UK MadCap user group launches with two events

MadSIG, the MadCap UK & Europe user group, launches with two events in the UK in September. We are a handful of MadCap users who network to share expertise and support. Most of us are based in the UK, though I’m the Europe outlier who’s based in Germany (and sometimes Denmark).

MadSIG offers occasional meet-ups and also a LinkedIn group for feedback, ideas and resources. If you are a sole technical author, become part of a more personal group – in your own virtual home town rather than in the big city of the online forums!

MadSIG is a special interest group under the ISTC‘s umbrella – while you don’t need to be an ISTC member to join and participate, it’s certainly a good idea to take advantage of the society’s many benefits.

Meet with MadCap’s Mike Hamilton in Staines on 19 Sep

Mike Hamilton from MadCap is going to be at the Swan Hotel and Pub, The Hythe, Staines TW18 3JB, on Thursday 19th September from 7pm onwards. He’s generously offered to spend the evening talking MadCap with anyone who uses Flare and the other MadCap products, or is interested in finding out more about them.

If you would like to come, please let us know by email to MadSIG@ISTC.org.uk with your contact details, so we can update you if anything changes last minute. If you’ve got any specific topics you’d like to talk about, feel free to let us know, too.

Mike Hamilton has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the MadCap products, so bring your questions and, if you like, your projects, and get to know some other Flare fanatics from the South of England at the same time.

Inaugural MadSIG meeting at TCUK on 25 Sep

MadSIG holds its inaugural meeting at TCUK 2013. If you’re at TCUK anyway, this is your easiest chance to meet other MadCap users. We’ll meet at the Terrace Bar of the Marriott conference hotel on Wednesday, 25 Sep at 5 pm.

This meeting is a TCUK fringe event – that is, it is organised by us delegates, not by the conference itself. We are grateful that TCUK provides space and publicity.

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MadCap roadshow in Long Beach

MadCap kicked of the 2011 season of roadshows on March 13 in Long Beach, CA, to coincide with the workshop day of the WritersUA conference.

A full-day program offered primers on topic-based authoring and single sourcing, best (and less recommended) practices of collaborative authoring, and a passionate introduction to Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Shorter breakout sessions (which don’t seem to be part of the other roadshow dates) presented tips and tricks for Flare: How to handle tables, create print output and localize, as well as a case study about moving from RoboHelp to Flare.

Mike Hamilton at the MadCap roadshow

Mike Hamilton reminds us to think topics!

More like a conference

Several aspects made the event feel more like a Flare-centric conference than the marketing or sales event it was as well:

  • Presentations address tech writing challenges in general, whether or not you use Flare:
    • How to optimize topics for reuse
    • How to efficiently publish to several media from one source
    • How to collaborate with other authors.
    • And, oh yes, how you can do these things with Flare. But the general emphasis was on: “Here’s how you can work efficiently.” In fact, the helpful introduction to CSS didn’t rely on Flare at all. The more sales-y “Wanna see what the new version can do?” came only in a longish rock video with MC Mike during the drinks reception.
  • Networking opportunities galore during breakfast, lunch, the concluding reception and to some extent even during the breakout sessions.
  • A day’s worth of Q&A. MadCap brought more than a dozen people from all teams to be able to answer any question that we present and future users might throw at them. Their answers were usually constructive and frank, though my question about the number of employees got the PR-tinted answer “fewer than 100”. When asked whether Flare can do X, Mike sometimes says: “Not at the moment.” Previously, I thought this was just supposed to sound better than “No.” But after following Flare’s development for a few versions, I now see that many of such features have been added, such as the long-awaited formula capabilities in version 7.

Taking tech comm seriously

In a nutshell, MadCap continues to take tech writers, their requests and issues seriously. Here are some examples of insights from the sessions to illustrate how they go beyond the bells and whistles of selling a new version:

  • Customer focus is important – but documentation must also recognize and satisfy the owner (usually, the company that pays for the documentation) and the manager (who needs to ensure that documentation is completed in time and in budget).
  • Create separate target definitions for separate deliverables. Don’t rely on manual steps in the production process which might get lost in the hustle and bustle. For example, don’t trust that you’ll remember to update the global variable with the correct company name…
  • When you share source files over a network, even in a small team, use either a dedicated source control system or SharePoint (which includes source control) which avoids two people editing the same file at once and allows to lock down central resources like stylesheets.
  • There is no one font size that’s always appropriate. How large a font appears depends a lot on the “x-height” (roughly the height of the letter x), and that can vary in fonts of the same size.

Wish list

Taking my cue from other conferences I’ve attended, I think MadCap could add two things to improve the roadshow:

  • Book table. There are a few books available about MadCap products. For those of us who like books with their tools, why not have at least a sample copy by the registration table, so we can check them out whether we want to buy them or not?
  • Rant & rave session. This one might not be in MadCap’s best interest, but hey, they’re generally a pretty accessible company who like to collaborate with their customers and prospects. I think they should put on a session where attendees can get one minute each to rant and/or rave about the products. Such a forum would give MadCap a quick way to see what bothers a lot of users – and what they like. Two peeves came up:
    • The previously free reviewer module “X-Edit” has been replaced by “Contributor” which requires a license per user. This is not feasible in environments where each writer easily has one or two dozen potential reviewers. MadCap needs to come up with a better licensing model for this.
    • Flare lets you define separate CSS Mediums for print and online in great detail. A field near the top indicates which one you’re editing. Yet a lot of users still manage to edit the “wrong” one when they get all engrossed in styles. Simply highlighting this better would improve usability for focused, single-minded users.

