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Our software runs only on Windows too and end users don't always have access to the internet, but we opted to go with Web Help instead of CHM. Management here liked the cool things I was able to do with custom skins. We include the Webhelp files right along with the application and they get automatically deployed to each user's computer during the s/w installation/upgrade process. The developers said that the overhead of my giant help system is not a factor (I guess it's relatively small compared to the application itself!).
We haven't implemented context-sensitive help yet (users just press F1 or click Help to launch the whole system), but I would suspect there would be no changes to your internal process. That's just a guess though.
The main trade-off is in updating help files. With a chm on a local hard drive, or WebHelp on a local hard drive, you need to deploy new help file(s) to each desktop.
With WebHelp on a server, you can update once for everyone.
And on the flip side of that coin...
I admire .CHM format for its ability to use the Shortcut control. If I'm describing how to do something and it would be helpful for the user to open Windows Calculator, I can insert a Shortcut that will allow the user to click and actually open Calculator instead of just telling them how to open it.
All good points. Thanks everyone. This is an interesting discussion.
Captiv8r - what is this Shortcut control of which you speak? Are there any examples you could pass on?
Bear in mind that to make webhelp work locally, you will have to select the Mark of the Web when you generate the help, that is what it is there for. It does however seem to prevent PDFs opening from links. May not be an issue for you.
You may also want to note that the contents of HTML Help files are blocked when they're stored on a network drive. If there's any likelihood that your users will be accessing the help remotely then you should consider WebHelp instead, or else be prepared to request that they implement the registry changes described here:
Switching between HTML Help and WebHelp will require changes in the application code because the methods for calling the two types of help are different. See the online help for RoboHelp for code samples.
A ShortCut control permits users to open documents or programs that are external to the help file. From the online help for HTML Help Workshop:
"Shortcuts are hotspots that can launch another application, or take the user to a specific dialog box within an application. You can also use shortcuts to activate things like Windows control panels. Use shortcuts to make things easier for novice users, and speed experienced users through complex procedures."
Has anyone tested the shortuct control from a chm on a local hard drive where the primary browser is IE 6 or 7 and security settings are high or medium?
The security settings that you can choose in IE via Tools > Internet Options apply only to files that you access over the Internet or a local intranet. Any files that are already in the "My Computer zone" (in other words, on the local drive) are assumed to be safe, so they're exempt from the IE security settings.
I believe this is why IE lets you change the security settings for four zones (Internet, Local Intranet, Trusted Sites, and Restricted Sites) but not for the My Computer zone. Anyone wanting to disable the functionality in locally stored .chm files would need to dig around in the registry, as described here: