Go to Keith Soltys' Home Page

Go to Internet Resources for Technical Communicators

Go to Core Dump

FrameMaker and Word: One User's Perspective

April, 2001 - This is a long overdue update of this article, which I originally wrote in 1999. Changes since the last version are indicated by green text.

I've been working with FrameMaker on a daily basis for about 3 years, both in my current job at Daleen Technologies and prior to that at Solect Technology Group. Prior to Solect, I was working at Dow Jones Markets (now a part of Bridge Communications), where I used Word pretty much exclusively. At Dow Jones Markets, I was able to take a couple of FrameMaker courses and do some document conversion (Word to Frame and vice versa), so I wasn't a complete novice with FrameMaker when I moved to Solect and had to start using FrameMaker intensively. I now manage a documentation group of three writers; all of us use FrameMaker 6 and WebWorks Publisher 5 to produce printed and online documentation.

Prior to working with FrameMaker, I was a (reasonably) happy user of Microsoft Word. I've used it since Word for DOS 2.0. Over the last decade, the program has evolved into a powerful, intuitive writing tool that deserves its commanding hold on the marketplace. Word 2000 is an excellent tool for writing and editing. But as good as it is (and in most respects Word 2000 is very good), Word has definite limitations when it comes to working with long, complex technical documents -- the type of documents that technical writers have to produce.

My opinion: FrameMaker is best suited to big documents or documents that consist of many files. However, Word is friendlier and much easier to edit with. After using Word 2000, working with FrameMaker feels like stepping back to 1992. While FrameMaker generally deserves its reputation for being able to handle large complex documents, I still believe that almost anything that you can do in Frame you can also do in Word, if you know Word well enough. Some job requirements (colour separations, for example) may require you to use Frame, but in many other areas the distinction is not so clear cut and Word's ease of use and macro capabilities may balance Frames superior cross-referencing and multiple file support.

You will see below that most of my complaints about Frame have to do with lack of features and its dated interface. I can't imagine using Word to do some of the documents that I've produced in the last couple of years, or to produce the volume of work that my group has done. On the other hand, I've wasted much time working around Frame's limitations (lack of HTML import, for example) or performing repetitive tasks that would have been trivial to automate in Word.

It's unfortunate that there isn't more competition in the long document publishing area. FrameMaker is just about the only realistic option there. If Adobe had more competition, they might be inclined to speed up the glacially slow pace of FrameMaker upgrades. As it is, I use Frame because there isn't an alternative.

I am keeping an eye on the Linux/open source community. It's clear that the future of technical publishing will involve content management tools, probably using some variant of XML or SGML. KWord, for example, is one tool that's worth watching - although it doesn't appear to have any content management features, at least its native format is XML.

Read on and see what you think. Comments are welcome..

The good
The bad
The different
The ugly

The good

These are things that I especially like about FrameMaker:

The bad

These are things that I don't like because they work better in Word or features that Frame doesn't have. Items are listed roughly in order of importance.

The different

These are things that are different from Word, but not necessarily good or bad.

The ugly

These are bugs or things that have caused me problems..


Keith Soltys -- ksoltys@home.com,

Go to Keith Soltys' Home Page

Go to Internet Resources for Technical Communicators

Go to Core Dump