Re: HTML-Benefit? - Long

Subject: Re: HTML-Benefit? - Long
From: Jason Wynia <jwynia -at- AGRIS -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 6 Nov 1998 13:13:50 -0600

The topic of HTML based help seems to be one of the most frequently confused
this year. I think the greatest source of confusion is caused by a
perception of HTML.

There is a general way of using HTML to do online help: HTML based help.
Within that are specific applications of HTML to the concept of help
including Microsoft's implementation "HTML Help." Because HTML is currently
used as a cross-platform international markup, somehow the jump is made and
all HTML based help solutions become dependent on the web. This is not the

I bring forth the most compelling reason of all reasons for
not using HTML-based help at this time: There are no standards to speak of!

There are standards. Microsoft has come out and put its HTML Help as the
standard for future 32 bit Windows help. You are not forced to use it, nor
were you forced to use MS's implementation of RTF based help.
Unfortunately, because HTML was seen as a cross platform language, people
seem to assume that all solutions based on it need to be cross platform and
browser independent as well. You can't run Winhelp on Mac, UNIX etc. As
far as browser independance, it may be an issue now, but when the installed
user base for Win98 grows, IE4 will be on most Win boxes. The way Win98 is
currently shipping, it is a massive effort to remove IE from the OS. See

it was suggested at the 45th STC conference, that help authors should be
to implement HTML-based help products by mid-1999.

In my opinion, 6 or 7 months isn't all that far away. If you have a large
amount of information to be implemented by that time, now IS the time to be
working on it and figuring it out. MS HTML Help is the successor to
Winhelp. I see going to it for 32 bit Windows apps is more a question of
"when" than "if."

Reasons not to use HTML-based help at this time:

* The user must have IE4 and 32 bit applications

The requirement for IE4 will be moot when more people are using Win98 or NT
5.0. The 32 bit requirement is already there if you don't want to compile
with 3.1 compatibility in Winhelp. If you still need 16 bit capability, the
winhelp engine is still going to ship.

* There are issues with navigational and window controls
( they're missing!) - Issues with sizing and positioning

I've got issues with Winhelp on some of those things. I'm not the only one.
I'm not sure what you mean by missing window controls.

* Context sensitive help involves developing embedded
help, which takes huge resources; it is not practical and
you must use programming languages such as C++ to develop it.


* The RTF-based Winhelp compiler is stable and reliable (keep using it!)

Stable and reliable work for a while but eventually you need to change to
keep up with standards. There are quite a few people putting out DOS apps,
after all DOS is stable and reliable, but they miss out on the benefits of

* There are already many stable and reliable authoring tools available
for creating rtf-based help.

However, given the constant criticism's of Word, on which most HAT's are
based, in this forum, I don't consider that entire environment to be
entirely stable either. When I build my HTML files and feed them to the
HTML Help compiler, I don't have that many problems. When I do, I find that
Notepad doesn't cause any of them. I realize Notepad and the compiler
aren't the most friendly environment, but very stable and reliable. Given a
reasonable amount of time, I'm sure that most of the HAT companies will
release stable products for this as well that are friendly.

* The look and feel of Windows rtf-based help is already very familiar
to users.

We plan to ease them into the new model by hiding the navigation tab in the
first release of HTML Help files for our app. HTML gives much easier link
coloration etc. which is a great help to the percentage of the population
that is color-blind.


* The growth of the web comes from a different skill set
(graphic and prgramming skills), which is why online Help for the Web is
struggling to be conceived.

Again, HTML based help does not mean it has to be delivered by the web. The
primary shift in focus is from a source file marked up in RTF vs. HTML.
Removing the web itself from the equation, the programming skills go away.
I know with RoboHTML, all of the Active-X controls are added with wizards.
As far as graphics are concerned, take a look at the help files that come
with the HTML Workshop 1.1. There are virtually no graphics. I've seen
many Winhelp files that would have required much more of a graphic
investment than that one.

J Wynia

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