be Powerpoint.

-I can format a document the fastest in word, considering it is a small document.

But give me a 50 page odd manual to write and my choice is Arbortext (Epic) editor. I think I love Epic, because its usability ease is somewhere between Frame and Word, and I don't have to worry about formatting if I have a DTD in place.