Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Help for web applications (part 2: tools)


This is the second part of the “Help for web applications”. In the first post I explained why you should build an online help for your application, and then I suggested what should be its content.
Now you probably wonder how to do it. What tools are available on the net? Are they free?

Well, first of all you should decide which type of online help you’re going to create. As I said in the first part, I usually start the project using a word processor. This is helpful just to visualise the connections between chapters and sections of your help. If it is complex, you might end up even creating some sort of chart, a picture or a sketch. That could actually be a master plan of your online help, and – depending on its complexity – you might even need it a lot.

Talking about the actual creation of the online help, if you think that a series of html files is the best way, you probably won’t need any other advise (you’ve just finished releasing a beta version of your web application and I bet you don't have problems in creating a bunch of html files!). Use your plan (in this case it will became very handy), and your favourite html editor.

If you want to create a chm file, I suggest using a free help creator like “Shalom Help Maker”.

You can easily write down an Ms Word document (or maybe OpenOffice). It has some advantages, but be aware of the fact that you need to create a standard file, easily viewable by everybody and you might end up with users that do not have Ms Office installed on their computer. In that case you should create a txt file (or a doc file for WordPad), but you won’t be able to create hyperlinks, an index or a glossary.

So if your online help is not too much complicated, you should create a pdf file. In this case, you can use pdfforge which can print any document in pdf. But again if you need to use hyperlinks (or other functionalities) you need another little plug-in: PDF T-Maker.

Now you’ve got more than one possibility. I won't explain in depth the usage of every single tool because all you really need to do is check the links above and try.

Now it’s your turn.

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