Sunday, September 21, 2014

Madcap - Sanity in the Maddening world of Documentation

The Webinar started (a few minutes late – waiting for late comers:) with the presenter – Michael Hamilton introducing himself. Mike is the VP – Product Management for Madcap. He has a degree in Physics and was initially working in the Nuclear Power Industry before a transition to documentation. He gave us a quick summary of his work as a Product manager for RoboHelp before starting off with MadCap. He has over 10 years experience in documentation. He co-authored the training curriculum for RoboHelp in 1996. I've got to add that Mike went great lengths to make this session easy to comprehend and really informative.

What or Who is Madcap?
In two words – it is a complete documentation solution. (Did I say two words? Sorry – scope creep!) Madcap focuses 100% on content authoring and documentation. This company has the expertise (10 – 25 yrs) of several industry experts who were earlier working with RoboHelp, eHelp, etc. Its products have become very popular in the documentation industry because of the ease of use, innovativeness, versatility, scalability and comparatively low price. A few feathers in the (Mad)cap:
  • Was the number 3 authoring tool in just 9 months after release
  • Profitable since the first month of shipping Madcap Flare
  • Selected as a showcase application by Microsoft for Visual Studio 2005 and XPS
More about Madcap
  • Formed in 2005 - some of Madcap customers worldwide include - Yahoo, Google, GE, 3M, Oracle, Motorola, HP, Nike, Xerox, etc.
  • Does not have the word help in any of its names as they believe that help is only a part of what the software can create.
  • Bulk of business is from knowledge base or general publishing – manuals, procedures, policies, etc
  • It is built on the differentiation model and has 3 value propositions:
    • Quality – Not sold as enterprise software, but as regular shrink wrapped solution. Unlike enterprise software, they cannot release update patches - therefore has to be checked thoroughly before release
    • Low Cost – Flare costs 900$ per user. Madcap also have a competitor pricing model - if you have a competitor product, you get a 400$ discount!
    • Scalability – You can start with just a single copy and can thereon add capabilities according to your publishing needs. You can pick and choose what components you want to use! Server products, usage tracking, translation, etc are some of the modules offered. You can do all this by yourself on their Web site where all the pricing options are available – no hidden costs, no marketing gimmicks!
Madcap Solutions - Holistic approach to documentation
The software offered can be categorized under these topics:
  • Authoring
    • Madcap Flare– Flagship product - Advanced full authoring editor used for both online and print publishing.
    • Blaze – Same functionalities as Flare but can only be used only for print publishing. Priced cheaper than flare.
    • X-edit – Limited function - template based authoring tool. This can be used when extensive authoring is not necessary and content only needs to be populated in different templates. Users cannot change styles – thus a very controlled authoring tool.
    • X-edit (Review) – Sensibly, a free utility. As the name indicates – used by reviewers. Has limited functionality – reviewers can leave comments. The tool includes style sheets, etc to render content exactly as is viewed in Flare. Brilliant!
    Note: If you have Madcap Flare, you do not need any of the other authoring/publishing tools from Madcap.
  • Multimedia
    • Mimic – Similar (better!;) to Captivate – used to create moving pictures with sound - simulations and tutorials. Supports single sourcing of multimedia.
    • Capture – used only to capture images. The difference with other multimedia software is that when an image is captured, it is saved as a master image without any reduction in resolution or detail. This ‘master’ image can then be used as a single source to create different output files (profiles) based on size, pixel, dpi, type, modifications, etc. You will never have to capture the same screen again!
    • Echo – used only to capture sound. This is available separately because some customers wanted a stand alone audio capture tool that could publish audio to complement text.
    Note: Madcap Mimic performs both Capture and Echo functions.
  • Advanced Support (server products)
    • Analyzer – Inside the firewall – can scan and analyze all content. Reports generated include:
      • Tech Reports on broken links, missing images other technical issues.
      • Efficiency reports – e.g. there are 15 styles sheets that are not being used.
      • Linguistic reports - Very helpful in localization as it can find similar phrases thus reducing translation costs. Analyzer flags such phrases and recommends a standard phrase. E.g. Phrases like ‘From the File menu, click Save’ and ‘Click Save from the File menu’ will usually mean paying twice for two different versions of the same instruction – if not for the analyzer.
    • Feedback – Outside the firewall – customer facing. Reports on search terms used, tracking usage in a given time frame – what pages are read -how often, etc. Web 2.0 capability that allows users to comment on published documents in real time.
    • Team Server – Enterprise CMS solution that is scheduled to release this year. Automate and manage your content across the enterprise with this part of the solution.
  • Localization
    • Since Madcap files are standard XML files, it is easy to use with translation systems like Across, Dejavu, etc
    • Lingo – translation tool - recognizes all the files that require translation - Table of contents, glossary, etc. Lingo builds a master list of all such files that must be localized.
All the components above can integrate tightly to work together to give you a solution for almost any kind of documentation need.

