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Re: How Good Is Webworks Publisher? [LONG]

At 02:18 AM 11/4/98 GMT, you wrote:
>Frameux et Frameuses:
>Has anybody used Webworks Publisher to convert legacy and new, targeted
>FrameMaker documents to Windows Help, HTML Help, JavaHelp, HTML (any or all
>of the above).

Hi Hedley,

[ObDisclaimer: I'm a certified trainer for this product and am listed on
their web site as such. You'll be convinced that I'm fairly objective as
you read on...<g>]

Yes, I've used it to convert to WinHelp, HTML Help, and HTML. Haven't tried
JavaHelp yet.

WWP is basically a mapping tool. It lets you translate the structure in
your FrameMaker files (paragraphs, characters, tables, cross-references,
etc.) into corresponding structure in the output format that you want.

As a result of this structure-oriented approach, you need the following to
convert successfully:

(Note that these "needs" are not WWP-specific; the same is true for any
other mapping tool, such as Harlequin's WebMaker or Omni Systems' MIF2RTF
[you're welcome, Jeremy <g>])

* clean FrameMaker files
If your FrameMaker documents are full of custom overrides, you're going to
have great trouble. Before converting your documents, make sure that you
have all the formats applied where necessary. (Of course, I'm sure that
*Hedley* would never produce poorly tagged documents, but you did mention
the dreaded **legacy** documents!)

* FrameMaker structure that can be expressed in the target output
About a year ago, I had an excruciating project...the client had used
custom table formatting to make a single table look like side-by-side
tables. My job was to make this work in HTML...and did I mention the 6
point type? (really) I ended up changing the "fake" side-by-side tables to
real side-by-side tables by customizing the page layout (created two
columns and flowed the two tables into them). In HTML, this rendered as one
table, followed by another table below it, which was fine for our purposes.
Anyway, to make a long story short, you can do a lot more interesting
formatting in FM than in, for example, HTML, so if you have been "creative"
in your FM files, you're likely to see difficulties in your output. (The
same is true with WinHelp, although RTF does offer more formatting than HTML.)

Some other thoughts on WWP:

* WWP's interface is, uh, different. New users find it very confusing, so
leave yourself some time to learn it. This confusion is, I think, partly
because the product offers you an incredible level of customization...but
that doesn't help when you're just getting started.

* Forget about using the product "out of the box" and producing
client-ready output. The templates that are provided are unlikely to give
you the output that you want...so you will need to spend some time to get
them to look the way you want them to. Two glaring examples: First, the
default HTML template includes a "page 1 of 70" type header at the top.
Now, I don't know about you, but I spend a lot of time getting rid of page
numbers in my online output. Second, the default WinHelp template renders
your text in Times. Yuck.

* Learning curve. Actually, the learning curve for WWP is manageable. The
problem is this...assume that you want to create RTF-based WinHelp. In
order to do so, you need the following:

- intermediate-to-expert FrameMaker knowledge to understand the FM template
and what's going on in your files
- WWP knowledge to understand how to customize mappings
- RTF and help knowledge to know how to modify the WWP template to get the
output that you want
[personally, I've had to learn more about RTF coding than I ever wanted to
in the last few months. Also, I'm now intimately familiar with the innards
of the WinHelp .hpj file.]

So, the problem is that you're actually having to learn a lot more than
just WWP...many of us have been developing with help authoring tools that
shielded us from all the nasty RTF tags. No such luck with WWP. (But keep
in mind that it's not a HAT, it's a mapping tool.)

Oh, and by the way, the documentation is incredibly bad. 

If you're still with me after this lengthy diatribe, here's the bottom
line. WWP works. Really really well. In addition to giving you all sorts of
mapping options, it also has a powerful macro language...and it supports
regular expressions. I have some colleagues who are doing things that make
my hair stand on end with it. (For example, they've written macros that run
after the files are converted and use regular expressions to parse through
the files and do some last-minute cleanup. I've done similar work with perl
scripts in the past, but WWP has this kind of functionality built in.)

>Would you recommend this to the light of your life?  To a
>junkyard dog?

Depends. Does the junkyard dog have an interested in FM templates, know how
to hand-code HTML, and get a perverse delight out of automating a
conversion process?

>Would you do it again?  Are there particular mantras to recite on the path
>to true enlightenment?

I guess as a trainer and consultant, I have to recommend training and/or
consulting. But if you already know the input (FM files) and output (HTML,
WinHelp, whatever), you should be able to figure it out...eventually.

Hope this helps.

Sarah O'Keefe                           okeefe@scriptorium.com
FrameMaker Adobe Certified Expert (ACE)
Scriptorium Publishing Services, Inc.   http://www.scriptorium.com

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