Re: Tools for online documentation (Summary)

Subject: Re: Tools for online documentation (Summary)
From: Ian Spira <ispira -at- CCGATE -dot- HAC -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 29 Oct 1996 10:19:26 PST

Hello all,

On Oct. 17 I asked about tools for creating online documents. Here is a summary
of the messages I've received.

Samantha suggested a product called Envoy, by Tumbleweed Corporation. "We're
using it to convert all of our documentation to an online format, and our
(brief) experience with it has been positive. One of Envoy's best features is
that it can be read across almost any platform."

Tumbleweed's web site is at

I had a look at Tumbleweed's web pages. It appears that Envoy is similar (at
least in concept) to Adobe Acrobat: you print out your file and convert the
postscript file to Envoy format. All formatting, fonts, etc. are maintained. The
viewer is free, but the other tools aren't. Here's a brief summary of
Tumbleweed's offerings. I lifted this from their web page:

Tumbleweed Software offers the following products for electronic publishing
based on the Envoy portable document technology.

Envoy 7 with Tumbleweed Extensions -- Publish any document in Envoy by simply
printing! Tumbleweed Extensions offer enhanced features. (Special: $49)

Tumbleweed Publisher -- Convert your PostScript, EPS, and PDF files directly
into Envoy documents with a click of a button. Supports batch conversions.

Tumbleweed Envoy OCX -- Create or embed in your application a customized Envoy
viewer. ($179)

Tumbleweed Publishing Essentials -- Suite of publishing tools provides all the
tools available to publish and organize large collections of Envoy documents.

Envoy 7 Software Developer's Kit -- Build your own customized Envoy viewer!

Envoy Viewer -- View and annotate Envoy portable documents! (Free)

Envoy Plug-in for Netscape Navigator 2.0 -- View Envoy documents posted on the
Internet right inside your Netscape browser!(Free)

David suggested that I reconsider Acrobat as "it sounds like it would meet
about 90% of your requirements."

"Acrobat does a lot more than turn has the search capabilities,
hyperlinking, multiple platforms, etc. If you're basing the decision on
what you've seen put into PDF format in the past, check out Adobe's web
site to see what's changed."

Two of my requirements were that the viewer work on multiple platforms & support
complex tables. John pointed out that these requirements ruled out WinHelp.

However, John noted that a third requirement (that the viewer support full
indexes) "doesn't eliminate WinHelp. Many people mistakenly believe these
features are not supported in WinHelp, and this is partially correct. There is
no explicitly built-in TOC or index support, but there is NO REASON why a help
author can't create these just like you do for a printed manual and put them in
the online version. Hyperlinking the index and TOC using any WinHelp tool will
be tedious, but it is POSSIBLE."

John also recommended FrameMaker, FrameViewer and FrameReader:

I think the only product that will meet the majority of your needs is FrameMaker
and its online companions of FrameViewer and FrameReader. It is multiplatform
(it handles ALL the platforms you listed plus many more), it is built to handle
large documents (unlike MS Word and WinHelp), it handles complex tables, hot
spot graphics, TOCs , indexes (it will even build hypertext linked TOCs and
indexes for you automatically!), multi-language support (except Right-2-Left
flow....I think), and it has a somewhat standard output. (It exports in MIF and
RTF, or you can buy the SGML version of FrameMaker if you need it.)

In my opinion you can single source with FrameMaker easier than with any other
product. I managed a large documentation project where we produced online and
printed docs for a UNIX-based program. It ran 28 chapters (not counting TOC and
Index) and the printed version was over 1400 pages. We developed the online
version first, and within three weeks produced a printed manual from the same

From what we learned on that first pass, we modified a few approaches and now
estimate the conversion time from online to printed to be a week. The online
docs won an Award of Merit in the 1995 STC competition in the Washington DC
chapter. It was not eligible to go on to the international competition because
it was done on a UNIX platform and not on a Windows or Mac platform. (Silly

You author your text in FrameMaker, then save the file as LOCKED document. The
readers need FrameViewer or FrameReader to view the files. FV costs about $200
per seat and is available for UNIX and possibly Windows platforms. FR I think is
free, but lacks full text search and a few other features. It is available for
Mac, Windows, and I think for UNIX. For better info, check out the Adobe web
page, or call Adobe's pre-sales support.

Also check out Interleaf and Worldview. I know they exist, but have little info
on how they work.

In response to my comment about HTML ("I'm also familiar with HTML viewers like
Netscape Navigator, but don't think they are robust enough"), Kris wrote:

I would produce nothing in a proprietary format. My recommendation is HTML.

I have done some wonderful things with tables and frames in HTML. Next, I'll
venture into animation, sound, and video. After that, I'll be implementing
electronic commerce transactions. All this for people using ... well, I don't
care what they're using.

How's that for robustness?

Please excuse the sarcasm. I'm a little on the feisty side today.

The GUIDE Family
Kit wrote: "You might want to investigate one of the products from InfoAccess,
Inc. They have a variety of tools that are well-suited to electronic

Their web site is at; their phone numbers are
1-800-344-9737 or 1-206-747-3203.

Kit included info from their web site, which I'll summarise here:

GUIDE Author is an entry-level product to help customers get started with
intelligent electronic publishing. Whether it is used for creating a custom
publication or a prototype for later volume production, GUIDE Author includes
everything necessary including full LOGiiX functionality to build an
intelligent publication. List $795

GUIDE Passport is a comprehensive, automated system for volume production
of interactive electronic publications. It will import source files from all
major word processors, and uses the InfoAccess template architecture to specify
exactly how each element within the source files translates to the electronic
publication. Publishers have complete control over the final publication. They
can either choose from a selection of pre-defined layouts and reader controls or
create their own custom interfaces, behavior controls and LOGiiX intelligence.
Includes all GUIDE Author abilities. List price: $1,875.

GUIDE Professional Publisher (GPP) is a high end, fully programmable
electronic publishing system designed to address complex requirements. It is an
exceptionally powerful system, used primarily for the production of industry
standard Interactive Electronic Technical Manuals (IETMs) and very large
publication libraries. GPP is a complete solution composed of not only software
tools, but also the expert consulting and training services of InfoAccess.

GPP provides full support for SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language)
source documents. In addition, it is capable of translating virtually any other
source format through fully programmable filters. GPP electronic publications,
in fact, may be composed of any mix of SGML and non-SGML source documents and
still appear as if the entire collection were compiled from a uniform source.
List price: $45,000.

HTML Transit is the latest InfoAccess product to employ the company s
template-based publishing architecture. It automatically produces HTML documents
for the Internet, supporting HTML 2 and HTML 3, as well as custom browser
extensions offered by leading vendors such as Netscape and Microsoft. List
price: $495.


I'd like to thank those who took the time to reply. If anyone else can recommend
any tools for creating electronic documents, please let me know.

Ian Spira
ISpira -at- ccgate -dot- hac -dot- com

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