Friday, October 23, 2020

MadCap Flare 2020r2 – My Favorite New Features

 MadCap Software released MadCap Flare 2020R2 about two weeks ago, with new features ranging from those that add convenience to those that, in my opinion, indicate trends. In this review, I’ll briefly look at my favorites in this latest release. (For an overview of all the new features, see the “What’s New in MadCap Flare 2020 r2” video at https://www.madcapsoftware.com/videos/).

Micro Content Enhancements

MadCap continues to expand the micro content feature at a rapid clip. The most recent change is in the ability to format content differently when it’s displayed in a traditional topic versus when it’s displayed as micro content. Why do this?

MadCap’s example of using part of a set of content in traditional output and a slightly different part of that content in micro content is a good one. For example, you might not want to mention an option in the micro content in order to keep that material short in the more restricted space. Ditto using different formatting, different line spacing for example.

Assessment – From its inception, one of Flare’s major characteristics has been flexibility. That flexibility is further enhanced by this newest micro content feature. That feature also suggests future directions for Flare. (What follows is pure speculation.) For all intents and purposes, the micro content features are turning Flare into a two-track authoring tool. It can be used for “traditional” online content, with micro content integrated into that content, but can also be used to create (micro) content by itself, positioning Flare as an authoring tool for use in creating content for “terse” applications like VR, voice, or chatbots.

I have not yet had any Flare clients that make full use of the micro content features but I’ll be interested to see how that changes in the next few years.

“Sort at Build” Option

This is one of those seemingly trivial features that solves an annoying problem – what happens if several authors work on a list in the same topic and add, delete, or edit list items but don’t sort it before a build because that isn’t any one author’s job. The result is a list that’s out of order and doesn’t look correct, or that might even confuse readers. The sort at build option simply lets authors specify that the list should be sorted at build time by Flare itself, removing that task from the authors.

Assessment – “Sort at build” is a neat solution to the multi-author sorting issue. It also reflects a change in the authoring environment since it implies that multiple authors may touch the same material, which in turn implies the use of a source control system.

Salesforce and ZenDesk Enhancements

MadCap continues to enhance its ability to create output for use in these two environments. However, because these environments are so specialized, a detailed discussion of the enhancements won’t be useful here so I’ll simply note that the enhancements correct mismatches and problems between Flare and those environments.

Assessment – My experience is that Salesforce and ZenDesk authors are often less than happy with the authoring capabilities in those environments. MadCap’s continued improvement to Flare’s interaction with those environments makes it more likely authors can use Flare in place of the native authoring features.

Deprecated Features

I found two sets of deprecated features meaningful in both the trend and personal aspects.

The first is DITA output. DITA was introduced with a bang in the early 2000s as the answer for structured authoring but, outside of a small and specialized community, never took off within tech comm. MadCap gave DITA support a valiant effort but the deprecation is a recognition of DITA’s failure to effectively launch. (To my friends in the DITA space – let’s just agree to disagree.)

The second is the WebHelp output. WebHelp appeared in late 1997/early 1998 as a browser-based alternative to Microsoft’s HTML Help, the first HTML-based online help output. (The previous format, Windows Help, also from Microsoft, was based on RTF.) HTML5 began to supersede WebHelp in the early 2010s and is now dominant, as indicated by WebHelp’s deprecation by MadCap. Tempus fugit.

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