8 Replies Latest reply on Jun 29, 2011 9:23 AM by Peter Grainge

    New to RoboHelp... can it do this?

    jrothlander

      I am new to RoboHelp.  Actually, I have never used it.  But I need to know if it can handle what I need to do before I invest in it and spend a lot of time trying to figure it out.  I have read through a lot of introductions, tutorials, product overviews, etc. and they all talk about a lot of features that are really nice.  But what I need is VERY simple.  So it seems to be skipped by all of the tutorials, articles, etc.  So I want to find out if RoboHelp can do what I need, which I assume it can because my needs are simple.  But I also want to get some ideas on how best to approach this.

       

      I have a VERY large application with a custom help system.  I want to convert this to RoboHelp.  By large I mean many applications, many millions of lines of text stored is nearly 10,000 individual help screens.  I assume this is large, but maybe it is not compard to the average these days.

       

      Here's the problem.  If I manually enter the information it will take an estimated 24+ months for a team of 25 to 35 contractors or more at a cost of around $5M just to get the help moved over.  That is not within the budget.  However, I can covert the help screens however I wish.  I can convert them to HTML, CSV, TXT, or whatever else I need to.  But there are tags in them for context-sensitive help.  So when a user clicks help on a screen, the help pops up and positions to that page in the help application.  But that about all there is to it.  The help is very simple, no graphics, no styles or anything.  Just .TXT files and context-sensitive tags.  I know RoboHelp can support those.  But can I create some tagged marked-up version of the current files and use those to load into RoboHelp.

       

      The idea is that if we bring this into RoboHelp we will have a solid base to build on going forward and we can add graphics and more advanced feature as time goes forward.  But the old version is what we have today and we need to get it into RoboHelp and converting the pages one at a time is not an option.  We have to do some work to run a program and convert them to what RoboHelp can import and I REALLY need the context tags to be loaded automatically by RoboHelp if possible.  I cannot spend 12-months going in and adding the tags for the context sensitive help.

       

      Now I know that RoboHelp can import many types of files. So my thought is to find the simplest format that has the context-sensitive tag and run a conversion process to create simple text files and generate whatever RoboHelp needs to import.  But what I do not know is what format that is, if I can get the context-sensitive tags to load into RoboHelp.

       

      If RoboHelp supports this out of the box, that would be great.  But I suspect that I would have to run a conversion process to create a format that RoboHelp can import.  Which is no problem at all.  As long as the format is able to be written out in simple text files, I can do it.  But what format and how do get the context-sensitive help to work/load into RoboHelp?

       

      So any suggestions or thoughts would be much apprecaited.  If you have link with a sample or tutorial, that would be perfect.

       

      Best regards,

      Jon

        • 1. Re: New to RoboHelp... can it do this?
          Peter Grainge Adobe Community Professional

          Picking on key points...

           

          PROJECT SIZE

           

          Assuming the 10,000 individual help screens you refer to are going to translate to 10,000 topics (HTML files) then that is large and above the size I would recommend for an individual RoboHelp project. I would be setting up Merged Help which means you would have several projects but the end user would view them as if they were one. Merged help is described on my site

           

          You have not said what help output you will be creating and that pretty much depends on where it will reside.

          • If local you could use WebHelp but the Chrome browser is beginning to prevent that being an option as it will not display locally installed webhelp. See Snippets on my site for an explanation. The alternatives are CHMs or AIR help. Both can be merged.
          • If on a server, then you need WebHelp or FlashHelp. The former is more robust.

           

          CONVERTING TO ROBOHELP

           

          I am struggling to see where you get your $5M estimate and the need for 24+ months and a team of 25 to 35 contractors. Lets say the workflow is copy/paste the content from one of your screens into a RoboHelp topic and then format it. Say 15 minutes per topic that gives 2500 hours or just over 100 days for one person. The other contractors would be having a wild party so perhaps that's where the cost is going.

           

          Being serious there must be more to the task than you are telling us and maybe that is important to the reply.

           

          IMPORTING HTML

           

          If you can convert the existing content into HTML files that RoboHelp can digest via the Import function, you can import all the files in one folder. That's the theory and I would suggest you do so in batches closing RoboHelp every so often. In Tools > Options tick the option to always clear the cache (the CPD file).

           

          CONTEXT SENSITIVE HELP

           

          You are referring to tags. Do you mean bookmarks? Does your application call topics or specific locations in topics?

