RoboHelp for FM in the real world

Subject: RoboHelp for FM in the real world
From: rinnie1 -at- yahoo -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 30 Apr 2004 10:46:26 -0600

Hello, Esteemed Colleagues!

I hope we're all having a great day, setting up for a wonderful springtime
weekend... :-)

I am in a unique position with my new client. They are allowing *me* to
decide which way to go with the help system, rather than saying, "OK,
writer, here's the beast, now make a purse from a sow's ear, put 10 pounds
of sand in that 5 pound bag, and we want it all last week." However, I
can't seem to find enough qualifiable information at to really
get a grip on the +/- of the options available. So here's the scoop...

FM shop running FM6 (with plans to upgrade soon) for all printed docs. OS
is Win2000 or WinXP, running over Novell networks with Unix servers
available, too.

Software environment
All development is in Java. The software itself is cross-platform. Some
portions of it require a browser call, but those portions operate equally
well in IE or Netscape, so the developers say it's browser-independent.
(No, they haven't tested it beyond IE/Netscape.)

There are 2 programs that require help files: an client-side Element
Manager (EM Client), and a portable local-interface version of the Element
Manager that also performs some server functions (GLCT). It is all GUI,
very little (if any) requirement of the user to type any command lines.

Help project
I have been asked to provide 3 deliverables: one for the EM Client in
Windows, one for the EM Client in Unix, and one for the GLCT which would
99.999% chance be used only in Windows. (These developers don't use the
words "always" and "never." LOL)

Years ago, when the development team was robust, in the hay-days of the
turn-of-the-millennium, someone set up a help project in RH-Office v.7 and
produced a .hlp output which was part of the build for the Unix EM Client.
That person had never done a help system before, so although the output
looks nice, and the content at the time was accurate, there are some
things that didn't get done when the project was setup in RHO, just due to
a little lack of knowledge. Not a slam, just a statement of fact - they
did the best they could with what they had, and for that we're all

A year or so after that, and many rounds of layoffs later, someone else
took that old RHO project, ported it to RH-HTML X3, and used it as the
basis for creating two new help projects: Win EM Client Help and GLCT
Help. This person also was a darn good writer, but not a help expert. Each
of these projects has about 400 topics + supporting graphics, popups etc.

My Goal
Single sourcing - or as close to it as I can get - by upgrading/migrating
existing tools to current versions and moving the projects along those

* Developers want to use the same filenames as the previous iterations of
help, so that means I have to deliver .HLP for the Unix platform, and .CHM
for the Win platforms. (Now, I didn't think .HLP was Unix-compliant, but
maybe they were distributing the WinHelp engine with it - I can't verify
that today, bc the developer is out of town.)
* I have 2 weeks to get this migration done and synch the Help with the
current software release. I'm familiar with RH-HTML and RHO, having
designed and updated several help systems in each. I'm an advanced user of
FM - meaning I can do anything necessary in FM short of scripting.
* I have to make a purchasing decision ASAP.
* For new Help systems, since ours is a FM shop, there would be
considerable time saved by using RH-FM as a single-sourcing tool.
* For the old Help systems, the only way to migrate them to RH-FM (to my
knowledge) is to gen printed format (DOC), import the DOC file into FM,
then add that FM file to an RH-FM project.
* RH sales has advised that we upgrade the X3 to X5 to manage the legacy
projects and purchase RH-FM separately for new projects. Well, maybe a
couple of years ago when the cash was flowing more freely I could have
talked my client into that option. As it is, they're only willing to pay
for one or the other.

* I see that RH-FM can output CHM, but not HLP. It's my understanding that
only RHO can gen HLP - please correct me if I'm wrong??
* It's also my understanding that RH-FM can gen WebHelp, which could have
the same map IDs and same type/name of map file as the old HLP file did,
so from the developer's side, changing to WebHelp might be transparent in
that it wouldn't impact code, RIGHT????
* Has anyone done the RHO/RH-HTML to RH-FM conversion process? If so,
would you please enlighten me (US) about your experience?
* In your experience, would migrating these projects to RH-FM be worth it?

Thanks in advance for your salient advice!!!

Rene Stephenson
Chief Cook & Bottlewasher
Stephenson Consulting Services
rinnie1 -at- yahoo -dot- com


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