You would traditionally find HATs (Help Authoring Tools) like MadCap Flare being used by enterprise companies (usually the only organisations that can afford the price). These are commonly found in the healthcare, pharmaceutical, technology, education, financial and consulting, and manufacturing industries. For example, Hewlett Packard has used Flare to produce 15 responsive help sites including video and PDF formats for its Application Delivery Management (ADM) software products.
Flare enables technical writers and teams to write their documentation collaboratively, in conjunction with subject matter experts. Documentation is published on a variety of mediums, with formats including PDFs, websites, printed manuals and booklets.
MadCap Flare is often seen as a very expensive Help Authoring Tool. As a result, many companies are looking for alternatives – and perhaps they are already using Flare. But they may be wondering, is MadCap Flare still worth the price?
MadCap Flare features
First we’ll look at the MadCap Flare top features. MadCap Flare has a truly dazzling array of functionality, and if you can imagine something to do in a Help Authoring Tool, there is probably a way to do it in Flare.
Flare helps you manage and create content in a centralised database, which is known as single source publishing. The content is created using a markup language like XML, which provides information about how that content is intended to be used, and content is kept separate from its final display destination. Flare is designed for topic-based authoring, which is a modular approach to content – each topic is treated as a standalone entity.
Single source publishing can often be tricky to get right because web-based and print-based mediums have different formatting needs (not to mention all the different digital formats), but Flare comes with in-built capabilities for this process.
For example, to print a manual you must have support for indexing – accurate references from the index pointing to specific pages in your documentation. This can be hard to achieve as a project evolves and undergoes many changes. Since it is specialised for print, Flare also has CMYK support, OpenType Fonts, vector graphic support and more.
Many companies manufacture products that require visual documentation, and Flare provides excellent support for images. It also supports code with visual syntax highlighting, and allows you to style your documentation with CSS.
Comparing Flare with other tools
We’ve barely scratched the surface of what Flare can do. If you’re going to use all of its features, Flare offers great value for money – over, say, outsourcing this content production to a publishing agency. You get a lot of features for the $1,000+ price tag, but these features can be a hindrance due to the steep learning curve.
Flare does not integrate well with developer workflows, for example, and you need specialist technical writers to run the software. Once you’re invested in Flare, it’s hard to justify migrating to another solution.
For many companies, there are better Help Authoring Tools out there to help publish a support site or internal knowledge base. Our own software Document360 can be learned in minutes and it enables you to publish documentation in Markdown. It doesn’t just produce the HTML files (as Flare does) but is an end-to-end, back-end publishing and editing system connected to a front-facing website.
There are alternative Help Authoring Tools out there like Stoplight, which was designed especially for API engineering teams. HelpDocs is a general-purpose knowledge base tool with standard collaborative publishing and editing features.
Adobe RoboHelp has a lot of features and is in the same league as MadCap Flare, but is specialised more towards responsive web-based publishing rather than print.
Is Flare the best value?
For the perpetual license, Flare costs $1,648 and it’s installed locally on your desktop. It’s a one-time cost, but you’ll need to pay more in the future to upgrade to the latest version. That currently costs $799. This pricing doesn’t include their maintenance and support plans, which you will also need to purchase.
If you need to structure your content, MadCap Flare offers unparalleled possibilities for single sourcing content for multiple platforms. In these cases, Flare is undoubtedly worth its price. Without Flare, you would need to outsource your publications to external agencies and continually duplicate efforts. If you want to print help manuals, then Flare should be your top choice.
If all you need is a knowledge base, a solution like Document360 will be better value for growing tech teams. Users are universally moving towards the web and away from print, and Document360 provides an easily-customised documentation site out-of-the-box.
Also with Flare, you are limited to one official user per license, so if you want multiple technical writers to work on your content they will each need their own version of Flare. This price can then become truly crippling for smaller companies that have not yet reached enterprise-sized budgets. It’s not to say that Flare isn’t worth its price, but it’s not worth it for everyone.
With its extensive functionality, you can also end up spending more time wrestling with Flare’s interface that actually producing a Minimum Viable Product for your documentation.
Over to you!
MadCap Flare is powerful software that can help you create beautiful printed help manuals, additional web and digital outputs, and manage your content centrally in a database.
Though Flare is desktop-based, the vendors have extended it to enable some features to be available in a cloud-based app, such as the collaborative editing functionality. But ultimately, Flare is owned by one user on their desktop – unless you buy multiple licenses.
Consider trying a free trial of our software, Document360, which is delivered as Software as a Service and perfectly suited for remote teams. It has the flexibility to scale your number of users as your team grows. Prices begin at $49 per month for two users with support included.