Re: HTML Help Advisory

Subject: Re: HTML Help Advisory
From: Keith Arnett <keith_arnett -at- RESTON -dot- OMD -dot- STERLING -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 1 May 1998 17:27:12 -0500

The real problem is for those of who need a cross-platform, web-based
help system *now.* We are in this situation, and I can tell you the
choices are not good.

Note: by cross-platform, I mean a set of help files that can be read
on the local platform, and from a remote platform accessing the local
files via a web browser and the internet (or an intranet). Bear in
mind that you have *no* control whatsoever as to the web browser being
used by the remote site.

Therefore, you need to be able to deliver to the end user
browser-independent HTML (for now) help files.

This immediately rules out MS HTML Help (although a Java version is
supposedly in development, but I'm not holding my breath).

Other Java-based help systems are available, but are barely out of the
cradle. Creative Software, the company offering Jelp, is less than two
years old, and the product has only been tested on Win95 platforms.

Moondog Software offers JHelp, but this appears to be a one-man
operation on a rented web site. Neither of these are viable
alternatives for commercial distribution, unless you love to take
risks. Probably in a year or two, the Java solution will be much more

Netscape's NetHelp 1 was extremely attractive in that it was browser
independent, but offered little in the way of help system
functionality. NetHelp 2 added help functionality, but, I am told,
became browser dependent in the process. Both products were freely
distributable, supported by an established organization, and could be
bundled with Navigator for distribution to those UNIX customers who
are not currently running a browser.

The abandonment of NetHelp is indeed unfortunate. Blue Sky software
seems to be the only vendor path left, with its WebHelp system.
Unfortunately for FrameMaker users, it requires outputting RTF files
and first building a help project with RoboHelp, meaning extra
conversion tools and production processes.

Or, as Debbi Leipold suggested, you can roll your own solution.

Industry analysts are predicting this whole cross-platform,
web-enabled access concept is going to grow extremely rapidly in the
next few years. I fervently hope some help system vendor will take
heed and provide a easy to use, browser independent solution for
FrameMaker users.


Keith Arnett
Technical Writer
Sterling Software, Inc./Operations Management Division
Reston VA USA

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