Tools? or No Tools?

Subject: Tools? or No Tools?
From: Alisa Dean <Alisa -dot- Dean -at- MCI -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 8 Nov 1996 16:26:00 -0700

>Cheryl Kidder writes:

>We have an online help system that was developed using Winhelp and no
>third party tool. I'm wondering, for those of you working with online
>help systems:

>-- did you use a tool?
>-- if so, which one?
>-- if not, how is your productivity level using just Winhelp?

>I would be interested in your experiences with the tool you are using or
>any input at all if you are working solely with Winhelp.

Good grief! You've been creating help files using WinHelp? Poor child.

I've created several help systems using RoboHelp. It converts existing
Word documents into *.hlp files very easily. Once I got my system
configured, I converted a 250-page manual into context-sensitive,
multiple *.hlp files that were hyperlinked to each sub-application
and to each other, and finished in 2 days.

You can use a single source for both printed and on-line help documentation.
Formatting is controlled using styles. Therefore, you set up the
styles in the RoboHelp template to match how you want your help screens
to look, and use the same names as the styles in your printed
documentation. Then, when you copy your original document files into
your help system for conversion, and reattach the files to the RoboHelp
template, these document help files will have the new formatting applied

The basic premise is to create your Word document using headings to
organize your data. You must make sure that any text under the heading
is suitable to be "sound-byted" into a topic. For example, you do
not want to have three pages of text that are unbroken by subheadings.
Do all your formatting, graphic insertion, etc., as necessary.

Copy these files into a temporary working directory in your help system.

If you are dealing with context sensitive help (i.e., pressing F1
in a Windows application to open a specific topic), you will need the
list of item IDs that the developers assigned in their Windows application.
For example, the title bar has an ID. You will use these to assign
IDs to the topics for the context sensitive links. If you are not
dealing with context sensitive help, don't worry about this step.

Once you invoke RoboHelp, you can designate which specific heading
levels will be used to create topics. For example, you can select
that headings 1 through 4 be converted to hyperlink topics.

If you are not creating context sensitive help, you can have RoboHelp
just run through your document and convert it using the current heading
text. If you are creating context sensitive help, you must select
each heading and convert it, using the item IDs from the developers for
the appropriate topics.

All index marks become keyword searches for
the topics under which they were put. TOCs, TOFs, etc., are usually
ignored as regular text.

All graphics are automatically converted
to the current display bitmap type, so if you are running RoboHelp
on a high resolution monitor, but want the help files to be compatible
with a low resolution monitor, you must either create multiple version
of the graphic file to be linked in, or set your monitor to a low resolution
before the convert. Yes, RoboHelp allows multiple resolution bitmaps
to be linked to the same place according to the type of display.

Once you tell RoboHelp to create the help file, it will convert the
Word document to an RTF file, and then to the *.hlp file.

You can have popup definitions, hyperlink jumps, jumps to external
help files, etc., very easily.

For context sensitive help, copy the help file to the same directory
as the program file, and name it to be <program>.hlp, where <program>
is the name of the program file itself. Note: The developers must have
previously set up each item to look for a help link. Invoke the program
and the help file is automatically linked in for context sensitive
help. The hardest part is figuring out the IDs for _everything_ that
may be displayed, so the user never sees "Help Topic does not exist."

The last time I bought a copy of RoboHelp was for Windows 3.1 about
1.5 years ago. The mail order price was $265. It paid for itself
the first time I created a help file, in the time and ease by which
it worked. One weakness was that it only converted MS Word files;
however, when I last talked to RoboHelp back then, they indicated that
they might be have versions that were compatible with other word processors.

I would strongly recommend this product to anyone using MS Word to
create documents, since it is so easy to have a single source for both
the printed and on-line documentation, and to keep both in sync regarding
format and content.

Good luck,


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