Anyone who has developed software knows that the hardest part is the documentation. It doesn't help that many of the tools used to create online help are often fairly expensive -- a real burden when you're working on a tight budget or even no budget at all.
Among HelpMaker's features are full UTF-16 Unicode support (for authoring help files in multiple languages and non-Western text), what-you-see-is-what-you-get-editing, importing and editing existing help files or Word documents, pop-up help topics, manual logging of changes and more. As it is still a work in progress, not all of the features are completely implemented, but it is possible to compile a perfectly suitable help file with it.
When you create a new help file project with HelpMaker, the program steps you through a wizard to establish several basic parameters about the file, including a number of levels for the document's structure (which you can fill in or modify later). If you want to manually add index entries to the help file, you can do that -- and you can have topic entries added automatically as index entries as well.
You can compile the results to 16- or 32-bit Windows Help files, the now-standard HTML Help format, or to the as-yet-unreleased Microsoft Help 2.0 (.HXS format) system. Also included are extensions for a document management system, such as DocsOpen or DM51/Powerdocs . Binaries for both 32- and 64-bit Windows are available, too.
Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter. Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators -- and please share your thoughts as well!
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This was first published in November 2005