Managing help when multiple tools are in one GUI

Subject: Managing help when multiple tools are in one GUI
From: walter -dot- crockett -at- ascentialsoftware -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 15 Oct 2004 15:24:56 -0400

The company I work for is moving to a single encompassing Windows GUI for
all of its products, which were previously developed, sold, installed, and
accessed separately. Now the focus is on the suite of products.

We want to have a common-look and feel for the online product documentation
and we want all the online help and reference information to be easy to find
and optimally interconnected.

But th company also plans to continue selling the products separately. So
depending on what the customer buys, the single GUI could contain one
product or five, each with a separate .chm file (not to mention perhaps a
dozen or more add-ins with their own context-sensitive help).

If that was all there was, then merging the .chm files would be a relatively
easy solution, though there might still be significant indexing challenges
(what's the best way to make sure that the index entry for the Contents Tab
opens the page for the tool you want instead of to a page for one of a dozen

With merged .chm files, you can link from a file in one .chm to a file in
another, and if the second .chm isn't there you can instead display a
default file saying the product isn't installed.

But there is one more wrinkle: The individual products in our suite are
subject to update and release at any time, and customers might upgrade one
without upgrading others. So if you want to link from file A in the .chm for
Product A to file B in the .chm for Product B, but you have just installed a
new improved version of Product B, it's quite possible that File B may no
longer exist. In this case, our default file would say the product wasn't
installed, but the customer would know the product was installed, and in any
case, the proper help wouldn't be there.

Surely other companies have dealt with these problems. All suggestions for
managing and working around them are welcome!

Walter Crockett


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