Help and Manual: the little help authoring tool that could

By February 2, 2011 February 27th, 2016 General

When it comes to help authoring tools, packages like Adobe Robohelp and Madcap Flare quickly come to mind. But there’s another option lurking in the shadows called Help and Manual. You can think of it as Robohelp and Flare’s little—but just as capable—cousin.

I’ve finally had a chance to really dig into Help and Manual (H&M) and let me say I’m very impressed. The first thing you’ll notice about H&M is that it’s extremely easy to use and very user friendly. You can tell that the developers have done extensive usability testing, because everything is exactly where you’d expect it to be. The user interface is organized into 5 simple tabs in the ribbon bar, and all of the functionality zips along extremely fast. Heavier processes like publishing output, seem like they take a fraction of the time of other tools. The editor looks and feels very similar to that of MS word, but without the bugs and clunkyness. The help is also well written and comes up in a simple to use .CHM.

Generating PDF’s is an absolute joy. H&M provides a default template which you can easily customize using its Manual Designer. This template includes all of the elements you could want in a PDF document (ie: TOC, section pages etc), which you can then modify or subtract as you see fit. This gives you a good starting point without the ramp up time.

There are a few small things I don’t like about H&M:

• there is no support for glossaries
• table creation is weak. There is no way to set individual cell borders, and locking down the size of a table involves some trial and error with the settings.
• the underlying topic files cannot be renamed from within H&M. To do this, you have to basically delete the file from the project, rename it in explorer and then re-add it; always a dicy operation.
• TOC entries are difficult to move around and the only way to move a topic from child to sibling is to cut and paste it (which took quite a while to figure out)

Annoyances aside, this tool is worth having a look at for your next software help project.

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