Thursday, August 7, 2008

MadCap Flare, the help author's dream tool

Ok, it's been a while since I wrote last. I've had a hectic Spring and Summer. I switched jobs, got married, learned a brand new software product, and helped my wife complete an absolutely insane summer course schedule (she had class and work from 7AM-9PM every day, then studied until 1AM... every single day). Thus, the blog sort of fell by the wayside.

I'm back, though! And I'm ready to share some new insights with you. First, I'd like to talk a little about MadCap Flare, the new software I began using a little over a month ago. It's really top-notch. I've lucked into a great situation here at my new job, since I'm the first (and currently only) technical writer. So, I got to pick the software program I wanted to use. After a week of serious comparisons, I chose Flare. My only concern was the learning curve; I had less than a month to learn the software and use it to write and develop an entire online help system for a new product.

Fortunately, Flare is very easy to use. It took me less than a day to learn my way around the interface and to begin authoring some rudimentary help topics. As time went by, I incorporated more and more complex stuff into my topics. Recently, I even began playing around with DIV tags, which are very powerful. Now, let me say that I'm no CSS expert, but Flare makes all of these things relatively easy!

Here's what my site currently looks like:

Of course, you don't need to get fancy. If all you want to do is create some basic text topics and organize them in a WebHelp project, complete with Search capability and a Table of Contents, you can be up and running in no time.

One of the other bright spots about Flare is the support. When I was comparing products, I downloaded a trial copy of Flare (the output is gibberish). A MadCap sales rep contacted me almost immediately and answered all of my questions. She even was willing to work with me on the price, since our smaller company cannot yet afford to shell out huge bucks for software. As I learned to use the software, I found the MadCap support forums to be invaluable. Most of the time, the MVPs there respond faster to my posts than the MadCap support reps respond to my e-mails (I got the 'free email support for a year' package, mainly so I could get a free upgrade to Flare 4.0, which comes out later this summer).

All in all, it's been a great experience, and my help files look great! Flare let me focus on the content instead of worrying about the framework and tweaking the look of every little thing.

Want to learn more? Here are two of the most helpful articles I found. Paul Pehrson is one of the MadCap MVPs who are so helpful on the forums, by the way.

45 Things I Love About Flare, 31 Things I Hate About It
- Tom Johnson on his blog, I'd Rather Be Writing

Six Reasons to Love Flare
- Paul Pehrson on his blog, Technically Speaking

If you like what you've heard, try it out!

MadCap Flare trial download site