Product Reviews

Automated Help Documentation

RoboHelp Office X3: This first-rate help authoring tool gets better.

After writing about the new RoboHelp a few issues ago, I put it through its paces last month. I looked at the "Office" edition of the product, which combines Microsoft Word-based and HTML help editors. I spent most of my time in the HTML help version, since I was working on help files for a .NET-based product.

What it boils down to is that if you can write, you can produce help files using RoboHelp. All of the messy stuff -- help compiler locations, the exact build steps, all that junk -- is safely hidden from the author. Building a table of contents, adding topics, and making them look pretty, is as easy as it would be with any other HTML editor. Then you go through a simple build process and voila, help comes out of the other end.

One of the nice things here is multiple version support from the same source files. I found it very simple to create both a standalone HTML help file and Web-based help from a single project. There are other available types, including printed documentation and Java-based help, and you can generate multiple versions in a single step with the "batch generate" capability. It's easy to flag content to appear conditionally in certain output types as well.

As you would expect with a help product, the help files and tutorial here are first-rate. There are a variety of tips and other in-product help as well. The only thing that I wished for and couldn't find was a way to integrate the final build step with my build process. This would require a command-line way to launch the batch generate process, and if that's in there, I couldn't find it. But in all other ways, this is a streamlined way to create the help files that any product should have before it ships.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy, MCSE, MCSD, MCDBA, is a former MCP columnist and the author of numerous development books.

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