Flare 10, the annual major release of MadCap’s flagship Help Authoring Tool, includes several major enhancements that make Flare easier and faster to newcomers and editors of marketing content. And many smaller enhancements target the hardcore techcomm heavy users. The well-balanced improvements testify that MadCap listens to many of its users.
Today, I’ll focus on the enhancements that I enjoy most – many of them are smaller improvements for heavy-duty tech comm users with large projects and many topics. (An earlier post covered the more obvious strategic enhancements.)
- Improved build times are probably the most crucial enhancement for us. We have some crazy large projects, and we’re happy to see that build times for web help and PDF alike decreased on average by 10 to 30%. Apparently, Flare 10′s re-engineered build process causes more read/write operations. That means a fast hard-disk drive with, say, 7200 RPM or a solid state disk help you to really benefit from the improvements. (If you don’t know your RPM speed, find your HDD model ID in Windows’ Device Manager, search the web for that ID and you’ll find the RPM speed as well.)
- Robustness is improved with a Crash Reporting System. Given our large projects, Flare could be really slow at times and occasionally crash. I don’t recall ever losing any data, but it was still unnerving to see Flare disappear suddenly. I like that Flare 10 has better exception handling and captures a lot of run-time errors with an error dialogue.
- Customised project export allows you to tailor the content you share with other writers, translators or MadCap support. You can export projects not just as a whole, but also by selecting a target, a set of conditions or even file tag settings. For example, you can select a target and export that (along with the target’s conditions applied) to your translator. I use file tags to track topic status and translation language – and I like that I can export complete, stand-alone projects which contain only the relevant topics.
- Customised review packages benefit from the same restrictions, and we can select a target or apply conditions to collect only relevant topics. Oh, and topics in a review package now automatically bring along the snippets the link to which is a nice, intuitive touch.
- A Find and Replace widget in the XML Editor lets me find expressions in the active topic much faster.
- Drag-and-drop for conditions and variables makes it easier to select these elements which are now listed individually in the Project Organizer window and drop them into topics where I need them.
- Apply conditions in the XML Editor. I have several “dimensions” of conditions, such as print vs. online and version A vs. B. And sometimes, I lose track whether I have all scenarios covered. This new feature makes it easier and faster to see when I have content missing for “print + version B”, for example.
- File navigation improvements benefits especially users who have a lot of topics and a lot of topic reuse.
- Find and Replace in Files has been revamped to offer more options for tailored results. You can now search:
- In the whole project which now includes files in the Project Organizer.
- In any given folder.
- In files by name, for example, you can search *.flsnp for all snippet files or t*.* for all task files, if you adhere to such a file convention.
- For whole words which omits partial matches in longer words.
You can now also save search results in a CSV file which is helpful if you need to work on results over a longer time.
Note that Replace All has become less transparent! Previously, this function would open all files with matches, apply the replace, mark them with the “edited” asterisk and save them. In Flare 10, Replace in All Files will silently replace matches in all files currently not open. This is much faster, but there’s no asterisk, no undo, and you don’t even see the replace.
- Locate in TOC has gotten better. This function finds the selected topic in a table of contents. I use this a lot as I switch back and forth between the back-end topic structure in the Content Explorer window and the users’ view in the table of contents. I can now right-click a topic in the Content Explorer and go straight to Locate in TOC without going through the XML Editor or the Link Viewer. This makes my navigation even faster.
- File preview data at the bottom of the File List, Project Organizer and Content Explorer windows shows details of the selected file. First are the file name, which is redundant, and file type, which I usually know, so that is not very useful yet. The second column shows Date modified which can be helpful. But with long-ish file names, I never see the second column in the narrow, docked windows. So this is a good idea with questionable results. I’m also worried that it will slow down navigation in folders with lots of files, but I have no proof for this.
- Searching in source code now gives faster access to the topic in the XML Editor thanks to an added button.
For more information, consult these MadCap resources:
- The product web page
- The 8-minute video where Deadheads can try to spot a favorite piece of Grateful Dead stage banter in one of the sample screens…
- The 300+ page What’s New Guide in PDF
- The list of customer-reported issues that were addressed, from MadCap’s knowledge base
- The Flare 10 system requirements from MadCap’s knowledge base
What do you think are the most impressive enhancements in Flare 10? And where have they come up short?