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I'm sure folks on this forum could offer loads of advice on most of those tools but it may not be particularly constructive You may do better to post to a non-RH specific forum like the HATT (Help Authoring Tools and Techniques) forum or refering to the matrix that compares different help authoring tools.
As far as add on products, you can look at Zoom Search. There is a good article on Peter Grainge's site that covers how this helps and how it integrates with RH. Other than that you may want to think of screen capture tools (e.g. Snagit) although RH has its own inbuilt capture tool. A find and replace tool (e.g. FAR or BkReplaEm) can also prove invaluable.
Hope this helps.
I agree with Colum about ZoomSearch. We have 12 copies of x5 and we recently bought one copy of RH 7. The RoboHelp default search hasn't changed in 7 (leaves a lot to be desired), so you need an add-on. One of the great things about ZoomSearch is the ability to program synonyms into your search. For example, you can tell it that "deductions=contributions, debit, withdrawal" or "money=funds" so that it will display more topics in the results and help users who may be unfamiliar with how certain terms are used in the application you are supporting. I've even used it to "cheat" on the search when clients have stated, "I typed in "xyz", but it doesn't come up in the search." I add a synonym for "xyz" and it usually fixes the problem. Support for ZoomSearch is very good. They've always gotten back to me within a day (e-mail) and I've been impressed with the amount of analysis that they've spent on the few issues I've had (very few issues). Peter's instructions are excellent.
As for a screen capture program, I have both Snag-it and FullShot. Both are good, but I prefer FullShot. It might cost a little more than Snag-it ($79 for one Professional edition license versus $50 for Snag-it), but I think it's easier to use (www.inbit.com), probably because you don't have to change your capture setup as much as it seems you do for Snag-it. FullShot also comes in bundles of 5 licenses, which works out to about $45 each. I've used FullShot for about 8 years and I use it at home.
I don't know anything about FAR, but I've heard good things.
We also use ZOOM Search, perhaps differently than some. Since we needed to disable areas from being indexed (H1, which repeats the title in the description, navigation links, etc.), and since <!--ZOOMSTOP--> and <!--ZOOMRESTART--> get removed each time you generate, we run it against the source files instead of the output.
We love SnagIt's callout bubbles on screenshots.
FAR is absolutely the BOMB! You can even create batch files (*.FarRun files) that might include multiple passes through the same directory (lowercasing, adding or deleting text strings, etc.). A tool like this is essential because the RH replace tool only finds and replaces text strings on a single line.
Zenu is great for link checking WebHelp (especially a large merged WebHelp project such as ours).
ExamDiff Pro is great for comparing directories and files.
As to HATs, if I were forced to switch from RH, I'd go with Help & Manual. My boss and I were impressed with how far they've come when we downloaded a trial last year.
If you're an experienced RoboHelp user and happy with the output that you're getting with it then I would question the benefit of switching to another help authoring tool. This may be necessary in some circumstances —- for example, if you need to output your help content in a format that RoboHelp does not support, such as Microsoft Help 2.0 -— but for the most part the time and effort required to learn the new tool and convert your existing content for use with it will outweigh the benefits of switching to it.
Here are a few notes on the tools you listed.
> Help Generator
> HelpConsole 2008
> Macrobject Word-2-CHM
> Macrobject Word-2-Web
I see little or no mention of these tools in any of the Help-related forums that I frequent. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, of course, but I believe it indicates that few professional help authors are using them. I'd expect the cheaper of these tools to provide few or no editing facilities, and in some cases they may be designed to perform a single, very specific function, such as compiling a set of existing HTML files into a .chm file.
This is an excellent tool for performing search-and-replace operations across a set of HTML files and compiling them into a .chm file or Help 2.0 file. It provides no facilities for creating and maintaining your topic content, however, so you should really only view it as a potentially useful add-on to RoboHelp.
This is like WebWorks Publisher (not on your list): an application that takes source content authored with Adobe FrameMaker and converts it into a number of different help formats. If you've already authored a lot of content with RoboHelp then moving it into FrameMaker and setting up the Mif2Go or WebWorks templates appropriately could be a big undertaking.
> HyperText Studio
This was up-and-coming five or ten years ago but, for whatever reason, it seems to have dropped completely from view (though I'm aware that it is still for sale).
This is a quite heavy-duty application that appears to be more popular with software developers than with full-time help authors. A "lite" version is now being given away with Visual Studio.
> Help & Manual
> MadCap Flare
These are all significant players. I've used AuthorIT only and, while it's certainly a powerful tool, the learning curve is quite steep.
You can read detailed reviews of many of these applications at the Writers UA site ( http://www.writersua.com).
Very good information. Thank you so much for taking the time to reply.
I am happy with "most" parts of RoboHelp - all except file sizes and even more importantly, past that learning curve and in "SME" mode. Nevertheless, I have to complete the comparision, even if we don't make a switch until 2010.
To Cindi and Jim regarding Synonyms.
I am a fan of Zoom Search as well. However, it should be noted that there is a "hidden" Synonym functionality in RoboHelp 7 that is rarely noticed unless you read the docs.
You will find an explanation of this in a short Adobe Captivate movie here:
Synonyms, Search Highlighting, and Breadcrumb Navigation
There is a whole list of Adobe Captivate Tutorials often missed here:
Adobe RoboHelp Tutorials using Adobe Captivate videos
There is a handy tutorial here as well:
Adobe RoboHelp 7 Reviewer's Guide
Hope this helps
Spent a good deal of time evaluating Madcap Flare. It's a top notch XML based product. If you are writing help for a VB.net app then Flare is definately worth a look. Help files can be fully integrated into a VB.net application. In the end we stuck with RoboHelp because it is HTML based and can be easily edited in Dreamweaver.