February 19, 2019

Product Review: FrameMaker 5.5.6 for Linux - page 2

A New Category for Linux Apps: Desktop Publishing

  • May 8, 2000
  • By Brian Proffitt

Once up and running, FrameMaker ran very well. The interface starts out with a simple five-button control bar to create new files and open existing ones, for starters. There are also controls to bring up help and product info, as well as to exit. Don't be fooled by this simple look: FrameMaker is a very robust desktop publisher.

In this beta, choose from one of 18 provided templates to create a document, and then manipulate it into something more unique to your needs. I was impressed with the template selection. The tools to make changes leave a little to be desired for intuitiveness.

Here's why: FrameMaker has always tried to provide a rather unique way of blending DP and word processing functionality into one tool. This is because FrameMaker takes a content-oriented approach to document creation. In FrameMaker, content is king, and how characters and paragraphs get formatted with individual styles goes a long way towards determining how the end document will turn out.

This approach is a far cry from how FrameMaker's cousin, PageMaker, operates. PageMaker does not care what text is saying, only how text looks. FrameMaker cares about how the text looks based on its meaning.

The content-oriented approach almost makes FrameMaker an SGML tool, which strictly handles text with content tags. So, the formatting is broken down along lines of Chapter Title, Chapter Heading, Body Text, etc. If you are used to this way of thinking, then you should have no trouble figuring FrameMaker out. Those coming from PageMaker, Quark or some other attribute-oriented application will have to make adjustments in order to use FrameMaker efficiently.

Fortunately, there is an excellent set of online instructions for you to study and get working in FrameMaker better. I have been away from FrameMaker for a while and I really appreciated this document as a refresher. Its level of detail makes it a good starting point for beginners, as well.

Open a FrameMaker document, and you get a separate window with each document, with the main control window always floating on your desktop. The menus in FrameMaker are robust and provide access to a lot of features. This is where that online manual came in really handy, with so many commands to choose from.

One nice tool that made things easier was the QuickAccess Bar, which features an array of iconed commands. One half of the Bar has the usual icons: Open, Save, Cut, Paste, yada, yada. But the right half is actually four taskbars in one, controlled by the segmented icon in the center of the QuickAccess Bar. This control cycles through a set of text controls, two sets of object controls, and a set of table controls. I thought this was very handy, but I was a bit disappointed to see that the Bar would disappear behind a document window if I selected the window "underneath". If you are running a lower resolution on your monitor, the lack of screen real estate will be a hindrance to moving the QuickAccess Bar out of the way from the document you are editing to stop this from happening all the time. An "always on top" feature would work wonders here.

Another potential issue is the application's propensity to bring up dialogs that are 90 percent off the right side of the screen. This happened in my low-resolution (800X600) screen quite a bit. I do not know if this is a beta issue, but it is something that needs worked on regardless.

FrameMaker's duality means it provides both desktop publishing and word processing functionality. On the DP side is very capable object and graphic handling, master page layout, and the ability to create a pretty robust index. There is even a very feature-rich equation editor. Word processing tools include spell checking, document comparison, and a thesaurus, just to name a few.

Users of FrameMaker have indicated to me that this jack-of-all-trades approach will leave FrameMaker master of none. I don't think this duality is going to be a big problem, because document creation in general is moving towards this content-oriented approach. (It should be mentioned that FrameMaker already has a +SGML version on other platforms.)

Further Concerns
One of the biggest concerns that will face users of this product may be compatibility. Right now, the document can only open a limited number of formats and can save to just a few more. Part of this is because of beta issues, as FrameMaker for Linux does not yet have Adobe Distiller ready. Distiller will take PostScript files generated from a FrameMaker print job and convert them to PDF files very quickly. FrameMaker will also be able to produce HTML files. I hope the now-limited import functionality will be expanded to include more mainstream word processing files, since a common use of DP apps is to pull in existing word processor documents and format them with DP tools.

Another concern that may daunt users is the price. DP apps are usually not cheap and the pricing for the Windows and Mac versions of FrameMaker 6.0 definitely confirms this ($799 off the shelf, $209 for an upgrade). The UNIX version is no less expensive ($349 for a personal upgrade). Obviously, the pricing of FrameMaker on these other platforms cannot accurately reflect how Adobe is going to price the Linux version once this beta program is over. Still, if this is an indicator of things to come, the price tag for FrameMaker for Linux could be a big deciding factor.

Wrapping Up
These concerns are things that are still yet to be. For now, I strongly recommend any users who want to get some serious control over their document creation to download this beta and enter the world of desktop publishing on a Linux platform. With the online manual to get you over the interface hurdles, you will find yourself using an excellent Linux DP application.

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