Distribution Formats for Online Help Systems

Distribution of online help is dependent on the configuration of the client's computer system. Most computer systems in a large office use a LAN (Local Area Network) which allows users to share information stored on a server. Smaller offices, however, may not have networked computers. These clients may use a web based system, accessible from each computer station, or even share information using removable media, such as flash drives. The configuration that you will be using to deliver the online help greatly affects which type of help to use.

Servers allow flexibility in the following ways:
  1. The server may allow internet access for users, so the online help can be web based. This allows the development and maintenance of the online help system in a real time environment. Updates and fixes are made in one central location.
  2. Even if the server does not allow internet access, the online help can be stored on the server itself. As in #1 above, this allows the same real time and centralized location for updates and fixes.

Local machines that have internet access enjoy the same benefits as servers for web based online help systems. Local machines that do not have internet access may use removable media, such as flash drives and CDs to update and fix online help. The issues in using removable media are:
  1. Users may have to depend on their IT department to either install the updates, or give administrator permission to some or all users to update local machines. This can take some time depending on the quantity of machines to be updated.
  2. All machines need updating; if a user is absent, a machine may miss an update or fix.
  3. Update removable media first and then delivere to the user's site.
  4. Upon deliverance of information from removable media, store the information for situations where a machine may need restoring, involving reinstalling software and updates.

Planning

First, decide what formats to publish the help system in. These might include a ‘PDF Manual’, ‘web help’, ‘mobile help’, 'HTML help', 'server help', etc. Some other questions to ask before designing your help system are:
  • Do you have existing content that you want to import? If so, make sure that your help-authoring tool can import documents such as MS Word, HTML, etc.
  • Do you want to translate the help system to one or more different languages? If so, make sure that your help-authoring tool can support the languages that you want to translate to.
  • Will there be one help system, or multiple; for example Getting started guide, Installation guide, Admin guide, user guide, FAQs, etc.

Create the Help System by Using HTML Help Workshop (Server)

You can create two kinds of Help topics by using HTML Help Workshop:
  • Window-Level Help In the window-level Help, the Help topic appears in a window when you trigger the Help topic. The source of the window-level Help topic is an HTML file.
  • Context-Sensitive Help In the context-sensitive Help, the Help topic appears in a pop-up window when you trigger the Help topic. The source of the context-sensitive Help topic is a text file that contains the content that must appear in the pop-up window for each Help topic.
Help topics are created individually, and then the topics are included in an HTML Help Workshop project. This project is then compiled to create an HTML Help System (*.chm file).

Create Help Topics

You can create a window-level Help topic by creating at least one HTML file for the Help topic. Use Notepad or an HTML editor to create the HTML files. HTML Help Workshop also permits you to create an HTML file. To create an HTML file for the Help topics by using HTML Help Workshop, follow these steps:
  1. Click Start, point to All Programs, and then click HTML Help Workshop.
  2. On the File menu, click New.
  3. In the New dialog box, click Project, and then click OK.
  4. In the New Project dialog box, click Next.
  5. In the New Project -- Destination dialog box, click Browse.
  6. In the Open dialog box, click C: in the Look in list.
  7. Create a new folder that is named TestHelpProject.
  8. In the Open dialog box, select TestHelpProject, and then click Open.
  9. In the File name box, type MyProject, and then click Open.
  10. In the New Project -- Destination dialog box, click Next.
  11. In the New Project -- Existing Files dialog box, click Next.
  12. In the New Project -- Finish dialog box, click Finish.
  13. On the File menu, click New.
  14. In the New dialog box, click HTML File, and then click OK.
  15. In the HTML Title dialog box, type Text Box Help, and then click OK.
  16. Between <BODY> and </BODY>, type This Is the Help Topic for the Text Box, and then click OK.
  17. On the File menu, click Save File.
  18. In the Save As dialog box, double-click C:\TestHelpProject. In the File Name box, type Sample1.htm, and then click Save.
    The Sample1.htm Help file is saved in the C:\TestHelpProject folder.
  19. On the File menu, click New.
  20. In the New dialog box, click HTML File, and then click OK.
  21. In the HTML Title dialog box, type Button Help, and then click OK.
  22. Between <BODY> and </BODY>, type This Is the Help Topic for the Button Control, and then click OK.
  23. On the File menu, click Save File.
  24. In the Save As dialog box, double-click C:\TestHelpProject. In the File Name box, type Sample2.htm, and then click Save.
  25. In HTML Help Workshop, click Add/Remove topic files.
    Note: Add/Remove topic files is the second button down on the Project tab.
  26. In the Topic Files dialog box, click Add, and then locate and add the Sample1.htm file and the Sample2.htm file.

Create Context-Sensitive Help for Each Help Topic

A text file must list the context-sensitive Help for all the support Help topics. You can create the text file by using Notepad and then include the text file in the current project in HTML Help Workshop.

To create the context-sensitive Help file for the Help topics, follow these steps:
  1. Click Start, and then click Run.
  2. In the Open box, type notepad, and then click OK.
  3. Copy the following text, and then paste the text in Notepad:

    .topic 1
    This is a text pop-up window for Text Box Control Help.
    .topic 2
    This is a text pop-up window for Button Control Help.
Note: Each of the Help topic references must start with .topic. The .topic must be followed by a space and then by a number or by a numeric constant. This number must represent the Context ID for the Help topic. The content of the pop-up window for the Help topic is on the next line.

  1. On the File menu, click Save.
  2. In the Save As dialog box, double-click C:\TestHelpProject, type Popuptext.txt in the File Name dialog box, and then click Save.
  3. Close Notepad.

You can also distribute Microsoft html help through Robohelp in the following way:
  1. Distribute the following system Help files to the developer for installation with the program executable (EXE) file or, distribute the files for stand-alone use.
    • CHM A single distributed Help system in a single Help file, in addition to any CHM files for subprojects to the master project. Do not compile these child CHM files into the master CHM.
    • HLP, CNT If the project includes links to topics in a compiled WinHelp file, distribute the HLP and CNT files. Do not compiled into the master CHM file
    • DOC, PDF, XLS If the project includes links to external files, distribute the external files. Do not compile into the master CHM file unless added to the Baggage Files folder.
    Note: Users can run stand-alone Microsoft HTML Help by double-clicking the CHM file in Windows Explorer.

2. The application developer distributes the following support files (The support files distributed depends upon the features used in the project and the version(s) of Microsoft Windows.)
  • Microsoft HTML Help Support Files Built-in components.
  • HHActiveX.DLL is an Adobe ActiveX control that provides support for online glossaries and browse sequences. Install and register the HHActiveX.DLL file on user systems. Copy this file from C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe RoboHelp [version]\RoboHTML into the same folder as the CHM.
  • If the Help system includes third-party ActiveX controls, install and register the component support files for the user systems. Users copy the ActiveX control files into a custom folder, placing the path for the alternate folder before the .ocx or .dll extension, and then register the files.

Note: The Adobe licensing agreement lets you redistribute Microsoft HTML Help and Internet Explorer files with the HTML Help output.




Sources:
"Distribute Microsoft HTML Help." Help.adobe.com. N.p., 24 July 2012. Web. 11 Oct. 2012. <http://help.adobe.com/en_US/robohelp/robohtml/WS5b3ccc516d4fbf351e63e3d11aff59c2a0-7f49.html>

'"How To Create a HTML Help System" 2012. Web 10 Oct. 2012. <http://support.microsoft.com/kb/828419>

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Original Author: Larita Clow
Contributors: Linda Page, Luis Regalado
Editors: Inez Funchess, Tammy Fitzpatrick