Madcap Software - High Level Concepts
  • Single Sourcing
    • Single sourcing explained with an example. This solution involves creating content once and using it many times. A Master Source Files is created that can deliver variations as output - based on the need.
    • Advantages of single sourcing explained – Do not need to update all documents every time a change is required, only the source (master) file needs to be updated
    • Single sourcing process – Build Master Files > Add conditional Tags > Define Publishing Tags > Generate Output
  • Topic Based Authoring
    • Topic based authoring vis-à-vis linear authoring and the challenges faced.
    • Topic is defined as a discrete unit of content about a specific subject, identifiable purpose [b]that can stand by itself[/b].
    • Each topic is like a building block that can be reused to build different documents.
Flare Workflow

Step 1– Import existing content. Capability to import from Word, FrameMaker, HTML or XML files, Robohelp, Help Projects. DITA is currently in BETA.
Step 2 – Built in flare editor used to edit or create additional content
Step 3 – Publishes to various outputs – HTML Help, DotNetHelp, Web Help, Word, PDF, Adobe FrameMaker, Microsoft DOCX, Microsoft XPS, XHTML Book. Exporting to DITA is also in BETA.
Madcap Flare is the only tool in the industry that can export content back into FrameMaker.
Flare Demo
  • Trial version of Flare can be downloaded from
  • First time users can make use of the getting started section – especially the video tutorials
  • The same help is also available on the Madcap Web site - eliminating the need to download a trial copy just to view help
  • For users of RoboHelp - The tutorials leverages existing knowledge of the tool (RoboHelp) and compares how the same tasks are performed on Flare
  • There is a section in the video tutorials that explains single sourcing on Flare, how to use style sheets mediums, variables, conditional markers, etc.
  • Mike’s Demonstration went on to show how to import content from different sources, the navigation pane and the WYSIWYG editor
  • The navigation pane makes topic based authoring very easy
  • The visual block bar allows authors to view the structure (graphical view) of XML outside the content area – helpful for authors who would like to build expertise in XML
  • The Visual block bar allows elements to be moved around with no effect on the formatting. Handles manipulation of lists extremely well
  • Tables was next. Flare uses style sheets that make formatting a huge number of tables – a breeze
  • Integration of multimedia tools was explained by handling images and making changes on the master image using Mimic
  • Sending content for review, Using the X-edit tool to commenting or add annotations was also shown
A few questions that were asked during the Q&A session:
  • Would I be able to integrate my online help files into visual studio? Yes – depending on publishing format
  • Is there a migration path? Yes
  • Price is high for emerging economies – are you considering hosted services? Lingo – translation tool is currently available on a subscription model.
  • Is it possible to find and replace tags? (Mike seemed to be waiting for this question) Short answer – You Bet! Mike demonstrated this later in the webinar.
  • Can 2 or more people work on the same project at the same time? YUP! 2-3 writers can use common network drive. 5 or more authors need some sort of source control mechanism like CVS.
  • A question on publishing to XHTML – was answered with a demo
  • Can you use feedback from non mad cap products? Not currently
  • If we have integrated web help with the application by calling the map ids, can the same implementation hold good to call the web help generated by MadCap Flare? Yes – and Mike happily showed us how it could be done.
  • How do you apply a conditional tag? Mike showed us how it is done and shared a best practice in the process.
  • Can you explain how to add a header or footer to print output? He did!
  • Does Madcap Flare have version control? No
  • How does it manage images? Does it support meta tagging of images? No
More questions? Send them to
A suggestion on future webinars - Everybody could benefit if the questions asked during the Q & A session are shared with all the attendees.

1 comment:

  1. First published on twin - This one even won a prize!