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?As a computer programmer you have probably tried many help authoring tools - from primitive programs to complex and expensive systems. This article is dedicated to HelpSmith, my favorite help authoring tool, which really takes the process of help file creation to a new level. Let's take a look at the main possibilities of this great tool. Make CHM HTML Help Files With HelpSmith, you can easily create HTML Help files. Due to the WYSIWYG principle, HelpSmith provides you with a powerful word processor with integrated dynamic styles support and the live spell checker feature. So the process of working on a help system simply gets to a new quality level. You can use images, create full-featured tables, insert hyperlinks, bookmarks, and so on. Finally, being a complete help authoring solution, HelpSmith makes it possible to create the Table of Contents and the keyword Index for your help file in seconds due to the built-in editors with drag'n'drop functionality. Create Browser-Based Web Help by Reusing Your Help Topics and Other Data You can build Web Help by exporting all the information from your source project into a series of HTML files: click the "Create Web Help" command on the "Project" menu or click the corresponding button on the toolbar (which is similar to when you export your help project into other help formats) and HelpSmith will prepare all the necessary files. A browser-based help system powered with HelpSmith includes a collapsible Table of Contents (which works just like the TOC in HTML Help), an alphabetical Index, and the Search feature. Then you should put all the files of your Web Help system to your web server or simply copy them to a public folder if you need to provide access for other people in your corporate network. Make Printable Documentation You can use HelpSmith to supply technical documentation both in the electronic and printed formats. Using HelpSmith, you can see all the results as they are before the final version of the documentation is compiled or printed out. You can print out the manual directly from HelpSmith; or you can export the manual into Word or any other text editor, for example, to demonstrate it to your clients who may not have HelpSmith installed on their computer. Save Your Time by Using Dynamic Styles Described above, HelpSmith's dynamic styles is a unique but must-have feature for any help authoring tool. Dynamic styles allow you to store all formatting information separately from help topics, which lets you make any changes in formatting at any time with No need to manually process a big number of help topics. Also, with dynamic styles, you won't have to set the same attributes again and again while working on help topics. Image being able to select the part of text and then apply the necessary style to set the required parameters to the selection. Additionally, HelpSmith allows you to specify different views for a particular style (including styles created by the user), so the same style can look differently when the project is compiled into CHM, HTML, or as a Printed Manual. Thus, dynamic styles will save much of your time and significantly speed up the process of writing help files. Manage Graphical and Video Files Effectively as Never Before HelpSmith allows you to use graphics in your help files and provides an advanced way to maintain that multimedia. All media files that you insert into your help project automatically get into a single repository. This makes it possible for you not to waste your time on copying any file from its initial place on your hard disk. In case you need to copy the whole help project to another pc, for ex., in order to make a back-up, all multimedia files are already stored in a single place together with your help project. Another benefit of the single media repository is that you can update any graphical file with NO need to edit all the topics where that media appears. For example, if you have a dialog box that has changes in the new version of your application, you can create a new screenshot and paste it into the repository instead of the obsolete one. In addition, HelpSmith includes an automatic graphical formats converted that can convert bitmaps or WMF/EMF metafiles into a more appropriate graphical format such as GIF or JPEG when you compile your help project into CHM or Web Help, for instance. Concentrate on Writing HelpSmith is an easy-to-use product just like any regular office application we use for our everyday computer activities. So even if you are new to help authoring, you can start writing technical documentation without the need to learn anything about technical issues of creating help files. No need to code HTML or even know anything about it. By concentrating on writing with the help of such tools as styles, you will finish your project much faster than it could be done with any other help authoring system. About the Author: Robert Richardson is an independent technical writer and reviewer of help tools such as Dr.Explain, HelpSmith from and others.
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