First let me point out that I’m a bit of a Mac-head. After 30+ years of using “IBM PCs” I made the switch to Macs a little over two years ago. Mac desktop (Mini), Mac Server (Mini), Mac laptops (MacBook and MacBook Pro), not to mention the iPhones and iPad. Yeah, completely jumped ship. I do still perform most of my work on Windows, but it’s all in VMs (Virtual Machines) on Apple hardware. It was the best move I’ve ever made .. far more productive, and far fewer problems (both hardware and software). From my perspective, Windows runs best on a Mac.
So, because I’m a late-comer to the Mac world, I wasn’t terribly bothered when FrameMaker dropped the Mac platform (in retrospect, it seems like a bad move, but that’s not the point). Frame works great in my Windows VM .. no problems at all. The fact that it’s not a native Mac application doesn’t really matter to me since I’m usually working in that VM.
I’ve been using FrameMaker for 20+ years, and not only use it for authoring and publishing of content (mostly software and technical manuals), but I also develop plugins and tools for FrameMaker. FrameMaker has its detractors, but in my opinion it’s a very solid authoring and publishing tool for both structured and unstructured content. I like it.
I’ve also been involved with eBook development for the past couple of years, and find that to be an exciting new option for publishing. There is no “perfect” path for creating an eBook from FrameMaker .. lots of options, some better than others depending on your needs, but they all have issues that typically require manual tweaking of the output.
With the release today of Apple’s iBooks Author application (free, but requires the Lion OS), I thought it might be good to explore how this tool potentially fits into the technical document publishing workflow. Also to see if this tool might be a replacement for FrameMaker in certain situations.
In case you missed all of the hype (info and video here), iBooks Author is Apple’s answer to making it easy for authors and publishers to create beautiful and highly interactive eBooks. This syncs up with their effort to provide interactive textbooks for students as eBooks. One caveat is that these eBooks can only be used on the iPad (not even the iPhone, for now), and in fact the license agreement requires that the output from this application can only be used on the iPad and sold through the iTunes bookstore. I won’t get in to whether that’s a good thing or not, but if the iPad is a target device for your content, this may be a useful tool.
If you’re familiar with Apple’s Pages application, you’ll feel quite comfortable with iBooks Author .. it looks like they cloned Pages to make this tool.
First hurdle .. how do you get content from FrameMaker into iBooks Author? IBA appears to only import content from an Apple Pages file or a MS Word DOC file. (No XML import and not even an RTF import.) FrameMaker exports to RTF, which you can open in Word and save to a DOC file. Once you’ve got a DOC, you can then insert that file as a “chapter” or a “section” into the IBA file (iBooks Author files have an IBA extension). When adding the DOC file to the IBA you have the option of preserving your document styles
, but regardless of the setting of this option, your style names are all lost (as far as I can tell). All paragraphs are tagged with a style name of “Free Form”. YIKES. As a hard-core style user, that sounds like a really bad thing to do. Hopefully I’m missing some option to maintain style names .. if not, that’s a serious flaw. However, even without any style tweaks, the default appearance does look pretty decent.
Update 29 Jan 2012! Sorry .. looks like I was wrong about that. Selecting the “Preserve styles option” does maintain paragraph and character styles (and style names) on import.
When I tried the import process on some of my content, it seemed to have trouble with conditionalized text. This text looked fine in Word (after the export from Frame), but after importing into IBA, the first character of each conditionalized paragraph was missing. If you make use of conditions in FrameMaker, be sure to watch for this. Also, it appears that cross-references don’t convert into anything useful on the IBA side, and referenced images are lost.
Let’s assume that your content has been successfully imported into an IBA file. You’ll need to create the cover and title pages as well as set up the copyright and other frontmatter. You can import directly into pages of these types, or just insert a copyright section page and copy+paste into that page. An interesting “feature” of eBooks created from IBA is that there is a separate table of contents for each chapter. You’ll need to be sure to tag paragraphs appropriately for them to show up in each TOC.
One of the really interesting things about this tool is its ability to add various types of interactive graphics (called Widgets). These can be simple things like a gallery of images (swipe left and right to see more) and movies or audio files. Or, you can create more complex objects like multiple choice review questions, or interactive images with callouts that pop up when tapped. You can also embed a Keynote presentation, interactive 3D images, and HTML content. All of this must be manually created.
When you want to preview your book, just plug your iPad into your computer, and click the Preview button. Within a minute, you’ll be able to page through and review/test the iBook you’ve created.
If Apple is really hoping that people will create lots of these iBooks, they should work a bit more on getting a cleaner import process. Graphics and cross-references should definitely not get deleted,
and maintaining the source style names would be very helpful. Otherwise, there’s quite a bit of manual work to import your existing content and creating a new book. Granted, any of the interactive media will need to be created manually since that didn’t exist in the source.
While a conversion from FrameMaker to iBooks Author is probably not the most common workflow scenario, it may be worth the effort if your goal is to create an interactive book for the iPad. I don’t see this application replacing FrameMaker (or Word for that matter) since it really only allows for a very limited type of page-based formatting, and you can’t export to anything other than iBook, PDF, and text.
I’ll be playing with this more over the coming weeks and will post more as I explore the options.