           

          RoboHelp can support calls to topics or bookmarks within them. There is information on my site about calling help.

           

          CONSULTANCY


          I wonder if for a project of this size you are going to need some external consultancy? It is not something I offer as I am a full time employee but I may be able to suggest people depending on where you are based.

           


          See www.grainge.org for RoboHelp and Authoring tips

           

          @petergrainge

          • 2. Re: New to RoboHelp... can it do this?
            Willam van Weelden Adobe Community Professional & MVP

            Hi,

             

            In addition to Peter's excellent reply:

             

            IMPORTING HTML

             

            You can use scripting in RoboHelp (8 and 9) to import files. You can also create a script that mass imports HTML files into the project. That can eliminate hours of manual labour.

             

            CONTEXT SENSITIVE HELP

             

            You can use context sensitive help in different ways. (See Peter's site.) You can also use the script function to import context sensitivity along with your topics. For instance, if you add the id of every screen in a HTML meta tag, the script could easily create the correct context sensitive help id's based on the info in that tag.

             

            Greet,

             

            Willam

            • 3. Re: New to RoboHelp... can it do this?
              jrothlander Level 1

              Peter,

               

              Thanks for the reply.  You asked a few questions that I wanted to respond to, to make sure I am on the right page and representing what I am doing correctly.

               

              Jon

               

              Here's the basic idea of what we have.  We are looking at millions of lines of code that make up the text of the help system, about 5K individual files.  I said 10K earlier but that is wrong.  But each of those 5K in files does not translate to one help topic, but to many.  The ones I looked at had about 25 to 50 help topics in each file and it looks like this one is a small one.  When you do the math you come up with much more than 10K in help topics, closer to 80K individual help topics.

               

              Now this help system is for a VERY large system.  The system is divided into logical subsystems.  If this was an accounting program like QuickBooks, it would have modules for HR, AR, GL, etc.  Now the help handles all of those.  But when we convert the help to RoboHelp, each of those will be a different help.  So what we have now doesn't match with what we will have.  We are basically redesigning the structure of the help system.  

               

              So what this means is that a contractor would have to cut in paste about 80,000 individual enteries from 5,000 text based source files into RoboHelp.  Then from there, adjust those with headings, bookmarks (tags?), or whatever else they need, and then remove all of formating lefover from the old system.  There's a lot of special characters and markup tags in the old system.  So those would have be removed.  Then they would do whatever you need to do for the content page, indexing, merging, and other things.

               

              You estimate it would take someone about 15-minutes to do that per help topic.  So if you do the math that is 20,000 hours.  Or roughly 20 full time contractors for a little more than a year, which would run about $2M if we get a good rate.  Or if you did in in-house team you might get away with a little less than $1M.  That is a lot less than $5M, but it is still a considerably large investment.

               

              For about $30K I can just build my own webForm winForm viewer, which was my original plan.  But I am a contractor and when this project is over other people will have to maintain it.  Other people that are not software developers.  So any adjustments in the future would be hard.  I could convert everything over to HTML pretty easily.  That may make it a little easier because they'd just be doing HTML after I leave.  However, I was thinking that if we went with a industry leader like RoboHelp, in the future they'd be able to do pretty much anything we wanted to do. But the difference between $30K and $1M or more is pretty significant.  They will not give me $1M to do it.  They would simply leave it as is or they would ask me to write a custom viewer.  But I think RoboHelp is the right way to go.  I just have to do something to convert and important the files because a manual process is really not an option.

               

              So my next idea is to take the help and convert to HTML, XML, or whatever we need to do to let RoboHelp import this.  Then do a mass important.  We already have the 80K topics organized in 5K files, so we'd just need to organize those into logical groups to create say 100 to 500 individual help files.  Then do a mass conversion into HTML or XML or something else.  Then do a mass important to RoboHelp.

               

              What I have to do is to figure out if it will work, how long it will take, and what the end result will look like.  Adding consultants might be an option, but only if we can do the mass imports.  The consultants would come into play after the mass important to clean up, test, etc.  We would not be able to hire consultants to cut-n-paste in a manual approach.  It would be too costly compared to other options that we have.

              • 4. Re: New to RoboHelp... can it do this?
                jrothlander Level 1

                William,

                 

                Thanks for your reply.

