Product Reviews

Help on the Way

RoboHelp Office X3 can make help apps a snap.

Having created software applications as the sole developer in a small consulting company, one issue I have that’s always at the forefront when dealing with after-sales support concerns product usage.

There’s a common occurrence that takes place regardless of the product, whether it’s for IT, industrial products for manufacturing processes or even consumer products like a VCR. Users always look for the easy answer, which means that most will call someone rather than read a manual or instructions.

Is this a problem? Of course it is, but what’s the solution? To find the answer, we need to understand the difficulty. For most users, it’s found in the documentation or help system. Users don’t want to read printed documentation because it takes too long. This is part of the reason for online or integrated help systems. However, most online help simply repeats the printed documentation. We need to create better online help.

There are tools available to help you to create this integrated support, such as Microsoft’s compilers for WinHelp and HTML Help Workshop. I’ve used both and, for the most part, been satisfied. That is, until I tried RoboHelp X3.

I’d heard about RoboHelp, but always thought that if I could get HTML Help Workshop for free from Microsoft, why purchase another product? I now know better.

After installation, the RoboHelp X3 tutorial helped me get up to speed relatively quickly and introduced many of the product’s features. One aspect I liked right off was the RoboHelp Starter application, which allows you to launch the various project types you can create and work with.

RoboHelp X3 allows the creation of a wide range of help projects, called outputs, such as HTML Help, WebHelp, Java and Oracle Help, WinHelp and a newer WebHelp Enterprise. The Enterprise output is meant to run on a server and provides feedback and tracking features for your help project.

The tools for the WebHelp Enterprise are all first-class, from the WYSIWYG editor to support for writing help using Microsoft Word and the import tools. The HTML WYSIWYG editor has various similarities to Microsoft FrontPage, which makes it easier to use.

RoboHelp
RoboHelp's editor for HTML Help is similar to Microsoft FrontPage. (Click image to view larger version.)

Drag-and-drop support for TOC and index keywords is an excellent feature and a time-saver. The drag-and-drop also works for bookmarks and links.

After using RoboHelp X3, I revisited the question of why purchase a product when I can get one for free. The answer seems clearer now: You get what you pay for. RoboHelp X3 provides excellent tools for developing help applications that increase your productivity and make your applications professional pieces of work that will help users learn to use your products. On a scale of 1 to 10, RoboHelp X3 gets a definite 10.

RoboHelp Office X3, $899; eHelp Corp., (858) 459-6365, www.ehelp.com.

About the Author

Gerry O'Brien, MCSE, MCSD, MCDBA, MCT, has been working with computers since the days of the Commodore VIC-20. Over the past five years he's done network administration for The Hardman Group Ltd., a real estate management/development company, and owns Canadian-Based GK ComputerConsulting, which provides hardware and software sales, consulting, and development services to a wide range of clients.

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