In 1990 or so I'd just completed migrating some 6000 pages of DEC RNO (with pieces of UNIX Troff tossed in) over to LaTeX for my primary client of the day (Aptec Systems, a Floating Point Systems spin-off who made high-speed I/O computers. We're talking large fractions of a million dollars systems (multi-millions for the "big" systems) whose then fantastic bus speeds are today dwarfed by that $500 laptop at Best Buy or Walmart.)

One of the engineers had a copy of FM 1.3 on his Sun 3/50 invited me to have a look. I was not impressed -- at all. (By that time, while mostly hating it, I could get LaTeX to sit up, roll-over, and play dead -- which it did do from time to time with no prompting.)

Months later, that same engineer showed me FM 2.1. Wow. Now we're getting somewhere, as I'd just battled through Ventura Publisher's endless bugs on a project for another client.

I'm not exactly sure how the decision was made, but Aptec shifted over to FrameMaker 2.1 (which cost money) from LaTeX which was "free". It might have had something to do with LaTeX bringing even the newer "hot rod" DEC microvaxes to their knees when I ran a job. The engineers would march around my cubical with torches chanting curses, while the system manager scrambled to find resources to handle all the usual product cycle crunch conditions -- doc releases parallel with product releases.

Aptec was also shifting over to more of those new-fangled SUN workstations, which were completely independent of the VAXes. "Good! Kick that tech-writer P-I-A over onto the UNIX systems!" The guys were all soooo happy that LaTeX was no longer crippling their main development platforms. (They finally stopped blaming me personally.)

But it did mean yet another migration of those 1000s of pages of docs from LaTeX over to FM. I got pretty handy with MIF and MML (remember MML?). Other conversion help came from macros in MS WORD-for-DOS (perhaps the only Word version that was worthwhile; much more reliable than word for windows) and lots of fun with the text processing power of UNIX and even similar command line functions in VMS.

FM 3.0 really started to "open up the world" and provided a whole new look and feel to the documents, and was so much easier to use. For its day "Best Looking/most functional" FM version award probably goes to FM3 on monochrome Sunview.

Having cut my teeth on embedded-format command word-processors and typesetters in the mid-1970s, WYSIWYG systems always seemed to be something of a sham, especially when they were so prone to bugs and crashes, such as that Ventura project revealed.

But I made my declaration at FM 2.1 that FM was the FIRST WYSIWYG system that actually made sense and lived up to the promises of such systems, and did so (mostly) with reliability and elegance, and certainly for a reasonable price and licensing scheme when compared to the competitors, such as Interleaf.

FM4 brought along that wonderful table editor and the API. Woo hoo! Now we could have some real fun. Our flagship product, IXgen, was born, and became highly popular. Other fun FM aids (born a little earlier) caught the attention of multiple people, including some folks at Cisco Systems who had been offered a seat on Frame's newly-formed Customer Advisory Board.

To their credit (and unknown to me at the time) Cisco told FM that they certainly had enough "large customer" representation on the board (Boeing, BEA Systems, US Army [IIRC] among others) but they lacked any "small user" representation. That's when my name came up and I was invited to join the board to represent independents and contractors who used FM. Unfortunately, the board went away when Adobe purchased Frame Technologies.

(For more "museum" stories, visit; select "FSA Resources", Early Products.)

More fun as the years ticked by and my company pivoted from tech pubs to software products, mostly for FM.

The landscape now is quite different; few folks do indexing any more. "Just google it" is the new mantra. This is okay for me; I can slide into semi-retirement and support the IXgen users who are still active. Thanks to all present and past users of our products.

Frank Stearns


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