Help Authoring Tools Summary (LONG - Part 1)

Subject: Help Authoring Tools Summary (LONG - Part 1)
From: "Marilyn Baldwin (mlbb -at- capgroup -dot- com)" <Marilyn_Baldwin -at- CAPGROUP -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 29 Apr 1998 07:52:50 -0700

A short time ago, I asked TECHWR-L the following:

A question to my peers: what experiences (good and bad) can you
share/advice can you give about help authoring tools? We are looking at
Doc-to-Help, RoboHelp, and ForeHelp (with some slight leaning toward the
latter). We've read the research on ComputerSelect and elsewhere, but -
before we consider buying and training - it would be wonderful to hear
your "been there, done that" stories. You may answer on- or off-list.
If others think it's worthwhile, I'll publish a summary of your
comments. Thanks! - Marilyn Baldwin (mlbb -at- capgroup -dot- com)

Here are the answers I received (with recommended products in alpha order).
Sincere thanks to those who responded. As always, when you help one person
on this list, you are helping many!

A while back I responded to a similar request with a comparison of tools
that I've used in various jobs. Perhaps this will be helpful to you:
Some thoughts on distributing manuals:
Currently I am using Doc-to-Help Documentation studio to create single
source documents that are used both as manuals, and online help. It
makes life very complicated to use this approach because you must do
intense planning up front as far as layout, content, links, what is
"manual only" what is "help only," audience targets and use
assumptions. The tools were determined before I started here a year
ago. D2H because it runs on Word, looks like word, and except for
advanced features, behaves much like Word. That meant they could
generate documents using staff not trained in technical writing and
publishing tools.
In previous opportunities, I have used a variety of tools: Here is some
discussion on pros and cons:
Corel Ventura:
? Ventura is miserable to learn if you have no previous publishing
software experience.
? Not user friendly, lots of bogus code (from previous owners of
the software that are now being cleaned by Corel).
? Poor quality user's guides, inaccurate indexing, not completely
task or process oriented. Relies on sophisticated user (experienced
desktop publisher and unafraid of "frontiers." Gee, we've never done
that before)
? Out of date help. My experience was with 6.0 and the Help had not
been updated from 5.0 in some areas where bugs were identified for
several years.
? Technical support not qualified to answer phones on most
occasions. Seriously, no one could answer my questions.
? Memory hog. Recommended 16, needs 24, runs best with 32 meg ram.
Not tolerant of multitasking. Won't play nice with other memory hogs
(like Word).
? Tables cause problems. Still.
? Many plug ins to powerful tools - Corel suite of applications.
? Ability to cross reference across books (yes plural - books).
Truly useful when you deal with complex documentation manuals that
must cross-reference each other accurately.
? Can create common index across books.
? Many formatting options and tools. You create your style once and
can use it in all chapters instead of recreating or attaching it for
each chapter (Vs FrameMaker).
? Converts to EPS and other electronic print formats.
? Best for huge, several hundred paged documents (egads, people
actually do create documents in hundreds of pages)
FrameMaker (my experience was with 5.0)
? Cannot cross reference across multiple books.
? No plug ins, although compatible with most file formats.
? Capacity problems with huge documents.
? Is a complete word processor on it's own. No need to have Word or
other processing tool. FrameMaker can do it.
? Good documentation.
? User friendly GUI, no black holes or "user intuitive" features
AKA "take your best guess what this really does."
? Easily adaptable to intranet delivery, goes into Adobe easy.
? Can be e-mailed without crashing server. File size is smaller
than Ventura's pub.
? Can separate and reattach chapters with ease.
? Can save as RTF and preserve formatting.
? Slick little application about 400 cheaper than Ventura.
? This is a word processor. It is not a desk top publishing tool
although it becomes more robust with each rendition.
? Memory/resource pig.
? Bad graphic handling (fixed in Word 97 - but not backward
compatible with previous versions).
? Made by Microsoft.
? Susceptible to prank virus types.
? Limited cross referencing, clumsy indexing.
? Horrid documentation. Really. They could do better but they rely
on the third party industry to make sense of their application and
poor documentation.
? Version problems (backwards compatibility issues, options issues,
won't work with any of your other tools if you have Word 97.
? No compression options.
? Frequently released with bugs (not features) that are then fixed
in a fix disk that you have to ask extra nice for. And have your
credit card handy if you really want the fix.
