Re: Questions about help authoring

Subject: Re: Questions about help authoring
From: "David M. Brown" <dmbrown -at- brown-inc -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 21 Oct 2000 10:23:05 -0700

"Halter, Meg" wrote:
> - If I build the help system in HTML, it should be portable pretty much
> anywhere. However, a set of HTML files includes links to each other and the
> path specifications are quite different between operating systems. How is
> that difference handled without rebuilding the HTML files for each OS?

For HTML files, path specifications are *identical* across operating systems, so that you don't have to "rebuild" the HTML files for each OS.

Regardless of what OS you're working on and what tool you use, HTML paths must conform to the HTML specifications. A few Windows-based tools "bend" the rules, but they do you a disservice by creating links that won't work in all browsers (even on a Windows system) and may not work in *any* browser (if the server is a Unix box).

Here are a few points to keep in mind:

* Use forward slashes ("/") in pathnames.

* Path and filenames are case-sensitive: help.htm, Help.htm,
and HELP.HTM are *not* the same file in HTML.

* Don't use drive letters (like C:) in pathnames. They have no
meaning outside a Windows environment.

> - I'm leaning toward using ForeHelp Premiere for building the system, though
> it only runs in Windows. The tutorial demonstrated a powerful tool. I'm told
> that minor changes can be made directly to the resulting HTML in Unix
> without wrecking the help system, but if those minor changes aren't folded
> into the Forehelp project they'll be lost the next time the help is built.
> Further, we'd have to come back to ForeHelp for major changes. Any thoughts?

I haven't used ForeHelp in a while, but I doubt they'd throw out changes in the content of a file. Many tools mishandle or discard comments, formatting, and other characteristics they deem "unimportant," but I've never heard ForeHelp counted among those.

> - It looks like using Netscape's Composer + NetHelp would give the maximum
> OS independence for building, though it ties us to Netscape. Has anyone
> experience with this approach?

Composer is just a limited HTML editor. There are many better choices for little or no money. We like Allaire's HomeSite, but DreamWeaver has many advocates.

> - Does anyone have experience with using Dreamweaver for the whole shebang,
> as the folks at Weisner suggest (see the link at bottom of all the list
> messages)? How does one build searches, table of contents and index? Other
> tools?

I haven't used DreamWeaver, but I believe Weisner Associates offers a solution for those items, in the form of DreamWeaver plug-ins (hope that's the right terminology).

We build indexes using HTML Indexer and TOCs by hand.


David M. Brown - Brown Inc.
dmbrown -at- brown-inc -dot- com

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