RoboHelp, the help file authoring tool developed by eHelp, now includes support for Macromedia's Flash multimedia format, allowing help authors to include explanatory diagrams and animations in their documents, and to use Flash to quickly customize the appearance of help systems written in HTML (Hypertext Mark-up Language), eHelp announced Monday.
HTML help authoring tools are typically used to create help files to accompany software applications, but may be used to develop structured Web sites to offer help on any topic. Help files can be developed in other file formats, such as Microsoft's Windows Help format, or Java help formats defined by Sun Microsystems and Oracle.
While any Web site authoring tool could be used to write software documentation in HTML format, help authors have different needs, according to Michael Hamilton, product manager for RoboHelp.
"People look at Web sites and help files and say they are the same thing, but they are complete opposites. Web sites are looking for stickiness to keep visitors there as long as possible, whereas in a help system the goal is to get them back to work as quickly as possible," he said.
To that end, help files need to have a consistent appearance, consistent with the application and platform to which they relate, he said. While eHelp had examined other software technologies to achieve this, such as Adobe Systems' Acrobat and Sun's Java, it found Flash more appropriate, he said.
"Flash can be accessed by even more people than the Acrobat file format. We tried using Java, but found that people are starting to lock down firewalls to block Java applets because they can interact with your the local file system," he said.
Version 4.1 of RoboHelp, which adds support for the new FlashHelp file format, will begin shipping worldwide Friday, priced from US$379. It is also available as a free download for existing users of RoboHelp X4, Hamilton said. The product is only available in English, although in Europe it also ships with French and German manuals. It includes spellchecker and keyword indexer support for authoring of Help systems in Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese (both Brazilian and European), Spanish and Swedish, the company said.
Craig Clarke, proprietor of Help Solutions in England, has used eHelp's authoring tools for many years, and has been testing a beta version of FlashHelp.
"FlashHelp is easy to create and does not require any in depth knowledge of traditional Flash development tools," he said.
With FlashHelp there is no need to spend time working on the look and feel of the help system, according to Clarke. "We can just get on with the main part of our work which is writing and creating content," he said.
The software saves Clarke from worries about the quirks of different browsers, as files created with FlashHelp look the same on any platform, he said.
"We are currently developing a large help project for a Visual Studio .Net application which we need to single-source for many platforms and devices. We have been struggling with solutions and constantly tweaking our outputs for a varied user base. FlashHelp is the obvious solution, as we must provide a consistent user experience," he said.