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FrameMaker 9 Review: And Now for Something Completely Different
2009, Q1 (April 03, 2009)
By Sheila Loring, Carolina Chapter Senior Member

Sheila Loring
Sheila Loring
Reprinted with permission by Scriptorium Publishing Services

FrameMaker users are buzzing about FrameMaker 9. With CMYK support, CMS integration, DITA 1.1, and PDF commenting, this version is full of new functionality but is unfortunately also buggy and inconsistent. This review covers the most important new features of FrameMaker 9.

New interface

FrameMaker 9 features a new interface modeled after Photoshop, InDesign, and other Adobe products.

{img src="img/wiki_up/FrameMakerwindow.png" desc=""FrameMaker 9 interface" }

The dialog boxes are pods that can be docked, minimized, moved around, and closed. For example, to minimize a pod in the right pane, you double-click the pod’s tab. To close the pod, you right-click the title bar and select close. I’m not a right-clicker, so I find myself looking for the familiar X button in the upper-right corner of the box. It’s not present on the pods, only on dialog boxes such as the Spelling Checker.

You can even detach a document window and drag it to a second monitor. This feature is particularly useful when you’re trying to compare two documents.

With all these pods, the screen quickly fills up, leaving little room for the document window. To remedy this issue, FrameMaker includes a UI Visibility button that you toggle to hide or show the pods and leave only the document window. This is a must in FrameMaker 9.

There’s no need to restart FrameMaker to switch from unstructured to structured view. The Structure Tool s menu is always displayed. The new workspace feature also lets you switch from one view to another, but the buttons on the structured and unstructured toolbars do not change as they do with other workspaces.

The horizontal pods display lists of variables, markers, conditional text, cross references, and insets. For example, the Markers pod displays a list of all markers inserted in the document, providing the marker type, marker text, document name, page number, and structure information. You single-click a line item to visit that instance in the document. You double-click the line item to open the Marker pod (not to be confused with the Marker s pod), which lets you edit the marker.

Markers and Marker pods
Markers and Marker pods

It’s incredibly helpful to be able to see the marker text, as previously you have had to use a plugin to get this functionality. However, I’m confused by the inconsistency among these horizontal pods. The Markers pod lists only markers in use. The Variables and Conditional Text pods list all variables and conditions available in the document, not those in use. The Cross-References pod lists cross-references inserted on the page, which you would expect. The Inset pod lists all imported objects, which you would also expect. The horizontal pods need to consistently display the same types of information or be placed in the vertical pod section.

Veteran FrameMaker users probably won’t appreciate the interface changes.
I miss the vertical buttons on the right side of the document and book windows. These buttons made it easy to open the paragraph catalog, character catalog, element catalog, and so on. Now you open these pods by selecting a menu item or clicking a button on the Quick Access bar.

Overall, the pod-based interface can be annoying when you’re trying to get your workspace just right. Once you’ve moved a pod from its docked position, it can be difficult to put it back. You have to drag the pod to a specific place in the workspace. That’s hard to get used to. That being said, FrameMaker 9 offers an option to set up and save a workspace, which I highly recommend using.

Veteran FrameMaker users probably won’t appreciate the interface changes. FrameMaker 9 isn’t as efficient as previous versions. We don’t care much that the product looks more like InDesign. We just want to be able to do things quickly and efficiently in FrameMaker.

Importing PDF comments

You can import PDF files containing comments. The comments are formatted as Tracked Text Edits, with deleted text marked out and inserted text underlined.

Sticky notes are imported as Comment markers. You can view the marker text to see the content of the sticky note, search for all Comment markers, or generate a list of Comment markers to compile all notes in one document.

To import PDF comments, you first must save the FrameMaker 9 file as tagged PDF. Then you can mark up the PDF and import the comments into FrameMaker. After the comments are imported, you use the Tracked Text Edits feature to accept or reject comments in the FrameMaker file.

I marked up a PDF and imported the comments (shown in the top graphic below). The results are shown in the bottom graphic below.

