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FrameMaker... the worst part of the spec work

Posted by kohsuke on October 27, 2006 at 11:47 PM PDT

I know a good person would never write something like this, but I've got to write this, if only so that I feel a little better. So here it goes.

Now that I took over JAXB 2.1 maintenance review spec work, a part of my job involves in updating a PDF document, that is the JAXB specification. There are many ways you can create a PDF document, but JAXB 2.0 chose to use Adobe FrameMaker. If it were up to me, I'd have used LaTeX, but a MR lead doesn't get any say on those things — instead I just inherited 250 pages of Adobe FrameMaker document, and I just have to live with it.

And this quickly turns out to be the worst part of the spec work, because FrameMaker is just so brain-dead. Really. Many of you are probably fortunate enough not to use FrameMaker, so I'll give you a few of the problems.

  1. No undo stack. This is 21st century, yet FrameMaker still doesn't have undo stack. You can only undo once, and only if you are lucky — there are many operations where you simply can't undo.

  2. No color. Formatting symbols like tabstop and newline characters are displayed in the same color as the rest of the text, making it very hard to see. All the other word processors that I know of use gray.

  3. No mouse wheel support. FrameMaker simply ignores mouse wheel scrolls. I forgot when Windows added mouse wheel support, but I thought it was either Win95 or Win98. This is just lame. Really lame.

  4. Windows 95 UI. The font, toolbars, dialogs are all Windows 95-ish (you can see a picture below.)'

  5. No keyboard shortcuts. There's almost no keyboard shortcut for any of the commands. Say you want to select a piece of text and apply a style? You have to use mouse. Say you want to start a new bullet list? Yes, use mouse. This is just not productive at all. And of course, as you can see below, none of the dialogs have shortcut keys assigned either.

  6. Font selection via menu. In all the other word processors, you choose font by using a combobox. Then it usually remembers a few fonts that you use often, and place them at the top of the list. FrameMaker is different. It uses menu to display all fonts, and it never arranges order for frequency. The particular bad result that this achieves is that if you just accidentally hover your mouse over the "font" menu (maybe you are trying to click "style" menu below "font"), the list of fonts show up as a submenu and almost completely cover your entire screen. Then you are forced to do it all over again, because the "style" menu is now behind the stupid font menu.

  7. Resizable dialog that doesn't expand controls. As you can see below, yes, you can resize the dialog, but no, controls just sit there. It never expands or shrinks to fit the dialog size, so I can never see the complete title of any of our tables. Is this written in VB or what? And what's that black square thingy?


<p>Agreed that Frame has some drawbacks, but for larger docs ...

Agreed that Frame has some drawbacks, but for larger docs Word is (or was last time I tried) unstable.
Just wondering what other Tool you prefer or recommend?