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Welcome to the forum.
RH allows you to use any other editor you want but at the expense of losing some of its features. Dropdowns are lost. The simple method of creating links is lost. I would avoid using Word as it creates problems with the HTML. By all means use Word as your editor, assuming you want all sorts of problems to deal with when you put the webhelp on the server.
You can create the whole help system using an external editor but like I said, you lose the ease of use.
If your last paragraph means can you open a project from an earlier version into a later version, yes you can. Or are you wanting to start from the CHM itself? If so see the Reverse Engineering topic on my site.
You've put in a link for people to email you but we tend to discourage that except where a behind the scenes exchange is needed to sort out some issues or exchange files. Simply because it prevents others from seeing the answer and learning from it.
Once it is up and running can I have, non-robo help experts, modify the help program as items in the program the help file supports change? Or, does the robo 'guru' receive the changes and republish? In other words, does robo help have to be used to make the changes after the system is up and running? Does that make sense?
As things change in your software, can anyone change the content without using RoboHelp or does RH have to be used, is the question I read.
RH has to be used. The source files and the output files are different to start with and only you have the source. Also only RH must be used to change those source files, for the most part. You can use text editor to make small content changes but generally you need RH.
There are some programs around that allow people to edit website content but that doesn't fit with the source file / target file setup.
I don't think any HAT allows end user or SME editing. There is some stuff on my site about Reviewing and you can use Contribute with some modifications but I doubt that is what you will want.