I thought I was done with these, but I hadn't yet romped with Flare's idea of design for HTML 5 output.

That was the sound of my forehead repeatedly mashing my keyboard. Because when they came up with the idea of how tech writers were going to control the design and appearance of their HTML output in Flare, somebody was so far out to lunch that not even the ants could find them.

The primary reason that I moved away from Authorit was that its HTML was ludicrously bad, and it was incapable of giving up the iFrames. Now, I'm not "death to iFrames", like some on the internet, but they're not mobile-friendly, and mobile is where we're going, so an option that doesn't involve them would be good, thanks, and while you're at it, HTML generation that isn't twenty years old would be spiffy. 

But Author-it at least assumed you probably knew better exactly how you wanted things to look than they did. The HTML output was basic, but it was also very flexible because it was almost entirely not done in Author-it: you created an HTML file with all the images and layout that you wanted, and then you added some specific <aitdata> tags that Author-it's publishing script would pick up and replace with the topic contents, et voila.

Flare, on the other hand, has these things called 'Skins'. Skins are proprietary scripts--meaning they're compiled and not editable--that generate an html template that is used to construct the pages. The scripts control where everything is, right down to where your search box is located, or what's happening in your header field. This would be alright, if the edit-Skin UI actually allowed you to edit all components of it, and didn't make huge whopping assumptions about what you wanted. For example, things that I should be able to do easily that I can't do without hacking around:

  • Move the searchbox from the top of the screen to within the toolbar, or anywhere else.
  • Have more than one image in the banner at the top of the screen.
  • Have anything other than an image in the banner at the top of the screen. No text for you.

There are many more. So many aspects of the layout and styling that are bizarrely hidden from any kind of editing, because when they wrote the scripts, someone just assumed that people wouldn't need to want to change it. And that's not even getting to the mess it makes of its only-partially-editable CSS file every time you change anything. Ugh.

Bad developer. No cookie.

I do have options, but they're not pretty. There is a place I can inject custom scripts into the toolbar, and I can write a script to take the existing output and fix it the way I want it, but that's rather like hiring a guy to stand next to everyone who's reading your book and nip in with the commas and periods just before they're needed, because your printer couldn't get a handle on this punctuation thing. And, in my opinion, about as ludicrous.

If it weren't for Flare's translation management, I would really be regretting switching across from Author-it. There are just so many bugs, so much unecessary complexity, so many weird assumptions and limitations, and frankly I could write a parser to fix Author-it's bad HTML (and even have Author-it run it for me as a post-processing command, all by itself.) Flare looks cool, and it's certainly cheaper, but in my opinion it's yet to prove itself an equal to the behemoth that is Author-it.