Tool Review

Move Over FrameMaker

By Peter Bates

Call me a heretic. I've never worshipped Adobe FrameMaker. As a production tool, I suppose it gets the job done and you do have to know it to nab whatever technical writing jobs you can find. Yet its graphics component is rudimentary, its implementation of master pages confusing, and its infrequent updates, particularly of the interface, consistently fail to impress me. I'm not alone. Every time Adobe comes out with another release of FrameMaker, my colleagues collectively sigh.

Now we have Adobe InDesign. The product is only two years old, yet it is seriously challenging FrameMaker, PageMaker, and Quark Express for the desktop publishing throne. First of all, it allows you to produce (and import) superior graphics. For example, you can easily create transparent text that overlays an object. Not only that, but you can specify the degree of transparency.

The product is helpful when it comes time to go to press. Recently, I was working on a brochure for a client. He insisted on using an RGB graphic he had picked up on the Web. When I imported it into InDesign, it did not look the same. I had programmed InDesign to display colors via a CMYK filter so they would display exactly as they would appear on the printed brochure. He wasn't happy, but at least we tackled the issue before printing. (We ended up distracting viewers from the color match problem with flashy color gradients, another task InDesign does particularly well.)

Those who use Photoshop will be familiar with the palette-driven interface. InDesign has almost two dozen palettes. Use the Text Wrap palette to select how text forms around an object (five choices) and specify the offset values (in inches, points, picas, millimeters, even ciceros, whatever they are). Use the Layers palette to add another layer to your document so that you can easily overlap objects. Be careful about this one. It's not as flexible as Photoshop's layers. If you hide an InDesign layer, a white space "hole" appears in the other layer that the object occupies. This is the only annoying flaw that I noted in the program. It would have been nice to have two versions of the same document on different layers if layers weren't so intertwined. Another feature you may like: You can group palettes together that are similar (like Character and Paragraph) or that are used frequently.

InDesign is great with large documents, too. If you placed automatic page numbers on your document pages, then the program keeps track of your page numbering even if you add a new document between two other documents in a book. I always found FrameMaker's index feature kludgy because of all those imbedded codes. If you wanted to change an entry, you had to precisely position the cursor over the code while deftly right-clicking it. Compared to this hand-twisting approach, InDesign's Index palette is a joy to use. Just click on the icon for the entry and an editable properties sheet is displayed.

If you're on your own, get this product to complement your suite of tools. Simple and powerful at the same time, it's as indispensable as Photoshop and Macromedia MX are for the Web developer.

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Peter Bates runs Bates Communications, a publication, promotion, and Web design company. He can be reached at or