Re: HTML Help and NetHelp

Subject: Re: HTML Help and NetHelp
From: Ben Weisner <ben -at- WEISNER -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 8 Jan 1997 08:04:49 -0600

Some points of clarification re: HTML Help and NetHelp:

Carl Millholland writes:

>While I haven't looked at NetHelp, it appears to be little more than another
>HTML editing tool. HTML Help, on the other hand, is robust.

Hmmm... Of course this begs the question of how one can evaluate
something's merits without ever having seen it! A point of clarification
re: NetHelp. It is, most definitely, not an HTML editing tool. It is also
not "beta" software. It is a "function" (for want of a better word) built
into Netscape Navigator 3.0/4.0 (by far, folks, still the most popular
browser in the world, and the only one that spans as many operating
systems). The SDK is a collection of sample HTML documents, some graphics,
and the documentation and sample code needed to implement it with your
software.

NetHelp allows both local (desktop-based) and remote (Web-based)
applications to present HTML documents through a modified Netscape
interface as context-sensitive help. Any operating system on which Netscape
runs can use it. It is not a beta; it is available now. It is, most
definitely, "robust." Netscape uses it for its LiveWire products; Federal
Express is using it; Weisner Associates is in the early stages of
implementing it for a Web-based application.

Some of the major differences, from a high level perspective, between
NetHelp and HTML Help:

* HTML Help will not, for quite a while, be compatible with as many
operating systems as NetHelp (certainly not UNIX).
* HTML Help has many attractive interface-building features built into its
Workshop, but that does not mean, if you had a good understanding of HTML
and a scripting language, you could not design your own wonderful interface
(whatever you can do currently in a browser with presentation and layout
you can do in NetHelp, and that's alot!) Also, the Help authoring tool
vendors will take care of this issue with plug-ins, applets, etc., just as
they have for WinHelp.
* HTML Help's API is, in fact, much more robust, but only for 32-bit windows.
* Both solutions, at this point, require you to be committed to one browser
or another -- this may change in the future.

There's no doubt that Microsoft's HTML Help is/will be an excellent choice
for some applications. But I think the biggest weakness of NetHelp vs. HTML
Help is that no one from Netscape is out there plugging, promoting, and
educating, the way Microsoft is. Still, that's no reason to discount
NetHelp. Don't let marketing budgets overcome reason.

Ben Weisner

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