Help System Types

Help types and development tools change frequently, though, as the table below describes, the look and feel of online help types are generally consistent that includes online help systems that are created as a portable document format (PDF) or rich text format (RTF) manuals that are posted online as a separate help module.

Online help systems provide the following:
  • Windows and panes for viewing
  • Tabs for navigation within the help
  • Links to other help topics
  • Dynamic tables of contents
  • Multilevel indexes
  • Full-text search
  • Context-sensitive help
  • Related-topics controls
  • Expanding text
  • Instant accessibility

Online help information meets the following criteria:
  • Can be accessed directly from the software interface via help menu, link or button, or keyboard shortcut;
  • Provides guidance and assistance while completing actual tasks;
  • Provides an immediate answer to user questions.

The table below gives an overview of several help system types. Click the link to view a screen shot of the help tool. Click the "back arrow" to return to this page.
The basic WinHelp window has only one pane, though help authors can produce pop-up and secondary windows. Major help-authoring tools simplify the process of creating non-standard formats.
Help-authoring tools can create the JavaHelp three-pane window format with a content pane, a navigation pane, and a navigation toolbar.
MacHelp is the on-line documentation environment for Macintosh computers. It is an HTML-based help system similar to Windows HTML Help.
Older Linux programs generally provided plain-text help files of a type known as “Man (manual) pages” in Unix. Newer programs, particularly those aimed at a wider audience with diverse technical skill sets and experience, are HTML-based (or XML-based) and often displayed in a browser
Pocket PC Help
New online help systems are evolving with the development of new form factors, e.g., smart phones and tablets. Pocket PC Help is one tool for these newer version online help systems.
Microsoft HTML Help
HTML uses HTML files for source documents and compiles these into a single file. The standard help window has three panes, but the display can be modified by the help author and partially controlled by the user.
Produces HTML output primarily designed to be installed on a website, server or intranet, although it can also be run locally on an end user’s PC.
Flash Help
Produces Flash output primarily designed to be installed on a website, server or intranet although can also be run locally on an end user’s PC.
WebHelp Pro
Basically the same as WebHelp output, but used exclusively when publishing HTML output to the RoboHelp Server application.
FlashHelp Pro
Basically the same as FlashHelp output, but used exclusively when publishing Flash output to the RoboHelp Server application.
AIR Help
A relatively new output type designed for use across different platforms or browsers. AirHelp can be produced in two formats:
  • Locally Installed: Outputs a single .AIR file that is used to install the AIR Help application that contains the help output on the end user’s PC. Also allows users to add comments to the help. Viewed using its own browser.
  • Browser Based: Outputs an array of different files (similar to WebHelp) with an AIR theme and skin. Can be viewed in Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari.
Locally Installed AIR Help has additional functionality over Browser Based AIR Help, although the gap is expected to thin out as the output type is developed in future RoboHelp releases.
On Windows Systems
The main types of help for Windows are provide by Microsoft. Other forms of HTML-based help also run on Windows, such as those displayed in a Web browser.

Adobe Integrated Runtime
Hyper Text Markup Language
Personal Computer
Extensible Markup Language
Click this link for some examples of help system types!Uo2xGmNYQyWIbgcubyeSazl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBVaiQDB_Rd1H6kmuBWtceBJ.jpeg


McAndrew, Colum. "What is the best RoboHelp format for me?". The Robo Colum(n). 13 May 2010. Web. 18 Aug 2012. <>

Siegel, Kevin. “Adobe RoboHelp: Which is Better, FlashHelp or WebHelp?”. I Came, I Saw, I Learned... IconLogic. 15 Dec. 2009. Web. 18 Aug. 2012. <>

Weber, Jean Hollis (2004). Is the Help Helpful?. Frazier (Ed.), Appendix B: Help Types and Tools (pp.185-189), Chapter 1: Planning an Oline Help Project (pp.1-22) Whitefish Bay WI: Hentzenwerke
“Different Help Formats - One Source!”. Easy Help. Web. 18 Aug. 2012. <>

"Types of Online Publications". madcap FLARE. 14 Sept 2010 . Web. 18 Aug 2012. <>

"WebHelp Pro and FlashHelp Pro layouts". Adobe RoboHelp 8. Web. 18 Aug. 2012. <> manpage.png. (823 x 584.png). Google Images. Web. 18 Aug. 2012. chm‑compiled.gif (566 x 341.gif). Google Images. Web. 18 Aug. 2012. contents‑tree.gif (211 × 273.gif). Google Images. Web. 18 Aug. 2012. winhelp‑compiled.gif (434 x 435.gif). Google Images. Web. 18 Aug. 2012. 1.jpg. (622 × 509.jpg). Google Images. Web. 18 Aug. 2012. display_jarzip.gif (600 × 411.gif). Google Images. Web. 18 Aug. 2012. (881 × 692 RoboHelp 8 -- Adobe AirHELP Video.png). Google Images. Web. 18 Aug. 2012. Apple‑help.png (300 × 371 - Figure 8: Sample Apple help system.png). Google Images. Web. 18 Aug 2012.

Original Author: Linda Page
Contributors: Wendy Anderson, Mario Garcia, Larita Clow
Editors: Sandra Ramirez, Mario Garcia