Online help & HTML: what are the compromises?

Subject: Online help & HTML: what are the compromises?
From: Jennifer O Neill <106002 -dot- 2733 -at- COMPUSERVE -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 24 Feb 1997 12:31:37 +0100

Hi there!

My company is shortly to start providing online help for installers with
some of our products. Until now all our manuals were only provided on
paper (we manufacture security equipment and you don't need a computer
to install it). But the products I'm working on are getting sufficiently
complicated with so many features that online help would make the
information about the features that actually are installed easier to get
at. The brief I've been presented with is to produce a set of manuals
* are online
* the installer can easily print out only those parts which apply to the
system that's being installed and then give this printout to the
customer to keep (the final customer will not need the info online, but
only on paper) but the printout should look good
* the installer's company can easily change the company logo in the
online manual
* the installer's company can select those features of the security
system explained online that they actually install before giving the
online help to the installer to use (not all companies use all of our
features and want to delete/ignore those they don't use)
* the printed out manual has a table of contents (heaven knows what
happens for an index)
* the installer doesn't have to learn some complicated software to do
all of this. The software most of them are familiar with is Word6

My feeling so far is that HTML could be my solution but I don't know
it's limits and what compromises I must make. I've never used it. The
installers certainly won't want to learn it. I am the only full time
writer in the company. We've a part time writer in one of our factories
who will help me produce the manuals and probably an engineer from R&D
will help. We are all located in different European countries tho' I can
travel to them.

We currently produce our manuals using Word6. The manuals average 25-80
pages, often with lots of pictures.Only the programming manual has an
index. As the manuals must be checked by technical support people across
Europe before release, the advantage of Word 6 is that everyone in my
company has it. Technical support doesn't want to learn Framemaker as
checking manuals is only part of their job. Most of our customers would
have Word6 too.

Any advice? Is HTML the way forward, and if so, which one (there seem to
be lots around? What are the compromises with HTML?



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