? Comes on darn near every computer.
? You can share templates (like virus types) to standardize
? Works with lots of tools for import/export. That whole Office
? Made by Microsoft (Yes, both pro and con).
? Has descent free support and excellent paid solution support. Ah,
America, if money is involved, we can find an answer...
? Easy to convert to HTML, Help, SGML, etc. Is the base of lots of
other applications.
? e-mails easy, and because most folks have it, can be read by
everyone. (if it's not Word 97).
? Can be converted for use in any other publishing tool.
? Sets the standards for word processing software, and drives many
publishing tools (all trying to catch up to Word 97).
? Lots of 3rd party literature.
? Lots of education opportunities (people train it everywhere)
? Has translation capacities.
? Documentation should be better - it's their business after all.
? Help out of date. I frequently find errors and have to call to
get the finally steps to the task, or figure out what the task steps
truly are. (such as mid topic jumps).
? Advanced features not user friendly/intuitive.
? Memory pig. Fights with Word for resources. Will crash on out of
memory errors, needs special maintenance to optimize drive
performance for compiles.
? Sits on top of Word. Draw your own conclusions.
? Single source tool - but the world is not ready for this.
? Expensive. Site licenses are ridiculous.
? Does not run well over network. They are honest and tell you that
up front.
? Cumbersome compile process.
? Templates sit in Word, weak defense to virus types.
? Awkward indexing. Uses word.
? Files get corrupted for no apparent reason.
? Hard to keep .doc file on network without accompanying d2h .ini
file to let others without D2H installed read the document.
? No "read only" feature for network copies of manual. The Revision
tool overwrites and strikes out page numbers and everything else even
if you just open a read-only, password protected, file marked read
only in File Manager or Explorer, document.
? Multi step conversion process to help or HTML.
? Relies on Win Help Workshop for troubleshooting problems in
compile process.
? Requires sophisticated planning to get a good looking hardcopy
and online document that is also usable and size conscious.
? Company has excellent Web site.(online presence)
? Good technical support, better paid support.(telephones)
? Offers list server for users to write in with questions,
monitored by excellent staff who supply PROMPT answers. Thank
? Knowledge base on web documenting known problems and solutions.
? Update/fix disks for timely solutions.
? Converts to HTML and help easy.
? Automated processes for compile.
? Ability to use single source.
? industry leader. They did it first, they are still the best.
? file compression
? lots of add ins (documentation studio)
? ability to create multi-media HTML and Help
? Has solution for Word 95 bad graphics handling ability(Quicture,
smooth scaling).
? Lets you mark text as manual only, help only, or both.
? Automatic xref. update fields.
? Good interface with Word.
? Friendly folks on the digest answering questions.
I have also used Pagemaker (many years ago). My impression was that it
was not as robust as FrameMaker but good for the 25-100 page document
we produced using it.
Word Perfect
This is even more of a word processor only tool than Word. More
limitations, fewer features, but still acceptable as source document
for many publishing tools. It has been added to Lotus Suite so it will
soon become a hybrid like Word.
Microsoft Publisher
This takes Word to the true status of desktop publisher. I have only
run a demo on it, not examined it closely. It has some GUI problems,
the documentation is still weak (typical of all Microsoft products),
but the 3rd party literature is good and readily available. Also
acceptable through Kinko's network so you can send your documents to
Kinko's anywhere to be printed...
We are looking into doing computer-based training (CBT) development
and self directed paper-based training manuals. Authorware is a big
name in this publishing venue allowing for development of CBT as well
as desktop publishing features for paper materials. My experience is
limited to a demo. But all vendors have recommended it as a tool for
the CBT development and some few have recommended it for both CBT and
My advice. Consider the future of your documentation.
Will it need to be delivered from the Web, Intranet, Lan\Wan?
What is the format of the deliverable? Are you going to go to online
documentation with the option of letting the user print their own
copy of the manual from the help?
Is your tool going to be updated in the future to meet the multi-media
challenge (it seems inevitable from my perspective)? Will it
continue to be supported and have tie ins to other applications?
What are your resources? Budget plays a part here too. Can you afford
to deliver via Web solutions, etc...
Good Luck with your quest for information.
- Martha Cowley

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