While working on his master’s degree in astrophysics at Columbia University, a mathematician alumnus from the University of Cambridge named Charles “Nick” Corfield decided to write a WYSIWYG document editor on a Sun 2 workstation. Corfield got the idea from his college roommate at Columbia, Ben Meiry, who went to work at Sun as a technical consultant and writer, and saw that there was a market for a powerful and flexible DTP product for the professional market.
The only substantial DTP product at the time of FrameMaker’s conception was Interleaf, which also ran on Sun workstations. Interleaf had many limitations and was not written very efficiently, particularly in the area of editing text and graphics together in flexible ways. Meiry saw the need for a product that overcame these limitations, enlisted Corfield to program it, and assisted him in acquiring the hardware, software and technical connections to get him going in his Columbia University dorm room (where Corfield was still finishing his Masters Degree). Corfield’s world-class mathematical skills, analytical abilities, and shrewd eye for design allowed him to create very powerful and elegant alogrithms that pioneered new ways to edit text and graphics together.
Corfield programmed his algorithms quickly. In only a few short months, Corfield had an impressive and very robust prototype of FrameMaker up and running. The prototype caught the eyes of salesmen at the fledgling Sun Microsystems, which lacked commercial applications to showcase the graphics capabilities of their workstations. They got permission from Corfield to use the prototype as a demoware for their computers, and hence, the primitive FrameMaker received plenty of exposure in the Unix workstation arena.
Steve Kirsch saw the demo and realized the potential of the product. Kirsch used the money he earned from Mouse Systems to fund a startup company, Frame Technology Corp., to commercialize the software.
Corfield chose to sue Meiry for release of rights to the software in order to more easily obtain additional investment capital with Kirsch. Meiry had little means to fight a lengthy and expensive lawsuit with Corfield and his new business partners, and he chose to release his rights to FrameMaker and move on.
Originally written for SunOS (a variant of UNIX) on Sun 3 machines, FrameMaker was a popular technical writing tool, and the company was profitable early on. Due to the flourishing desktop publishing market on the Apple Macintosh, the software was ported to the Mac as the second platform.
In the early 1990s, a wave of UNIX workstation vendors – Sony, Motorola, Data General, MIPS and Apollo – provided funding to Frame Technology for an OEM version for their platforms.
At the height of its success, FrameMaker ran on more than thirteen UNIX platforms, including NeXT Computer’s NeXTSTEP and IBM’s AIX operating systems. The NeXT and AIX version of FrameMaker used Display PostScript technology while all other UNIX versions used the X Window System-Motif windowing environment.
Sun Microsystems and AT&T tried to push the OpenLook GUI standards to win over Motif, so Sun contracted Frame Technology to implement a version of FrameMaker on their PostScript-based NeWS windowing system. The NeWS version of FrameMaker was successfully released to NSA, which was among the first few customers adopting the OpenLook standards.
At this point, FrameMaker was an extraordinarily good product for its day, enabling authors to produce highly structured documents with relative ease, but also giving users a great deal of typographical control in a reasonably intuitive and totally WYSIWYG way. The output documents could be of very high typographical quality.
Frame Technology later ported FrameMaker to Microsoft Windows, but the company lost direction soon after its release. Up to this point, FrameMaker had been targeting a professional market for highly technical publications, such as the maintenance manuals for the Boeing 777 project, and licensed each copy for $2,500. But the Windows version brought the product to the $500 price range, which cannibalized its own non-Windows customer base.
The company’s attempt to sell sophisticated technical publishing software to the home DTP market was a disaster. A tool designed for a 1000-page manual was too cumbersome and difficult for an average home user to type a one-page letter (and despite some initially enthusiastic users, FrameMaker never really took off in the academic market, because of the company’s unwillingness to incorporate various functions, such as proper support of footnotes and endnotes, or to improve the equation editor).
Sales plummeted and brought the company to the verge of bankruptcy. After several rounds of layoffs, the company was stripped to the bare bones.
Adobe Systems acquired the product and returned the focus to the professional market. Today, Adobe FrameMaker is still a widely used publication tool for technical writers, although no version has been released for the Mac OS X operating system, further limiting use of the product. (FrameMaker up to version 7.0 ran under OS 9, and is usable under Mac OS X on PowerPC based Macs in the Classic emulation environment, but there is no Mac OS X native version of Framemaker.)
There were several major competitors in the technical publishing market, such as Interleaf. None of those products survived the influence of Microsoft Word except FrameMaker. Recent FrameMaker versions (5.x through 7.x, from mid-1995 to 2005) have not updated major parts of the program (including its general user interface, table editing, illustration editing), concentrating instead on bug fixes and the integration of XML-oriented features (previously part of the FrameMaker+SGML premium product). Interestingly, FrameMaker did not feature multiple undo until version 7.2 (its 2005 release).
Released in 1986 (Solaris and Apollo)
FrameMaker 2.0 and 2.1
Released in 1989 (Mac version released in 1990). 2.1 was running on OSF/Motif. First version to include the Paragraph Designer, Character Designer, Cross Reference capability, and the equation editor (same version that ships with FrameMaker today). First version to support book level generated lists.
Released in 1991. First Windows version available in 1992. FrameMaker 3 introduced table support, hypertext support, and improved book support. In 1992 Sun introduced FrameBuilder (FrameMaker with SGML support).
Released in 1993. FrameMaker 4 introduced Change Bars, Side Head support, run in headers and improved on the Table Designer.
Released in 1995 (FrameMaker 5.12 was released in 1996). FrameMaker 5 introduced online help, long filename support in Windows 95, OLE support, Save to HTML, and import text by reference. Also introduced FrameMaker and FrameMaker+SGML (to replace FrameBuilder). FrameMaker 5 is the first Adobe version of FrameMaker.
Released in 1997 (FrameMaker 5.5.6 was released in 1998) FrameMaker 5.5 introduced drag and drop dialoges, first Japanese localized version with doublebyte support, PDFMark support (PDFMark embeds bookmarks, links, and cross references into PDF files automatically), color libraries (DIC, Focaltone, Munsell, Pantone, Toyo and Trumatch), language is embedded into Paragraph Designer and Character Designer, and Table designer now supports sorting by row or column. FrameMaker 5.5 was also the first version to run on Linux, however it was never publicly released due to poor feedback from potential customers. It was also the last version available for IRIX.
Released in 2000. FrameMaker 6.0 introduced completely rewritten userguide, book wide find/replace and spell check, introduced new and improved chapter/book numbering system, compare document tool and bundled Quadralay WebWorks Publisher.
Released in 2002. FrameMaker 7.0 introduced combined SGML and unstructured version, XML application support introduced, Save As PDF fixed, tagged PDF support, improved running header/footer support, document info stored in XMP format. FrameMaker 7.0 was the last version to run on the Macintosh (OS 8/9), HP/UX and IBM AIX.
Released in 2003. FrameMaker 7.1 was bundled with Distiller 6, and included more OpenType fonts and can import Quark and Pagemaker documents. FrameMaker 7.1 on Unix now uses PDFLib and no longer relies on Distiller. FrameMaker 7.1 is only released on Windows/Solaris.
Released in 2005. FrameMaker 7.2 introduced multiple undo, bundled DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture) support. It is bundled with WebWorks 8, and Distiller 7 (Unix version uses PDFLib)