Re: Any open source help software tools?

Subject: Re: Any open source help software tools?
From: "Mike O." <obie1121 -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 8 Aug 2005 14:13:01 -0700 (PDT)

Bruce Byfield wrote:
> Seeing these threads about help software flit through my
> Inbox, I started wondering: Is anyone using an open source
> help tool? Does such a thing even exist?

I've been thinking about this too, and I think it's probably the wrong
question (although it's the first one I asked, too). In the open-source
world, "help" is usually html, and you can create your html using any
tool you like.

DocBook is nice, but ultimately it's just another way to create html
(as far as help is concerned, anyway). DocBook can create a nice
tri-pane with TOC, index, and toolbar, but so far there's no easy way
to add full-text search. There are other open-source tools besides
DocBook that can get you to this point, but no farther. So far, there
doesn't seem to be a complete open-source replacement for RoboHelp's
WebHelp, which creates an integrated search as part of the build.

IMHO, open-source currently lacks a way to build FTS into a stack of
HTML files a la WebHelp. No doubt this is being done currently in a
number of ad hoc ways, but something needs to be bolted on to the
existing toolchains.

If you want convenience of authoring, it might help to implement your
DocBook toolchain under an IDE like NetBeans or Eclipse. I'm sure
somebody will come up with a plugin that does it all for you.

Recent open-source help seems to be getting less browser-based, and
more application-dependent:

- Platforms like Eclipse (I haven't seen NetBeans) rely on the
platform itself to provide the search.

- Last time I checked, Mozilla, Firefox, and Thunderbird all had
nice-looking help, but they too were dependent on the platform help
browser, and they are all different from each other! Maybe they will
converge soon?

Mike O.

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