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GBIC >> Software Reviews >> Help Authoring
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 Missing information, inconsistent information, incorrect information, out-of-date information, ...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 formats.

For more information, try one of these sites.

Review Results
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.

  1. WYSIWYG editing
  2. Formats suppoted .hlp, .chm, .html, .pdf, .doc, .xml
  3. Automated Help generation from source code
  4. Visual customization options
  5. Template support

Candidate Programs
These are the programs included in this review.

There are only a few freeware help authoring tools.

  1. HelpMaker
  2. Mif2Go (*free w/conditions)
  3. Shalom Help Maker

And here are the commercial/shareware Help authoring tools.

  1. !Abee Chm Maker $39
  2. AuthorIT $ NG
  3. AVHelp $57
  4. chm2web Pro $150
  5. Dr.Explain $125
  6. doc-o-matic Pro $999
  7. Doc-To-Help $750
  8. EasyHelp $299
  9. FAR $44
  10. Fast-Help $299
  11. GenHelp Pro $211
  12. Help & Manual $299
  13. Help Explorer Viewer $79
  14. Help Generator $299
  15. Help Magician $249
  16. Help Maker Plus $45
  17. Help Publisher $169
  18. HelpBreeze $279
  19. HelpCruiser $125
  20. HelpKit $169
  1. HelpMapper? $ NG
  2. HelpNDoc $68
  3. HelpScribble $99
  4. HelpServer $ NG
  5. HelpStudio $607
  6. HTML Help Builder $299
  7. HTML Indexer $100
  8. MGTEK Help Producer $395
  9. QuickHelp $195
  10. MadCap Flare $399
  11. MagicHelp
  12. Mif2Go $295
  13. NetDocs $400
  14. PaperKiller $99
  15. Pocket CHM $60
  16. RoboHelp $999
  17. RoleHelp $59
  18. TeeGofer $149
  19. The HyperText Studio $50
  20. Visual WinHelp $50
  21. WinCHM $99
  22. XDK $679
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.