Help Authoring Systems

28 April, 2008 at 9:57 am | Posted in Help Systems | Leave a comment
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When I wrote my first Help system, I wasn’t given an authoring tool, so I had to hand-build it using Word. All the Keywords, Context Numbers, etc. were special footnotes, which had to be manually inserted. It took a very long time.

Then I acquired a copy of the brilliant Forehelp. This product is no longer available, but is sadly missed (and not just by me it seems). The best part of it – well, one of the best parts – is the Forehelp Help system. I don’t think there was ever something I wanted to do that I couldn’t find clear instructions for. I learned a lot about constructing a good Help system from their excellent example. (I still have a copy of the software on an old Windows 2000 machine that sits under my desk and is occasionally switched on when I need to look at the old database.)

When I was asked to write a Help system for my husband’s company about 3 years ago, I hunted around for a tool to use. I did find one which purported to be similar to Forehelp, but it was very buggy and I kept losing my work.

When I got my shiny new Vista machine earlier this year, I realised that it was time to upgrade the Help system for my company’s product. I’ve been quite impressed with the tool I found, Help and Manual, available in the UK from QBS and ComponentSource.

As I’m an author working alone I don’t need a highly sophisticated tool, and Help and Manual fits the bill very well.

It does have a pretty good Help System itself, and it has converted all my old Help files almost perfectly – just the odd topic has gone astray and it couldn’t cope with topic anchors (links from one topic to anchor text within another topic). It also has its own image hotspot editor which I believe other tools don’t have – even the very expensive ones.

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