Saturday , June 15 2024
Certainly if you have an older version of RoboHelp that you are using, this is a must-do upgrade.

Software Review: Adobe Technical Communication Suite – Adobe RoboHelp 7 From Adobe Systems

This is the second of a series of four reviews that will cover what is contained in the Adobe Technical Communication Suite. Unlike the Adobe Creative Suite, the Technical Communication Suite is geared for technical communicators, help authors, instructional designers, and training professionals. The suite contains four products: FrameMaker, RoboHelp, Captivate, and Acrobat 3D. The goal of this series it to define what each product does and provide information about what the new version brings to the table.

What do you need to run Adobe RoboHelp 7? You need Windows, an Intel Pentium 4, Windows 2000 SP4, XP SP2 or Vista, 850 MB of hard drive space, and a DVD-ROM drive.

Adobe RoboHelp 7 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 acquired by Adobe Corporation in December 2005 when it acquired Macromedia. When RoboHelp 6 was released in January 2007, it was to less than stellar fanfare. Nine months later, in October 2007, version 7 was released as a major upgrade. It is also included in the November 2007 release of the Technical Communication Suite.

Adobe RoboHelp 7 is an integral part of the Technical Communication Suite. The three core areas of use for RoboHelp are 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); and it also works in concert with Adobe Captivate to create eLearning systems.

With RoboHelp 7 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 many different formats. It even has the ability to let you collaborate with other authors.

So what's new with Adobe RoboHelp 7?

• Unicode Support and Translation Workflow Support – you can now author, edit, and spell check content, topics, tables of content, indexes, and glossaries in multiple languages. RoboHelp 7 supports authoring in 35 languages including Asian and European languages

• Customizable user interface – RoboHelp 7 now lets you create your own unique workspace with personalized toolbars, menus, keyboard shortcuts, and dockable pods that work the way that you want.

• Engaging user experiences – are now capable with the addition of links to text and graphics that allow the user to go to other topics. You can now insert rollover messages, customized pop-up windows, hyperlinks, and image maps. You also have the ability to add breadcrumbs. Within WebHelp and FlashHelp system you can highlight search terms.

• Snippets – allow you to create blocks of reusable HTML content that can be referenced in topics. You can then edit a snippet and all of the changes will be echoed across an entire project.

• User Defined Variables – allow you to define global variables to output custom content that is tailored for specific formats or purposes from the same source project.

• Support for Microsoft Word 2007 and Windows Vista – will allow you to import and export Word 2007 and generate press-ready Adobe PDF files using Word 2007 on Microsoft Vista.

Enhancements include:

• Enhanced support for Adobe FrameMaker 8 – now allows you to import multiple FrameMaker file format types including .fm, .book, .mif, .bk, and .frm at one time. Conditional build tags (CBT) or user defined variables (UDV) can be converted from FrameMaker to RoboHelp format saving a lot of time and effort.

• True code HTML editor with no Kadov tags – finally gets rid of the proprietary tags and allows you to work with HTML directly. While this has little to do with what the user will see, it has everything to do with the ease of use that the author will have. When projects created in prior version of RoboHelp are opened, they will automatically be converted to HTML.

• Improved integration with Adobe Captivate and Robo Screen Capture – will let you insert and edit Adobe Captivate simulations, capture and edit screens, and export images to common file formats from within the authoring environment.

Adobe RoboHelp 7 is definitely a major release over version 6. You now have the ability to open multiple topics at one time. With files open side-by-side you can copy and paste using drag and drop. The Snippets will, over time, save you time by letting you reuse code and shortening development time. They are even exportable for use in different projects.

The support for other languages is also a major new feature as it now allows you to generate your help in these languages. One downside to this is that not all of the languages have their own dictionary and thesaurus which will affect the spell-checking and auto-correct abilities.

Other major enhancements contained in Adobe RoboHelp 7 removal of Kadov tags thereby providing more readable code. Then there are the breadcrumbs that allow the user to more cleanly navigate backward in a topic. Finally there is the multiple tables of content which will allow the author to make different results from the same content. This way you can have one TOC for your printed docs and a different one for your help system.

While it would appear that RoboHelp fell behind the times prior to the acquisition by Adobe, incrementally with version 6 and most definitely with RoboHelp 7, Adobe is righting the ship. Certainly if you have an older version of RoboHelp that you are using, this is a must-do upgrade — a no-brainer.

If you are new to the help authoring market and are looking to make an investment in learning a new tool, the fact is that RoboHelp is the most widely used help authoring tool on the market; you will certainly get a lot of support in learning how to use it. In either case the fact that Adobe released two major versions in a nine-month period says to me that they are in it for the long haul. They have enhanced the product in directions that it hasn't been taken in a long time and because of this I highly recommend this product.

About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.

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