Comment markers in PDF
Comment markers in PDF

wrong FrameMaker markers
Misplaced comment markers in FrameMaker document

When FrameMaker imported the comments, it reported that the markers had been misplaced (as shown in the graphic above on the right). My document hadn’t changed. The text was still in the same place in the FrameMaker file. I repeated the process three times and got the same results. Then a coworker watched while I repeated the process, and it worked. The results are shown in the following graphic.

comments in FrameMaker
Correctly placed comments in the FrameMaker document

I don’t know why the word “pods” isn’t displayed after the stricken “palettes” as it should be. It was imported as a comment (in the green Comment marker) instead of as inserted text.

This feature is a bit awkward and frustrating for a first-time user. I’m hoping the kinks will get worked out eventually.

DITA 1.1 standard

FrameMaker 9 supports the latest DITA 1.1 standard. This means that you can create book maps, glossaries, and indexes in FrameMaker, elements that are new to the DITA 1. 1 standard. You create the index or glossary and then insert it in the book map as front matter. The only problem I had with this feature was crashing when I was prompted to select the index or glossary name to insert it. When I typed the wrong name (instead of selecting the file), FrameMaker crashed. This is a bug that I’m sure will be fixed eventually.
FrameMaker 9 supports the latest DITA 1.1 standard.

Book features

Books and structured books have new features. In structured books, you can import PDFs and other unstructured documents along with XML files. You can also create folders and groups within the book file. For example, you might want to create a folder called “unstructured documents” and insert the PDFs and unstructured FrameMaker documents there. A file with non-FrameMaker files can’t be saved as PDF, so FrameMaker 9 lets you exclude those files. You can also insert a book within a book, a feature that has long been on your wish list.

FrameMaker 9 includes new building blocks for section and subsection autonumbering. This saves you from having to devise more elaborate autonumbering schemes. There are also two new tabs in the Numbering Properties dialog box so you can set the numbering behavior.

Numbering properties
Numbering properties

The book dialog box now includes a handy Find button.

Hex and character palettes

The Hex Input and Character palettes are new to FrameMaker 9. In the Hex Input palette, you type in a character or scroll through characters to find the unicode equivalent (UTF-8, UTF-16, and UTF-32). You then select the code to display the Character Palette, and from there you can select the character to insert it in the document.

Hex input palette
Hex input palette. Created in MS-DOS by a rogue programmer?

Character palette
Character palette

I found a bug with inserting the characters through the Character Palette. When you select certain characters, your cursor actually backspaces at the insertion point instead of inserting the character. For example, the bullet character isn’t inserted. Your characters are deleted instead.

Though these features could be helpful, the palettes aren’t terribly functional. To close the dialog boxes, you click outside them. That means if you’ve just found a character and you accidentally click in the document, you have to go back into the palette and find your character again. This feature is a bit disappointing.

CMYK color

FrameMaker 9 supports CMYK. By default, CMYK is preserved in graphics and color definitions (for example, in paragraph tags). In the past, you could only get CMYK color in the discontinued FrameMaker for Mac or from CMYK EPS files. When you created PDFs from Windows FrameMaker with CMYK colors, all colors were rendered in the PDF as RGB. Then, when PDFs were sent to press, the colors had to be converted back to CMYK.

FrameMaker 9 is tightly integrated with WebDAV-enabled content management systems (CMSs).
The PDF Setup dialog box now gives you an option to Convert CMYK to RGB, and if you do not select this option, CMYK colors are preserved. When I was testing this feature, each time I selected Convert CMYK to RGB , FrameMaker crashed. I could never test the color conversion.

CMS integration

FrameMaker 9 is tightly integrated with WebDAV-enabled content management systems (CMSs). You have direct access to files on the server by browsing for the files. I quickly hooked up Alfresco, an open source CMS we use at Scriptorium. All files on the server were displayed. I could then check files in and out, save files to the server, and so on. I even opened a DITA file from the server with no problems.
FrameMaker 9 supports the latest DITA 1.1 standard.

