Why Adobe FrameMaker Sucks – A Slight Rant

Ok, let’s start this product comparison between Microsoft Word (in the red corner) and Adobe FrameMaker (in the blue corner). Before we get into the actual review, I’d like to share how I first encountered FrameMaker and, more importantly, why its roots in an obscure DTP package are the reason why it is the strange beast we love and hate.

Microsoft Word v Adobe FrameMaker

Just to let you know. In this series of articles, we will compare Microsoft Word and Adobe FrameMaker by examining the following key areas:

  • Ability To Create Long Documents
  • Ability To Create Short Documents
  • Printing and Type
  • Cross-Platform Capabilities
  • Importing Graphics
  • Indexing
  • Web features

And if we have time, Word’s Nice and Not So Nice Features.

Do you remember PageMaker?

I’ve used FrameMaker for more than ten years. Actually, I started with PageMaker, which was then owned by Aldus (gone, I assume) and later bought out by Adobe.

The user interface in FrameMaker owes a lot to PageMaker, for better and for worse.

PageMaker was a DTP tool. It was designed to let you lay out pages and make them flow across sections. Once you get the hang of it, it makes sense. But at the time, it seemed a bit bonkers.

The problem for me is that FrameMaker inherited some of the thinking behind FrameMaker and has never really got past it.

Give me an example?

Ok, when you open FrameMaker, the body you write in is aligned to the left.

You can drag down the menu bars or make them float on the right hand of the page. If you want. The thing is the page should be centered.

Like it is in Microsoft Word.

Because, that’s how the rest of the world like to write documents.

Expect in Adobe FrameMaker…

From PageMaker to FrameMaker

If you can get your hands on PageMaker, all the mysteries of FrameMaker begin to make sense. But, it shouldn’t be like that.

A tool for Technical Writers should be designed for Technical Writers.

What we have is something designed for desktop publishers (dtp) that has been bent out of shape for Technical Writers.

Which is why FrameMaker is so counter-intuitive. Technical Writers tell you about its steep learning curve.


This is a tool for writing documents. Ok, ‘authoring technical publications’…

It shouldn’t be so difficult.

Don’t believe me?

If you were giving a budget to design the best piece of Technical Writing software, would it end up looking like FrameMaker?


It would be more like Microsoft Word (preferably 2003!) with a bit more stability.

That’s what I think.

How about you?