I'm not quite sure how the width settings work. I know that unless the developers include window size, it doesn't matter what you set in Windows properties. Whether their settings then pick up your size setting or their own, I am not sure.
For the nav pane, see RoboWizard's Skinny on Skins.
See www.grainge.org for RoboHelp and Authoring tips
When you say you are sure you have seen this in RoboHelp before, you are likely referring to what you see when you create or manipulate a CHM window.
For WebHelp, there is no ability to configure the width from inside RoboHelp. You should consider submitting a Wish Form to ask for the ability to be factored into the next version.
Helpful and Handy Links
Don't know if you need this... To set the width of the navpane you need to edit whskin_frmset01.htm (in your output).
On line 52 and 87, the width is standard 225. On both lines, simply replace 225 with another number.
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Similar to Willams suggestion,
you can edit the .skn file itself in the !SkinSubFolder! folder, open the .skn file in notepad, on line 13 <frameset cols = "xxx,*"
and line 25 <frameset cols="xxx,*" just replace xxx with the width you want.
All output created with that skin will use that width. You should only have to change it once.
I like your solution better Nick.