                 

                I can certainly convert these into HTML.  They are simple in structure and basically have lots of paragraphs and meta-tags to indicate bookmarks.  Most of the individual topic entries are between 25 to 50 lines... 2 or 3 paragraphs.  The paragraphs are marked with a tag sort of similar to HTML.  So converting them into something like the following, would be very easy.  I'm not sure what sort of format I need, but I know it would be easy to convert them into HTML.  If from there I can write a script to mass important them into RoboHelp projects or files or whatever they are called, that would certainly work for me.

                 

                Is it possible for me to simply create the RoboHelp file structure directly?  I know that other 3rd party help builders can read and process the RoboHelp files.  Is it possible for me to just create those files directly?  That would avoid having to important them.  But if importing is simple enough and can be scripted for a mass import, it would certainly be easier to import them.

                 

                Best regards,

                Jon

                 

                 

                <html>

                 

                <table<tr><td>

                <bookmark>file1_entry2_id1234</bookmark>

                <p>

                adadas asd fasd fasd fasd fasd f

                asdf asd fasd fasd fasd fasd fas f

                a asdasd fasd f

                </p>

                <p>

                asdasdfasdfasdf

                asfasdfasdasd

                asdfasdfasdf

                asdasdfasdf

                </p>

                </td></tr></table>

                 

                <table<tr><td>

                <bookmark>file1_entry2_id5678</bookmark>

                <p>

                adadas asd fasd fasd fasd fasd f

                asdf asd fasd fasd fasd fasd fas f

                a asdasd fasd f

                </p>

                <p>

                asdasdfasdfasdf

                asfasdfasdasd

                asdfasdfasdf

                asdasdfasdf

                </p>

                </td></tr></table>

                 

                <html>

                 

                Jon

                • 5. Re: New to RoboHelp... can it do this?
                  Jeff_Coatsworth Adobe Community Professional & MVP

                  Cheapest thing I would suggest is downloading the free trial of RH9 and start playing around.

                  • 6. Re: New to RoboHelp... can it do this?
                    jrothlander Level 1

                    It sounds like RoboHelp can do what I need it to do, so I'm downloading the trial and will start playing with it.

                     

                    I'm trying to figure out the scripting options and what type of formats I can import.  I'm hoping XML or HTML is simple enough to setup for the import.

                     

                    Thanks,

                    Jon

                    • 7. Re: New to RoboHelp... can it do this?
                      Willam van Weelden Adobe Community Professional & MVP

                      Hi John,

                       

                      You can certainly create a RoboHelp project by creating al the required project files. This would involve creating quite a few files so the easiest approach may be to generate a single basic project. Then using this basic project as a template in which you add the topics.

                       

                      For the topics, you need to generate the .fpj files. The context sensitivity is stored in the .ali and .h or .hh files. The easiest is probably what Jeff suggested: Download a trial, open one of the supplied projects and poke around in the files generated.

                       

                      Greet,

                       

                      Willam

                      • 8. Re: New to RoboHelp... can it do this?
                        Peter Grainge Adobe Community Professional

                        When you do the math you come up with much more than 10K in help topics, closer to 80K individual help topics.

                         

                        That definitely dictates some form of merged help as I think a single project of that size would be very sluggish. Merged help also has the advantage that you can access child projects standalone where required. Module A of your system could call the entire help system or just the help that covers Module A.

                         

                        When it comes to costs, my point was more that your estimate seemed high and I think we are agreed the original figure was too high. However, with the revised increase in the number of topics it still comes out seriously expensive. Clearly my 15 minutes per topic is a bit of a guess as I have not seen the content.

                         

                        What I am not clear on is your level of knowledge of the mechanics of RoboHelp. Clearly you are skilled in documentation and associated skills but I don't know whether that extends to RoboHelp. My thinking is along the lines of someone with expert knowledge working with you at the beginning to prove the concept works, in other words your skills alongside the RoboHelp expert. The spadework can be done later by more entry level contractors.

                         

                        To do the importing you would normally manually create the folders in RoboHelp and then import the topics. That allows RoboHelp to rewrite the HTML to meet its requirements and also gets the topics into the CPD and other internal files. Willam has indicated you can use scripting for that and as that is his area it should certainly be explored.

                         

                        If you could create something along the lines of what would need to be imported, then perhaps it will be possible to comment further.

                         


                        See www.grainge.org for RoboHelp and Authoring tips

                         

                        @petergrainge