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Software Review: Adobe Technical Communication Suite 2 – RoboHelp 8 From Adobe Systems

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This is the second of a series reviews that will cover what is contained in the Adobe Technical Communication Suite 2. Unlike the Adobe Creative Suite, the Technical Communications Suite is geared for technical communicators, help authors, instructional designers and training professionals. The suite contains five products; FrameMaker 9, RoboHelp 8, Captivate 4, Photoshop CS4 and Acrobat Pro Extended. The goal of this series it to define what each product does and provide information of what the new version brings to the table. Please note that some of these products have been reviewed in other suites and I have provided the links above.

First, let me provide an overview about the Technical Communication Suite 2 in general. This suite is meant to be an end-to-end solution for authoring, reviewing, managing, and publishing technical information and training content. Through the use of interactive 3D models, rich media, multilayered images, demonstrations, and embedded SWF movies, you can create and maintain technical documentation, user assistances programs, knowledge bases, simulations, software demonstrations, and much more.

RoboHelp 8What do you need to run Adobe RoboHelp 8?

• 1.0GHz or faster processor.
• Microsoft® Windows® XP with Service Pack 2 (Service Pack 3 recommended) or Windows Vista® with Service Pack 1 (certified for 32-bit editions).
• 512MB of RAM (1GB recommended).
• 1.2GB of available hard-disk space.
• DVD-ROM drive.
• 1,024×768 screen resolution

Adobe RoboHelp 8 is a help authoring tool that was originally developed by eHelp Corporation in 1991 and was acquired by Macromedia in October of 2003. It was then acquired by Adobe Corporation in December, 2005. When RoboHelp 7 was released in October, 2007 it was a major upgrade for the product and included as part of the Technical Communications Suite.

Adobe RoboHelp 8 is an integral part of the Technical Communications Suite. The three core areas of use for RoboHelp is for online help for applications; used for both desktop and web based applications. Free standing knowledge bases – this being useful for policies and procedures, user manuals, call center, and help desk support. Finally it also works in concert with Adobe Captivate to create eLearning systems.

With RoboHelp you can create content from existing projects or import content from HTML, XML, Adobe PDF, FrameMaker or Microsoft Word documents. RoboHelp splits properly tagged information into help topics and keeps existing tables of contents, indexes, and glossaries. It has wizards and topic templates to help you build help systems more quickly. It has single sourcing output so that you can author once and publish to different formats. It even has the ability to let you collaborate with other contributors.

RoboHelp 8So what's new with Adobe RoboHelp 8?

• Adobe AIR – now allows you to publish your help system as an Adobe AIR application with support for adding tabs, favorites, new templates, and auto generated mini table of contents. This provides you with many new ways for users to find information as well as add and share comments in a system that is always up to date. Authors can generate this AIR application and package it for easy deployment.

• Powerful Search Engine – gives you enhanced search results with ranking, wildcard, metadata, and multiple language results. Search results are ranked by relevance with the initial text of the topic for content, search highlighting, a synonym editor and a keyword search that can be defined to help the user find what they are looking for. Another feature is that Adobe PDF's and Microsoft Office documents can be searched as well.

• Enhanced Printed Document options – give you the ability to map your online output styles to the printed versions in Microsoft Word and Adobe PDF. You have the ability to use MS Word Templates or Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)

• Breadcrumbs and mini TOC – provide the ability to customize the home page name, separators, and add labels. Now breadcrumbs can appear in topics that are not in the main table-of-contents (TOC). A mini TOC can be added with placeholders on a topic basis or with master pages.

• Improved Glossary – which are edited are automatically updated in glossary hotspot links. This makes it even easier to make sure that your users have all the needed information at their fingertips.

• Merged Help implementation – lets RoboHelp authors to break up content into logical subsets as individual projects. Then at runtime, the projects are automatically merged into a single Contents/Index/Search that is much more seamless to the user. It gives you a visually intuitive way to merge child projects which become part of a master TOC.

• Twisties – give you the ability to layer information and help the user avoid scrolling in long topics. You can now add graphical clues to alert the user that a dropdown hotspot may be expanded to reveal more information

• XHTML standards and support – implements full support for XHTML standard including the ability to check your content for World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) compliance.

RoboHelp 8RoboHelp 8, as was RoboHelp 7, is a significant upgrade. Whereas the former was more about updating the interface and how the user works with the program, this release is more about creating a more productive work environment. By adding the ability to link to not only FrameMaker, but now Microsoft Word to RoboHelp projects, you gain more options for your workflow.

I liked especially what the integration with Adobe AIR brings to the table and the ability for users to share comments. They have also improved their help system considerably. Which is only fitting since one of this program's functions is as a help generation program. It is now in line with other Adobe products and is displayed in the Adobe Help Viewer which is also based on AIR technology.

The other big feature, at least from the point of view of the generated help file's end user, is the improved search capabilities in WebHelp, Adobe AIR Help, and FlashHelp. The ranking of the search results as well as the substring searches will greatly enhance your user's experience. All together, this is a must have upgrade and one I highly recommend.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.
  • http://secondchancecheckingbanks.net/ Second Chance Checking

    Now that I read the requirements reiterated from your article, does having only 512 mb of ram really make a big difference? My computer has 512MB and it runs quite slow with TCS running.

  • Mike Johnson k7rvx@yahoo.com

    I added a gig of RAM to my laptop the other day. Just about everything runs faster.