Help Authoring (July 2007)
Most programmers would rather eat dirt than create a Help file, as demonstrated by the common criticism given
by users on the very poor state of Help files. Missing information, inconsistent information, incorrect
information, out-of-date information, ... - you name it, and help files have it.
Fortunately, there are tools which can ease the burden of getting a quality Help file.
In 1996 Microsoft stopped development on WinHelp (.hlp extensions) and began development
on compiled HTML help files (.chm extensions). Microsoft HTML Help 1.4 is the latest release.
There is also Microsoft Help 2.0, used exclusively in Visual Studio .NET, the MSDN Library and TechNet products. However
Microsoft has decided not to release Help 2.0 as a general help platform and encourages users to use HTML Help 1.x.
Starting with Vista, development has shifted to the Microsoft Assistance Markup Language. Only critical updates (no
new features) to the previous Help systems are expected. The new system is backwards compatible with .hlp and .chm
For more information, try one of these sites.
This review is in work. Until the review is complete, I suggest the
following application for your Help authoring needs:
- Microsoft HTML Help 1.4 SDK
With this free solution from Microsoft you can produce the .CHM files you want.
To get .HLP files you'll have to use an earlier product, but I suggest you stay
with .CHM only.
Help Authoring Software Features
These are the minimum features that I expect from Help authoring software.
Each of the candidate programs will be ranked against how well they
implement the following features. As the review continues, the list of
features may change.
- WYSIWYG editing
- Formats suppoted .hlp, .chm, .html, .pdf, .doc, .xml
- Automated Help generation from source code
- Visual customization options
- Template support
These are the programs included in this review.
There are only a few freeware help authoring tools.
- Mif2Go (*free w/conditions)
- Shalom Help Maker
And here are the commercial/shareware Help authoring tools.
These are some comments/notes I've made as I research the various tools.
User Feedback & Suggestions
I welcome any suggestions on other timer programs that should be
considered, or suggestions on how better to review the selected programs.