A clue on HTML Help (long)

Subject: A clue on HTML Help (long)
From: Bill Bledsoe <Bill -dot- Bledsoe -at- CMS-STL -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 21 May 1997 11:49:04 -0500


I'll give this one a shot...

There are two competing standards... and a third on the way. All use
HTML as the basis for authoring... but the difference is in the display.
Here's my best summary:

HTMLHelp (Microsoft)
HTMLHelp offers more WinHelp like features, and is considered a somewhat
"shorter leap" for those of us who are used to authoring WinHelp with
tools like RoboHelp, ForeHelp, HDK, etc. It uses MS Internet Explorer
and some Active X plug-in/controls to emulate some of the features of
WinHelp, with the overall goal to replace WinHelp eventually. MS has
committed to shipping winhelp.exe for a while... in both the 16 and 32
bit versions... so if you're authoring help for Windows-only
applications, you have little incentive to change yet.

It works basically the same way that a WinHelp file would be called,
except that instead of calling a .hlp file and invoking the Winhelp
viewer, you call an HTML file and invoke a subset of MSIE instead. One
thing MS is working on... and those of you more familiar with HTMLHelp
might be able to shed some light on this... is that they are trying to
implement a "compiled HTML" for help that would allow you to distribute
one file instead of separate HTML files for the "help topics" currently
needed. I do not know the latest on this... but you can learn more
about it on the net at the MS website. Search for HTML help and you'll
get more about it. Also, checkout http://www.workwrite.com for some
more info. That's Cheryl Lockett-Zubak's web site... she's stays pretty
much on top of this stuff. Bottom line, if you want to use the "winhelp
like" features of HTMLHelp, you'll have to committ to using MSIE as
well. At least until Netscape builds in Active X support... which they
have committed to doing by the way sometime in the future.

NetHelp (Netscape)
I'm admittedly more familiar with NetHelp, because we're doing a NetHelp
project right now. If you have distribute across platforms (Mac, UNIX
and Windows, or just UNIX like we are) then this is your only choice
(Still waiting for MSIE to run under UNIX...).

Again, you author HTML (or convert legacy stuff to it), and make a call
from your application to a Netscape browser, which displays your HTML
file as opposed to a .hlp file. You call up a full Netscape browser, or
customize one for your needs. With NS Communicator and through
JavaScript, NS has built in a nice TOC and search function (Keyword only
right now) and is building tools to generate these automatically for
you. It is very slick, and unlike HTMLHelp, puts a lot less overhead on
your client machine... mainly because Navigator takes less System
Resources than even the "reduced" MSIE (let alone the full-blown MSIE).

NS is also working on a "compiled HTML" for help... and has even hinted
at a "reduced Communicator" for help purposes... the second is merely
speculation though. Still, right now anyway... you're committing to NS
when you go with NetHelp... but at least you can go cross-platform with
NS and have NO issues. As a former WinHelp only guy... who then started
doing Folio stuff... then HTML... I've found the transition fairly

JavaHelp (SUN)
JavaHelp is something that Sun has been rumored to be working on for
quite a while... and should be debuting with their next version of
JavaWorkshop (2.0?) sometime this summer. Some of us in the Online SIG
got an informal, inpromptu Q&A with some folks on the Sun JavaHelp team
in Toronto last week when Joe Welinske's PowerPoint Presentation went
south. It would be 100% Pure Java, so will run in any browser that
supports that (right now, HotJava, NS Navigator/Communicator, but not
MSIE... are you listening Big Bill???) and has some pretty amazing
features... like instantaneous full text search... and closer to browser
independence. It is still in the formative stages though so... I don't
know if there are too many things stable yet. But... if 2/3rds of what
they talked about actually makes it out... I think that help authors
everywhere will be pleased. You might try Joe Welinske's site
http://www.winwriters.com for a beta-based review he did.

Bottom Line:
The tools for all of this HTML-Based Help are still a ways off. Yes,
Blue Sky says that they support both NetHelp and HTMLHelp, and Wextech
has said their staying with HTMLHelp all the way... but my thoughts here
are that we can't look for a "tool" to develop HTML-based help like we
had in the WinHelp world... for a while. The current ones just do
straight conversions to HTML... and not much else for you. This
certainly is a both scary, and exciting time for us all!!!

Just my (admittedly long) $.02 worth... YMMV!!!


Bill Bledsoe
Senior Technical Writer - CMS
Bill -dot- Bledsoe -at- cms-stl -dot- com or intlidox -at- anet-stl -dot- com

"I'm out on a limb where the fun begins"
Adrian Belew/The Bears
If Bill Said it, Bill said it... Not CMS. Got it?

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