Re: RoboHELP or Microsoft HTML Help

Subject: Re: RoboHELP or Microsoft HTML Help
From: Chuck Martin <cwmartin -at- US -dot- ORACLE -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 2 Jun 1999 18:18:45 -0700

Leona Dupree wrote:
> Ok everyone. I am trying to get my company to purchase RoboHELP, but
> everyone keeps looking for other alternatives. Can anyone tell me why?
> What is it about RoboHELP that keeps companies from wanting it? Is
> Microsoft HTML Help any better, or worse than RoboHELP? I think
> RoboHELP has more to offer than Microsoft HTML Help. What do you all
> think?
I am responding on the list because the question raised is onethat
causes confusion among many technical communicators, as well as those
responsible for working with or managing them.

On the face of it, the question cannot be answered because RoboHELP is a
tool and HTML Help is a technology. HTML Help is Microsoft's
implementation of an HTML-based paradigm for presenting information
online, and the company is trying to position the technology as the
default successor to WinHelp. RoboHELP is but one of many authoring
tools that can produce HTML Help output (as well as other types of
output, including WinHelp). RoboHELP is probably the most used of the
authoring tools, largely because it has been so aggressively marketed.
But (IMHO), RoboHELP is beginning to suffer from Microsoft-itis: adding
more and more features to the product (and bullets to the marketing data
sheet) and getting new versions out faster and faster without making
sure the product is reasonably bug free and easy to use. Some people
also don't see a need to use a Word-based tool for authoring HTML-based
output. Also (IMNOHO), the Blue Sky tools have significant usability
problems, mailny because they have just added on to the original design
(OK for early WinHelp 3.x development) instead of realizing that new
Help features and new paradigms really required a major overhaul.

(Nit-pickers may want to note that Microsoft's HTML Help package does
contain authoring tools, but they are quite rudimentary, not suitable
for anything beyond the smallest of HTML Help projects.)

If the question really is about WinHelp vs. HTML Help, the answer may
lie in the fact that even Microsoft, in its push to embrace HTML, hasn't
been able to eliminate WinHelp from its applications (WinHelp is still
required for the What's This? capability). If the question is really
about which authoring tool to use to produce HTML Help (or WinHelp),
then some people might say that it's a matter of personal preference.
While I haven't investigated lately, you might be able to find feature
comparisons and evaluations of Help tools at the Online Help Journal
(; you have to pay to subscribe), Work Write
(, or KnowWare ( sites.

"[Programmers] cannot successfully be asked to design for users
because...inevitably, they will make judgments based on the
difficult of coding and not on the user's real needs."
- Alan Cooper
"About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design"

Chuck Martin
Principal Technical Writer, Oracle Developer
Tools Division, Oracle Corporation


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