Integration with Acrobat Connect

If you have Acrobat Connect installed on your computer, you can start a meeting inside FrameMaker and begin sharing your screen. Because I don’t have Connect installed, I’d like this option to be grayed out to prevent confusion. If I select Start Meeting, Acrobat displays and that’s it. Adobe probably expects you to download Connect, which is free.

Replacing missing fonts

FrameMaker 9 has a Fonts pod so you can select a font used in the document and then select its replacement from a drop-down list). To get to the Fonts pod, select View > Pods > Fonts. The pod lists all fonts used in the document. You double-click the font you want to replace. The Replace Font pod is then displayed, which lists each page where the font occurs and the size, weight, and variation of the font. It even includes fonts on the reference pages! You can double-click a line item to see that instance of the font on the page.

Replace fonts pod
Replace fonts pod

Fonts pod
Fonts pod

When you select a new font and select Apply, the font is globally replaced in the character or paragraph definition itself. This is a boon for FrameMaker users who tire of hunting down missing fonts and for template developers. Of course, it’s dangerous in the wrong hands.

Note that the pod doesn’t list missing fonts. Those are still displayed in the FrameMaker Console.


Adobe claims Photoshop layers are supported in FrameMaker 9. The online help refers to reordering layers, but I couldn’t find this option in FrameMaker. This feature would be nice for localization. You could store translations of callouts on different layers in the PSD file, import the file into FrameMaker and rearrange the layers to display the translation you need on top.

I ran into some flakiness with graphics. After importing a screen shot, I drew some callout lines and circles over the graphic. When I tried to move a circle, I couldn’t select it. The circle behaved as if it had been grouped with the graphic. I looked in the Graphics menu and saw Group and Ungroup grayed out, so the objects weren’t grouped. I then moved the graphic around, expecting the circle to stay in the same place. It moved with the graphic. I then deleted a callout line. The portion of the line that overlapped the graphic was still displayed, while the callout line outside the graphic was deleted. And this wasn’t a refresh error. I pressed Ctrl+L to refresh the display and nothing changed. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I couldn’t reproduce this problem. To fix it, I closed and reopened the document.

Setting the DPI on a graphic now takes one more step. Instead of selecting the DPI and selecting Set , you have to set the DPI, select Set to dismiss the Set DPI dialog box, and then select the Apply button on the Object Properties pod. The Set button is misleading because now it saves your DPI choice instead of instantly applying the new DPI to the graphic.

Online help

FrameMaker 9 now features AIR help. This means you can search both the FrameMaker helpset and online “community” resources. Community help consists of resources provided at http://www.adobe.com/support/framemaker/ . I found this particularly helpful when looking for information on starting a meeting. The term wasn’t found in the FrameMaker help, so I searched the community resources. The first entry that popped up looked like a page straight out of a manual with complete instructions on starting a meeting.

AIR Help
AIR Help

AIR lets you add comments to a help page and post them for the community to see. The comments can be viewed in a browser on the Adobe web site or in FrameMaker’s AIR application. You can read my comments online at http://help.adobe.com/en_US/FrameMaker/9.0/Using/WS7C8062E1-BB5C-42b2-8C02-C188EC91D8F9.html.

AIR Comments pane
AIR Comments pane


FrameMaker 9 is certainly a significant upgrade for FrameMaker users. The CMS integration, CMYK support, DITA 1.1 support, and the PDF comments are compelling. What concerns me is the buggy features and inconsistent, inefficient interface. These issues add up to a lot of hassle for FrameMaker users.

I recommend evaluating FrameMaker 9 to see if the features are compelling enough for you to upgrade and then wait for patch releases before using it for production. FrameMaker 8 was buggy at first and then eventually issued several updates that greatly improved the stability.


The full version of FrameMaker 9 costs $999 in the U.S.; upgrades are $399. FrameMaker is also available as part of the Technical Communication Suite, which includes Acrobat Pro Extended, Robohelp, Photoshop CS 4, Captivate, and Presenter. The Suite costs $1899 compared to a list price of over $3000 for all of the components. If you need FrameMaker and Robohelp or FrameMaker and two other programs, you’re better off buying the Suite.

Sheila Loring can be reached at loring at scriptorium dot com. End of article.

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