As a computer programmer you have probably tested different help authoring applications – from simple programs to complex and expensive systems. This article is dedicated to HelpSmith, the tool that has become my favorite HAT, which really takes the process of help file creation to a new level. So let’s take a look at the main possibilities of this great tool.
Build CHM Files Files
With HelpSmith, you can easily create CHM HTML Help files. Due to the WYSIWYG principle, HelpSmith provides you with a full-featured word processor with integrated dynamic styles support and the live spell checker feature. So the process of working on a help system simply gets to a new quality level. You can use graphical images, insert tables, create hyperlinks, and so on. Finally, being a complete help authoring (visit this link for screenshots http://www.helpsmith.com/help-authoring-on-steroids.php) solution, HelpSmith makes it possible to create the Table of Contents and the keyword Index for your help file in seconds due to the in-built editors with drag and drop method.
Create Web Help from the Same Source
You can make Web Help by exporting all the information from your source help project into a series of HTML files: click the “Create Web Help” command on the “Project” menu or click the corresponding button on the toolbar (which is similar to when you want to export your project into other help formats) and HelpSmith will prepare all the necessary files. A browser-based help system generated with HelpSmith includes a collapsible Table of Contents (similar to the TOC in CHM), an alphabetical Index, and the Search ability.
Then you should put all the files of your Web Help system to your web server or simply copy them to a public folder if you need to provide access for coworkers in your local area network.
Create Printed Manual
You can use HelpSmith to supply technical documentation both in the electronic (with the ability to create CHM Help files as shown at: http://www.helpsmith.com/htmlhelp.php) and printed formats. Using HelpSmith, you can see all the results as they are before the final version of the documentation is compiled or printed out. You can print out the manual directly from HelpSmith; or you can export the manual into Word or any other text editor, for ex., to demonstrate it to your clients who may not have HelpSmith installed on his/her computer.
Save Your Time by Using Dynamic Styles
Described above, the HelpSmith system of dynamic styles is a mandatory feature for any help authoring application. Dynamic styles allow you to store all formatting information separately from help topics, which lets you make any changes in formatting at any time with No need to manually process a big number of help topics.
Also, with styles, you do not have to set the same attributes again and again while working on help topics. You can simply the part of text and then apply the necessary style to set the required formatting attributes to the selection.
Besides that, HelpSmith allows you to define different views for a particular style (including styles created by the user), so the same style can look differently when the project is compiled into CHM, HTML, or as a Printed Manual.
So dynamic styles will save much of your time and significantly speed up the process of writing technical documentation and help files.
Manage Graphical and Video Files Effectively as Never Before
HelpSmith allows you to use graphical and video files in your help files and provides an advanced way to manage that multimedia. All media files that you paste into your help project automatically get into the built-in repository. This makes it possible for you not to care about copying any file from its original location on your hard disk. In case you need to copy the whole help project to another pc, for example, in order to make a back-up, all multimedia files are already stored in a single place together with your help project.
Another benefit of the multimedia repository is that you can update any graphical file with NO need to edit all the topics where that media appears. For example, if you have a dialog box that has changes in the new version of your application, you can create a new screenshot and paste it into the repository instead of the obsolete one.
In addition, HelpSmith includes an automatic graphical formats converted that can convert metafiles (EMF) or bitmaps into a more appropriate graphical format such as .PNG or .GIF when you compile your help project into CHM or Web Help, for instance.
No Need to Know Anything about HTML or CSS Coding
HelpSmith is an easy-to-use product just like any regular office application we use for our everyday computer activities. And even if you are new to help authoring, you can start writing technical documentation without having to learn anything about technical issues of creating help files. No need to code HTML or even know anything about it. By concentrating on writing with the help of such features as dynamic styles, you will finish your help file much faster than it could be done with any other help authoring software.
Robert Richardson -
About the Author:
Robert Richardson is an independent technical writer and reviewer of help tools such as Dr.Explain, HelpSmith from http://www.helpsmith.com and others.