Top 10 Commercial Help Authoring Tools

Features of Help Authoring Tools

All modern Help Authoring Tools have the following features:

  • Single source
  • Multiple output formats
  • WYSIWYG Editor

Single sourcing usually means that you only need to write content once, no need to maintain different copies of text for all output formats.

Output formats usually include:

  • CHM (Microsoft HTML Help) this is the most widespread help file format nowadays. Based on HTML, allows quite wide range of formatting options, hyper links and embedding of images and video.
  • PDF - this format is the most popular format for documents shared on the web, so it is suits very well for "paper" manuals that a user can print or view on his PC
  • Web Help - emerging paradigm of organizing online help. Shares common principles with CHM but instead of storing help file manually it allows to post organized HTMLfiles to the website. This is good for SEO purposes, as well as ease of updating documentation.
  • HLP (WinHelp) - outdated format from Windows 3.1 but still popular in some areas.
  • Other formats (RTF, DOC) may be of use for someone but not widespread.

Some frameworks have their own help systems like:

  • JavaHelp - for Java
  • OracleHelp - for Java and WebHelp
  • QtHelp - for applications created with Qt
  • Adobe Air Help - for Adobe Air
  • Microsoft Help Viewer - modern help system from Microsoft

Nowadays portable ebook readers are widespread so it is also recommended to create documentation in ebook formats:

  • EPUB - supported by the majority of readers
  • MOBI - for Amazon Kindle
  • FB2 - supported by desktop and portable readers

WYSIWYG editor allows you to write comfortably. UI is usually like in MS Word and other text processors alike.

So these are common features of a help authoring tool.

List of Commercial Help Authoring Tools

1. Helpinator, 170-300$, http://www.helpinator.com

CHM, PDF, DocX, RTF, Web Help (jQuery UI and jQuery Mobile), Printed manuals, EPUB/MOBI, JavaHelp, OracleHelp, HelpGUI, QtHelp, WordPress CMS for online documentation and WordPress custom theme builder and static Knowledge Base generator. Supports templates for all formats, has built-in screenshot capture and image annotation tool. Image Library for screenshot management. Supports creation of step-by-step guides explaining complex UI actions. Translation tools and services integration. Source control - compatible storage. Built-in reports and to-do list. Visual Batch Builder allows non-programmers to create Helpinator automation scripts easily in a drag-and-drop way.

It also has a Team Edition and Team Server for:

  1. Easy access rights control for authors
  2. Version control
  3. Setting up documentation formatting and styling rules for entire team
  4. Communication between team members via "Discussions" feature which is also very useful for live reviews of software documentation projects.
  5. Easy software documentation project management with integrated Kanban boards.

Also there's a SaaS version of Team Server called HelpinatorLive that you can pay for on monthly basis and avoid installing any software on your own server.

Helpinator CMS is a new promising TechComm CMS for use with Helpinator.

2. Help & Manual, 350-1300$, http://www.ec-software.com

CHM, PDF, RTF, Web Help, printed manuals. HTML output with different settings. Additional templates pack available. Comes with screenshot capture tool and image editor and printed manuals designer. Integrated source control.

3. HelpSmith, 199$, http://www.helpsmith.com

CHM, PDF, RTF, Web Help, printed manuals. Dynamic styles, good HTML output.

4. HelpCruiser, 125$, http://www.helpcruiser.com

CHM, PDF, RTF, Web Help, printed manuals. No updates since 2009.

5. RoboHelp, 999$, http://www.adobe.com/products/robohelp/

Very complicated and advanced tool. One of the oldest and most popular, intended for creation of high-profile documentation. Very expensive, so suitable only for documenting large software systems.

6. Dr.Explain, 165$, http://www.drexplain.com

CHM, PDF, RTF, Web Help. The main distinguishing feature - ability to capture app windows automatically adding callouts for elements. It makes documenting UI very quick.

7. WinCHM, 129$, http://www.softany.com/winchm/

Originally intended to create CHM help files, now supports all other major formats.

8. HelpScribble, 99$, http://www.helpscribble.com

Poor PDF output (via PDF printer), outdated UI, editor is not so comfortable. But very cheap.

9. HelpStudio, 499$, http://www.innovasys.com

CHM, PDF, RTF, Web help. Good translation support and Visual Studio integration.

10. Doc-To-Help, 750$, http://www.componentone.com/

CHM, PDF, RTF, Web Help. Allows you to write in Ms Word, so you don't have to adapt to another tool.

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