Trends in Help authoring?

Subject: Trends in Help authoring?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 16 Mar 2004 12:04:59 -0500

Daniel Gallagher wondered: <<Is it correct to assume that today's version of winhelp will be dead in the water soon?>>

"Soon" is awfully relative. WinHelp has been officially replaced by HTMLHelp for more than 2 years now (longer?), yet you'll still see it here and there. I've stuck with WinHelp thus far because I've yet to see an HTMLHelp implementation that I found equally usable; in particular, HTMLHelp indexes suck badly, and the help browser always seems to take far longer to launch than WinHelp's browser. But as of Windows XP, WinHelp still works just fine, both as a technology for compiling help and as a technology for displaying help.

<<I know my HAT (Help Authoring Tool) will need to change after MS eventually changes their help compiler.>>

Not necessarily. So long as the compiler continues to work, and so long as your HAT vendor keeps selling copies of the old WinHelp software, you're doing fine. Haven't heard any rumors yet that either situation is going to end soon.

<<But my main concern is if winhelp is disappearing altogether and if I should be concentrating on learning html based help (wave of the future?)?>>

I've steadfastly avoided using HTMLHelp until this year, but my main client has now insisted that I at least test out the technology to see whether it meets their needs. The end result will inevitably be that I'm going to have to shelve RoboHelp and start using RoboHTML. I expect to make heavy use of techwr-l's expertise in the coming month.

<<The software people here don't care how I make the help, as long as the customer can press F1 at any time and invoke some help. They can reference to my help whether it's winhelp orhtml based right?>>

You can use either format for as long as your programmers are willing to work with you to map the Map IDs to the correct parts of the software. My question to my client has always been: "What advantage does HTMLHelp offer?" The answer thus far (in my opinion) has always been "none, but it sure is trendy". Yesterday, the answer became "because we like HTMLHelp and we're paying the bill, so deal with it". Can't really argue with that, can I? <g>

<<now I simply know how to use the HAT only (ForeHelp 5), I don't know the process of it all.>>

One way to do the job simply and inexpensively is to create a linked series of Web pages (HTML files), just as if you were creating a Web site. Microsoft's HTML Help Workshop (something like that... haven't gone looking for it yet so I'm not up on the actual name) apparently does a credible job of stitching the Web site into a single .CHM file, though the tools for indexing the resulting pages are somewhat primitive. But it does work.

Over the next few weeks, my job will be to develop an efficient and bug-free process for creating source text in Word (for review and revision) and using that text to create an HTMLHelp system that can be updated by simply updating the Word source files and recompiling. Not sure that's possible, but here's hoping! Advice from techwr-l welcomed, and I'll eventually post a summary of what I've found to work so others can benefit.

--Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)


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Trends in Help Authoring: From: dan . gallagher

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