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Windows Help files - what are the options?

Windows Help files - what are the options?

"Back in the old days, Help was not trivial but possible: generate some funky .rtf file with special tags, run it through a compiler, and you got a WinHelp file (.hlp) that actually works really well.

Then, Microsoft decided that WinHelp was not hip and cool anymore and switched to CHM, up to the point they actually axed WinHelp from Vista.

Now, CHM maybe nice, but everyone that tried to open a .chm file on the Network will know the nice ""Navigation to the webpage was canceled"" screen that is caused by security restrictions.

While there are ways to make CHM work off the network, this is hardly a good choice, because when a user presses the Help Button he wants help and not have to make some funky settings.

Bottom Line: I find CHM absolutely unusable. But with WinHelp not being an option anymore either, I wonder what the alternatives are, especially when it comes to integrate with my Application (i.e. for WinHelp and CHM there are functions that allow you to directly jump to a topic)?

PDF has the disadvantage of requiring the Adobe Reader (or one of the more lightweight ones that not many people use). I could live with that seeing as this is kind of standard nowadays, but can you tell it reliably to jump to a given page/anchor?

HTML files seem to be the best choice, you then just have to deal with different browsers (CSS and stuff).

Edit: I am looking to create my own Help Files. As I am a fan of the ""No Setup, Just Extract and Run"" Philosophy, i had that problem many times in the past because many of my users will run it off the network, which causes exactly this problem.

So i am looking for a more robust and future-proof way to provide help to my users without having to code a different help system for each application i make.

CHM is a really nice format, but that Security Stuff makes it unusable, as a Help system is supposed to provide help to the user, not to generate even more problems."

Asked by: Guest | Views: 42
Total answers/comments: 4
Guest [Entry]

"HTML would be the next best choice, ONLY IF you would serve them from a public web server. If you tried to bundle it with your app, all the files (and images (and stylesheets (and ...) ) ) would make CHM look like a gift from gods.

That said, when actually bundled in the installation package, (instead of being served over the network), I found the CHM files to work nicely.

OTOH, another pitfall about CHM files: Even if you try to open a CHM file on a local disk, you may bump into the security block if you initially downloaded it from somewhere, because the file could be marked as ""came from external source"" when it was obtained."
Guest [Entry]

"I don't like the html option, and actually moved from plain HTML to CHM by compressing and indexing them. Even use them on a handful of non-Windows customers even.
It simply solved the constant little breakage of people putting it on the network (nesting depth limited, strange locking effects), antivirus that died in directories with 30000 html files, and 20 minutes decompression time while installing on an older system, browser safety zones and features, miscalculations of needed space in the installer etc.

And then I don't even include the people that start ""correcting"" them, 3rd party product with faulty ""integration"" attempts etc, complaints about slowliness (browser start-up)

We all had waited years for the problems to go away as OSes and hardware improved, but the problems kept recurring in a bedazzling number of varieties and enough was enough. We found chmlib, and decided we could forever use something based on this as escape with a simple external reader, if the OS provided ones stopped working and switched.

Meanwhile we also have an own compiler, so we are MS free future-proof. That doesn't mean we never will change (solutions with local web-servers seem favourite nowadays), but at least we have a choice."
Guest [Entry]

"Our software is both distributed locally to the clients and served from a network share. We opted for generating both a CHM file and a set of HTML files for serving from the network. Users starting the program locally use the CHM file, and users getting their program served from a network share has to use the HTML files.

We use Help and Manual and can thus easily produce both types of output from the same source project. The HTML files also contain searching capabilities and doesn't require a web server, so though it isn't an optimal solution, works fine.

So far all the single-file types for Windows seems broken in one way or another:

WinHelp - obsoleted
HtmlHelp (CHM) - obsoleted on Vista, doesn't work from network share, other than that works really nice
Microsoft Help 2 (HXS) - this seems to work right up until the point when it doesn't, corrupted indexes or similar, this is used by Visual Studio 2005 and above, as an example"
Guest [Entry]

If you don't want to use an installer and you don't want the user to perform any extra steps to allow CHM files over the network, why not fall back to WinHelp? Vista does not include WinHlp32.exe out of the box, but it is freely available as a download for both Vista and Server 2008.