Windows HELP programs

Subject: Windows HELP programs
From: K Watkins <kwatkins -at- QUICKPEN -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 20 Sep 1995 13:37:05 EDT

I use WinWord 6 and RoboHelp [by Blue Sky Software] to create Windows
Help. I've been singing RoboHelp's praises ever since I used it to convert
a 150-page paper manual to a Help file in a mere three days.
RoboHelp did most of the grunt work. It even magically generated the
file the programmers needed for context-sensitive Help, which we hadn't
expected to implement until the next release. The one thing it didn't do
was convert the callouts on my screen shots into hotspots on the graphics in
the Help file. That would be hard to automate; how would it know exactly
what area of the graphic the callout was pointing to?
I spent my time mostly revising the chunking and cross-referencing of
information...and revising the Search list. I found that indexes for paper
and on-line docs need to be markedly different.
There are still some flaws in the resulting Help file which are due to
the original paper-oriented file, but those are my fault, not RoboHelp's.
Circumstances required starting from the file originally created for a paper
manual, on the most-any-Help-is-better-than-none theory.
I'm still fairly new to creating Help - only two projects under my belt so
far - and I hope to continue to improve the quality of the documents I
produce. But as far as tools go, so far I think RoboHelp is just fine. I
have found it not only powerful but also easy to use, though I should
mention that I started by conscientiously working through two of their three
tutorials, and spending several lunch hours browsing through the manual.
Their support has also been good.

RoboHelp ships with a really helpful screen capture utility, plus the
software to define hotspots to pop up information on selected areas of the
graphics. DocToHelp [by WexTech] also provides the latter, plus a utility
to dither scaled-down bitmaps into legibility. I have that Smooth Scaler on
order; there appears to be no reason why I can't use their tool on graphics
for the Help I create using RoboHelp.
When I was doing my comparison shopping, I heard that DocToHelp was a
lot slower than RoboHelp at creating the RTF file [required to compile Help]
from the WinWord file, because it uses mostly WordBasic macros rather than
DLLs. (I had already eliminated other, less expensive contenders as not
having the power I wanted.)
I understand that DocToHelp uses the same file to generate paper and
on-line documents. However, as you'll no doubt hear from others, you really
need to organize information differently for the two cases, so this is a
pretty pointless feature from my perspective. DocToHelp files are said to
include conditional text, so you can include info in the Help file but not
the paper docs, or vice versa. But the differences between paper and
on-line are more a matter of organization than content, so again, this is
less exciting than it looks. Someone told me that you also have to hew to
DocToHelp's formatting requirements, but those requirements didn't sound
unreasonable...unless, perhaps, you have existing doc files you want to

There are some problems which are due to the way Help itself works,
rather than the tools you use to compile it. For instance, I found out that
Help doesn't recognize em-dashes, so it just leaves them out. However, a
quick search-and-replace before I compiled took care of that problem once I
figured out what was happening.
Speaking of compiling, I learned never to use Compressed compiling of the
Help file until I was sure I needed it. Highly Compressed compilation takes
approximately as many hours as Uncompressed compilation does minutes!

All this is just a quick overview. I still have the product research
file I compiled when I chose RoboHelp, earlier this year. If you want more
info, let me know.

K Watkins
kwatkins -at- quickpen -dot- com
speaking for myself, not my employers

"I am sorry to write you such a long letter, but I did not have time to make
it shorter."
- source: I forget...G. B. Shaw? Mark Twain? Someone remind me!
From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000==
lvu @, 19Sep95:

|Any suggestions for good programs for creating Windows on-line help?
|I've heard of a couple, but would appreciate hearing from people who
|have actually used them. Powerful vs. easy-to-use vs. inexpensive vs.
|etc. This is my 1st level of looking into programs -- all input is

|I'm new to the list, so my apologies if this is a recently-beaten dead
|horse. You can reply to me directly and/or send me explicit
|instructions for finding a list of FAQ.

|Many thanks!

|Linda Ulrich

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