Re: Familiar with HelpBreeze?

Subject: Re: Familiar with HelpBreeze?
From: "Doug, Data Librarian at Ext 4225" <engstromdd -at- PHIBRED -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 5 May 1995 09:49:44 -0500


This is written in response to Thomas Burgin's query:

It apparently has garnered pretty good reviews. Am considering it,
RoboHelp, and Doc2Help.

I'd appreciate any feedback/knowledge about HelpBreeze, by

Our writing team at Pioneer selected HelpBreeze as our standard WinHelp
authoring tool about a year ago. We've been using it for a variety of
projects, with considerable success.

Like many tools in this category, it "sits on top of" Word for Windows. A
.dll that supports the HelpBreeze functions is "attached" to the document
via a WinWord template. It also adds some functions by keeping a database
of document information (names of keywords, context strings, and topic
titles, for example) "on the side".

Like most of its competitors, HelpBreeze automates a number of the painful
things about producing WinHelp files. For example, the database
"remembers" the context string of every help topic entered or planned, so
when you create a jump (also an automated process) you can pick the context
string name from a list, eliminating the possibility of a misspelling. My
favorite feature is automated browse sequence renumbering. Using a simple
"drag and drop" interface, you can change the order of topics in a browse
sequence, or change the sequence that a topic is in, and HelpBreeze
automatically handles the "grunt work" of redoing the browse sequence
footnotes. If you've ever had to do that by hand in even a small help
file, you will want to kiss the feet of whoever created this routine.

Other features include automated creation of Macro, Jump, and Popup
hotspots, a spiffy topic creation dialog box, an automated way to insert
graphics, and a good way to handle mid-topic keywords.

As I said, this set of features is pretty common among the WinHelp
authoring tools, although HelpBreeze implements them in an unusually
clear, well-integrated way. The unique things that sold us on HelpBreeze
where its reporting features and licensing flexibility.

HelpBreeze can produce reports showing topic relationships, keywords, etc.
These become important issues if you produce very large help projects. At
the time we where shopping, only HelpBreeze and ForeHelp offered these
features, although I have heard the new (next?) release of RoboHelp will
offer them as well.

For us, a tiebreaker was that SolutionSoft was willing to grant a
"simultaneous connection" site license. (We had to negotiate a bit for
it, and agree to limit our direct support contacts, but we got it.)
Since this is Pioneer's preferred way to deal with LAN software, this was
an important issue for us; it may mean nothing to you.

The problems with HelpBreeze fall into three categories: problems arising
from the help compiler, problems arising from the nature of the system,
and problems that originate in HelpBreeze.

Problems arising from the help compiler are obviously common to all WinHelp
authoring systems. For us, the most irritating is the compiler's tendency,
when operating on the LAN, to be very unpredictable about where it places
the .hlp file. We have yet to figure out a reliable way to decide where
the thing is going to wind up. We've also experienced some of the graphics
complaints that have been discussed on the WinHlp-l mailing list. We've
registered out complaints with both Solutionsoft and Microsoft.

Problems arising from the nature of the system are (we think) common to all
authoring tools that use the "WinWord Template" approach (everybody but
ForeHelp, which reportedly has problems of its own). Basically, you're
slapping another layer on a complex system (WinWord) that is not noted for
stability and dependability in the first place. This results in an extra
helping of the occasional reliability problems WinWord is known for: GPF's,
mystery lockups, "the black screen of death", etc. A machine with adequate
RAM and processor muscle (486DX/66, 250MB hard drive, 16megs o' RAM) seems
to keep this category of problems from being much more than a minor

Finally, there are problems specific to HelpBreeze. Mostly, the system has
a tendency to insist on doing things "its way." For example when
creating a topic from scratch, HelpBreeze insists on using its style for
the heading, regardless of what style you used with the heading in the
first place. (However, it will respect your choice when editing the
topic information later.) Moving files around seems to confuse it, and
the database occasionally becomes corrupted for no apparent reason, and
then has to be regenerated. While this is not particularly difficult, it
can be annoying.

SolutionSoft's documentation is reasonable to good, and their technical
support has been available, knowledgeable, and timely. They include a slew
of tutorials and other goodies with the installation. I found most of them
too basic, because I'd hand-crafted some files first, but they might be
very useful to a WinHelp novice.

In general, we think it's good solution: its flaws tolerable and its
benefits significant.

Hope this helps,


Doug "How may I be honest with you today?"
ENGSTROMDD -at- phibred -dot- com

The preceding opinions and positions are mine alone, and are only
coincidentally related to those of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.

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