Adobe FrameMaker is a “powerful authoring and publishing solution for technical communicators”. I used FrameMaker a lot from the mid 90’s until 4/5 ears ago and I have to say that I found it to be a great program, with a better, more productive interface than either Ms Office or OpenOffice. However, FrameMaker is a proprietary, really expensive product that doesn’t even run on Linux, so no matter how good it is it’s almost sure I won’t use it anymore.
The problem is that I still have on my computer several personal documents that I wrote and saved in FrameMaker format (.fmk file extension) in the 90’s, that is before I realized how badly proprietary file formats can impact economy, culture and personal stuff. Therefore, right now those files are just wasting space on my hard drive, even if I’d really like to access again some of them. I am sure there are many thousands of people in the same situation.
Yesterday those files popped up again while cleaning some backups, so I asked myself “is it possible that in 2010 there isn’t yet a way to convert these files in some usable format?” Yes, there are things like fm2html or fmtoweb but besides being 15+ years old they’re just wrappers to run FrameMaker in batch mode. After half an hour of searches, the only thing I found was a statement from KDE developer Kalle Dalheimer in an article he wrote for Linux Journal… in 1999:
“I have already successfully imported some FrameMaker documents via my homegrown filter into KWord”
I immediately contacted Kalle, asking if he still had that code and offering to host it here. This is a summary of what Kalle answered during our email exchange, reproduced with permission:
the bad news is that I don’t actually have that code around anywhere any more, I haven’t worked on it either since maybe 2000 or 2001 or so (I stopped using FrameMaker at that time, so the incentive was gone). I thought that I could have checked it into the KDE source code repository, but I just controlled and unfortunately it isn’t there, so I likely never checked it in at all… I also searched my backup disks, but no traces left, alas.
Kalle also told me that his filter only supported the alternate MIF FrameMaker format not the native, binary .fmk files, so it would have not worked on all my documents. Even if it had, however, Kalle doesn’t have that source code anymore, FrameMaker doens’t run on Linux (1), Kword and OpenOffice cannot open .fmk or .mif files… what now?
First of all, I have to point out that this is a perfect, real world example of what I wrote in my chapter of the O’Reilly’s Open Government Book (the full text of that chapter is online at the Stop!):
Free Software is not enough to guarantee that owners of documents will always be able to read them, because the original source code might be lost or fail to work on newer computer systems
Of course, this is not, in any way, a reproach to Kalle! I mean, how could I blame him for not saving some alpha software when I was so dumb to not save those documents in other formats when I was still using FrameMaker??? Still, it’s food for thought.
FrameMaker converters for Linux, anybody?
MIF files can still be recovered with some Perl modules and other tools, but .fmk files remain a real problem. A converter for Linux from .fmk format to OpenDocument, HTML or even plain text would be really, really, really useful, considering how much documents have been stored in that format worldwide. Even a stand-alone command line tool (maybe usable online through a Web interface?) would be enough. I am not a programmer by any means so there’s no way I can write such a filter myself, but could help testing it and would be happy to do it. Is anybody out there who has already written, maybe for internal use only, a “.fmk to whatever” converter that runs on Linux? If yes, please let us know!
In the meantime, here’s a note to all FrameMaker users: remember to always save, starting today, all your .fmk files in .mif format too if you care about your work, your content and your documents!
(1) yes, I do know that Adobe released a trial binary version of FrameMaker 5.5 for Linux ten years ago, and that it’s probably still possible to find it online somewhere. However, even ignoring legal issues, it’s almost sure that that software wouldn’t run without lots of patching and workarounds on today’s Linux distributions. Therefore, it’s not an option.
NOTE: Neko Nata answered to the announce of this article at Linux Today with a few suggestions that probably won’t work or won’t be necessary for me, but may be useful to other readers of this article, so I suggest that you read them. Thanks, Neko