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HTML Help has been the standard on Windows systems since Windows 98, but with the announcement of "Help 2" by Microsoft in 2001, very little development effort has gone into maintaining HTML Help. (The Help 2 platform never materialized, and Microsoft seems to have basically given up on the idea of providing a general purpose Help development platform.) While HTML Help is still a viable option for delivery on the Windows OS, its use seems to decline every year.

The main strength of HTML Help is that it lets you make use of the flexibility of HTML and JavaScript, and can be significantly extended with ActiveX. HTML Help wraps up your content in a nice neat package with an easy to use interface that has become familiar to users. For simple Help systems it works quite well, but if you are developing a complex Help system, you can run into a number of complications.

WinHelp, introduced with Windows 3.1, has essentially become obsolete. With the introduction of Windows Vista in 2007, WinHelp was no longer supported natively, so any application installed on Windows Vista or later should not use WinHelp as its Help delivery format. However, if you need online Help for an older operating system or have a specific reason to use WinHelp, it may still be a valid choice for some (rare) situations.

Both HTML Help and WinHelp have scripting and macro languages that extend their functionality and provide a level of interactivity (and intelligence) with users. Both Help systems can also be extended with Visual Basic and MFC (C++) plug-ins to provide almost unlimited functionality.

A popular alternative to these compiled Help systems is to provide loose HTML files that are accessed through some type of navigation interface (typically a TOC, Index, and Search). This is often generically called webhelp, although this term was actually trademarked by eHelp (the original creator of RoboHelp, which was later purchased by Adobe). There are numerous advantages to developing this type of Help system often the main one being that it can be platform independent. This type of a Help system can be installed locally, on the user's computer, or on a web server, and accessed over the Internet or an intranet. Most of the popular Help authoring tools offer their own version of "WebHelp," which, depending on the tool can be easily customized for your needs. Depending on your needs, there can be many challenges to setting up this type of Help system and integrating it with your application.

Leximation has considerable experience in customizing and developing HTML-based Help systems, and can help to get you headed in the right direction. We also have experience in developing custom "containers" or interfaces to HTML-based Help systems, from stand-alone to embedded Help systems that are locally installed or accessed over the Internet. We can also help you to select an appropriate search tool for your Help system (or website), or can develop a custom search utility built to your specifications.

If you're looking to create a very custom Help interface, you might consider AIR Help. This Help alternative makes use of Adobe's AIR technology and was initially developed by Leximation in June of 2007. AIR Help was first publicly demonstrated at the 2008 WritersUA conference in Portland, OR. Since that time Adobe has included the ability to create variations of AIR Help through RoboHelp. If you're interested in learning more about this option, give us a call.

With the additional functionality provided by the EPUB 3 specification, Leximation has begun playing with the concept of EPUB Help. Because an EPUB can now (according to the spec) essentially provide a website in a single file deliverable, you can (or may be able to) deliver your content in an EPUB in a form that function like traditional online Help. Complete with vertically scrolling "topics", dynamic content, and navigation features like a TOC, index, search, bookmarks, and previous/next browsing. The one piece that's going to be tough to implement is context sensitivity, but that's really more of a reader issue to take up with the reader developers.

Leximation can provide you with the tools to convert your content into Help. Or, we can do the conversion for you and deliver the completed Help files. Let us analyze your Help system needs and offer an appropriate solution that works in both the short and long term.