If you’ve attended a MadCap roadshow or other such industry event or are considering to attend, feel free to share impressions or questions in the comments.

Recommended video: What’s new in MadCap Flare 7

Here’s a timed summary of the “MadCap Flare V7 – What’s New Demo” and more resources that review the latest Flare release.

The 55-minute video is by Mike Hamilton, VP Product Management of MadCap Software, recorded on March 3. The audio is not spectacular, but other than that it’s a lively, engaging demo. You’ll find the video on MadCap’s webinar web page.

I’ve prepared this transcript summary, because I wanted to refer to individual “chapters” of the demo. I like Flare and MadCap Software, but am not affiliated with them, other than as a fan and past and future user.

More MadCap resources

Flare 7 covered elsewhere

MadCap Flare V7 – What’s New Demo, Topics & Times

0:00 Webinar preliminaries

1:30 Find more info about Flare 7 at the MadCap web site

3:40 Agenda

  • General
  • Editor
  • Workflow/Team Environments
  • Viewing/Testing
  • MS HTML Help Enhancements

5:20 1. General Topics

  • Accessibility Enhancements
  • Reports Engine (which is new, not MadCap Analyzer)

6:50 General > Accessibility Enhancements

  • Web help and PDF enhanced for users with disabilities
  • Add screen tips to graphics for screen readers
  • Optional build warnings remind you of accessibility issues: missing alternate text, etc.

10:50 General >Reports Engine

  • Create custom reports about all files in project
  • Build a report from scratch or use included report templates
  • Examples: Show all conditions in report files, show all topics with changes and comments

14:30 2. Editor Enhancements

  • QR Codes
  • Equation Editor
  • Vector Graphics
  • Auto Suggestion
  • Alias Editor Enhancements
  • Table Enhancements
  • Customize Flare UI Grids
  • Remove Inline Formatting
  • Shortcut Buttons (Snippets/Variables)
  • Paste Options

15:20 Editor > QR Codes

  • QR codes are smartphone-readable (“square barcodes”)
  • Include an URL, e-mail address, or text in print output
  • For online output, you can make the barcode clickable…

18:05 Editor > Equation Editor

  • Supports MathML code
  • Formulas are inserted in author mode as stylable, scalable vectors
  • Formulas render as lossless, non-blurry postscript in print & PDF
  • Formulas render as graphics online

20:45 Editor > Vector Graphics

  • Supports inserting SVG, PS and EPS graphics in topics
  • They allow lossless scaling
  • Render as lossless, non-blurry postscript in print & PDF
  • Render as graphics online

24:10 Editor > Auto Suggestion

  • Can be turned on and off
  • Reminds you of existing snippets (=sub-topics) and variables (=module names)!
  • Makes reuse of snippets and variables easy
  • Supports added common phrases, too

26:25 Editor > Alias Editor Enhancements

  • Completely reorganized
  • Shows complete, incomplete and missing aliases
  • You can auto-generate file IDs from pattern

(29:20 You can move tabs of open pages around.)

30:30 Editor > Table Enhancements

  • In Flare editor, you can convert text to table and table to text
  • (Be patient with Mike; he needs a minute to find the feature in the GUI…)
  • You can also merge tables

34:15 Editor > Customize Flare UI Grids

  • You can customize any dialog, any GUI grid in the Flare editor for custom column layout and appearance

35:50 Editor > Remove Inline Formatting

  • You can remove inline formatting easier, without highlighting exactly

37:45 Editor > Shortcut Buttons (Snippets/Variables)

  • Icons in text workspace provide faster access to selection of snippets and variables

38:50 Editor > Paste Options

  • Paste text as paragraph, list, table

40:00 3. Workflow/Team Environment Enhancements

  • SharePoint Integration
  • Subversion Integration
  • External Resources
  • Review/Track Changes

40:15 Workflow/Team Environments > SharePoint Integration

  • You can integrate Flare projects into SharePoint or import any SharePoint file into Flare

41:15 Workflow/Team Environments > Subversion Integration

  • Subversion is now directly integrated
  • Without 3rd party plug-ins, such as Tortoise
  • This is now like Microsoft Team Foundation Server and Visual Source Safe

42:15 Workflow/Team Environments > External Resources

  • You can use any external resource/file in Flare
  • … even if it’s not part of any Flare project
  • Link to any network file that’s accessible
  • However, these resources are then outside of Flare’s source control

44:30 Workflow/Team Environments > Review/Track Changes

  • Comments and Track Changes essentially acts as in Word
  • With multi-colors, strike-through
  • Several users can see each other’s edits
  • You can accept/reject changes individually or accept/reject all
  • This works only in the Flare editor and in Contributor (previously X-Edit)
  • It doesn’t work in any output

49:10 4. Viewing/Testing Enhancements

  • Chrome
  • Preview Any Format
  • WebHelp Output – Choose Browser

49:10 Viewing/Testing > Chrome

  • Fixes bug that you couldn’t view (any vendor’s!) local web help in Chrome browser

50:20 Viewing/Testing > Preview Any Format

  • You can quickly select to preview the topic in any defined target format, not just one selected format
  • Easier, more realistic previews

52:30 Viewing/Testing > WebHelp Output – Choose Browser

  • You can quickly check web help output in any installed browser: IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari

54:10 5. MS HTML Help Enhancements

  • You can import a .CHM file as a Flare project, including the TOC and index

55:30 End