Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A Review of MadCap Flare 2018

MadCap released Flare 2018 last week. In this post, I’ll look at several of the new features that I think are most useful or have the most potential.

Side Navigation Output

The tri-pane skin has existed since 1995 and works perfectly well but it screams “online help”. MadCap’s Top Navigation, or topnav, skin, introduced several years ago, added a more webby look to Flare targets. However, topnav has some limitations compared to the tripane, primarily the fact that it’s not good for targets with long or complex TOCs.

Topnav displays the level 1 TOC heads in the upper pane so having a lot of level 1 heads means that the upper pane may use a lot of space, reducing the space available for content in the lower pane. See the image below for an (extreme) example of how the topnav uses the space in the upper pane.

Reducing the blank space on the left and right sides of the upper pane will reduce the number of lines that the TOC needs. But a long or complex TOC may still need this much space.

The next image shows what happens if the user hovers over one of the headings, in this case “Firewall Properties”.

Again, it can be hard to fit long or complex TOCs into this structure. The tripane eliminates this problem but at the cost of an old-style look and some codes that could cause trouble under HTML5. MadCap’s solution was to create a side navigation version of topnav, as shown below, first collapsed.

And then expanded, below…

It’s showing the same TOC as the topnav example, but TOC length is no longer an issue since the TOC pane can scroll.

Be aware that this skin, like topnav, assumes that the primary navigation for the target is the TOC and search. No index.

In summary, I think this skin is exactly what we’ve needed to offset topnav’s TOC space limitations and I expect it to see wide use.

Project Analysis

MadCap has offered a somewhat tangled set of project analysis options for years – a built-in report generator and a related file tag feature, a Project Analysis option (View > Project Analysis), and the separate Analyzer product.

The report generator and Analyzer product are similar; both offer 120+ reports on broken links, snippet suggestions, undefined styles, and so on. The main difference is that the report generator just creates the reports whereas the Analyzer product can actively help you act on them. Flare has also offered a little subset of the Analyzer under its Project Analysis option (View > Project Analysis).

In Flare 2018, MadCap appears to be taking steps to streamline all these options. The report generator and file tags features are still available but MadCap has added the core of the Analyzer product to Flare itself. In other words, we’ve gone from this in pre-2018 versions.

To this is Flare 2018 (with just one of the menus expanded and 44 reports in total). It’s not the full Analyzer but it’s a good start.

In summary, this should go a long way toward strengthening the analysis and management aspects of any Flare project.

Find Elements

Find Elements is a seemingly innocuous little feature that should come in handy if you have to clean up the code in legacy files. It’s available from the Home ribbon’s Find and Replace group and looks like this when first opened.

The Find What field offers the following options.

The results appear in a Find Results pane, typically at the bottom of the screen.

In summary, the most useful options, in my opinion, are inline styles, if you have to clean up legacy files, and MadCap, if you’re using Flare to create HTML files for use outside Flare, such as for a wiki, and have to find and remove Flare-specific tags in the output HTML files.

Other Interesting Features

Two in particular…

  • Review Workflow with MadCap Central – This new feature adds a new twist to your review workflows. If you’re a Contributor user, you’ve been able to solicit comments and new content from SMEs for years but you had to buy Contributor to do so. Now, if you’re a Central user, there’s no need to buy Contributor. Instead, you can add your SMEs to the review workflow through Central, in the cloud. Some of the benefits include multi-reviewer workflows, a simplified review-only interface, and change tracking.
  • Elasticsearch – This new feature adds a third search engine option to your projects in addition to MadCap’s own search and Google Search. My experience is that most users happily go for the MadCap search but a small number are looking for alternatives. For a comparison of the three types, see


What I like:

  • How the Side Navigation Output allows Flare authors with long or complex TOCs to get the same benefits as topnav but without the space constraints.
  • How the Analysis feature adds tremendous project management and analysis control natively.
  • How the Find Elements feature helps authors look at the internals of their projects.
  • How the Central-based workflow adds a new option to Flare and continues what appears to be MadCap’s move into the cloud.

In my opinion, these features, especially the Side Navigation Output, make Flare 2018 a solid release that’s worth upgrading to.