Re: HTML vs HTML Help

Subject: Re: HTML vs HTML Help
From: Bill Burns <BillDB -at- ILE -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 27 Jul 1999 09:17:35 -0600

Jim writes:

> I am an HTML novice and I'm wondering what the difference is between
> straight HTML and HTML Help such as what I presume RoboHTML produces.
RoboHelp produces a few different HTML-based products. You can use it to
generate MS HTMLHelp, Web Help (which is Blue Sky's cross-browser help
format), or generic HTML.

> If you wish to produce a help-like file in HTML (that is: if you're
> producing something that would serve the same purpose a printed manual
> would
> serve) are there any advantages one over the other? What are the strong
> points/weak points of each?
Generic HTML is browser independent (ideally). You can define the output to
look as you please, given some understanding of cascading style sheets and
the browser-specific limitations. However, you don't automatically get an
index applet or search feature. You either have to supply these on your own
or do without.

Web Help is browser independent, and it uses a Java applet for a
expanding/collapsing table of contents and index. This feature allows
somewhat better functionality than generic HTML. It has no native search
feature. From our tests on Web Help in RHTML version 6, we found that it did
not support extended characters. (I believe ForeHelp's InterHelp has the
same limitation.) If you're considering localization, this would be an

MS HTMLHelp is Microsoft's help standard. It requires MS Internet Explorer 4
or higher (plus an update) for full functionality, and it only runs on
32-bit Windows platforms. It provides a table of contents, index, and find
feature. It supports DHTML and ActiveX, and compiles into a single file.
(Web Help and generic HTML are not compiled.) Currently, there are updates
available for 28 languages, so it appears to have better support for
localization than Web Help. Because HTMLHelp uses the same DLLs as IE, it
can be integrated into web-based applications. Most of the examples of
embedded help systems that I've seen have used MS HTMLHelp.

MS HTMLHelp seems, to me, to be a better fit for online manuals than PDF or
generic HTML since it offers the index and search functionailty that the
others lack. The drawbacks are the limited platform and browser support.
However, if you're limited to 32-bit Windows anyway and the development team
plans to ship IE, it seems like a reasonable choice. I wouldn't use Web Help
in its current incarnation. The features are limited, the applet is slow,
and it doesn't appear to be quite as portable as Blue Sky would have you
believe (doesn't appear to work well for Netscape on Mac, for example).

Bill Burns - Eccentric Technology Consultant
International Communications Design & Development
billdb -at- ile -dot- com
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