Posted on 18 Comments

Robohelp vs Doc-to-Help? Which is best for Online Help?

Robohelp or Doc-to-Help?

My client has given me permission to use whatever tool I want to do the next batch of tech docs — and they’ll buy the software. No cost to me.

Which one should I choose?

Robohelp or Doc-to-Help

Doc-to-Help was the first help authoring tool (HAT) I used in my technical writing career. We’re talking quite a while back now. Since then Robohelp has overtaken it as the tool of choice for technical writers, especially as it’s now owned by Adobe and bundled with its Technical Communications software pack.

For Doc-to-Help

  • I feel this product is under-estimated. Other technical writers (more knowledgeable than me about HATs) recommend it.
  • Opportunity to broaden my skillsets (self-interest here and not to the client’s advantage!)
  • Rapid response from Component 1 (product owners) when I contacted them. Very helpful. Only Techsmith (esp Betsy Weber) were more helpful.

Against Doc-to-Help

  • Price is not cheap
  • Will there be enough qualified Doc-to-Help experts to take over this project when I move on?
  • Does it integrate with other technical writing apps and/or Microsoft Word?
  • Worried about lack of community support, i.e. from other technical writers, if I need help.

For Robohelp

  • Oceans of Doc-to-Help experts to take over this project
  • Part of the Adobe Tech Communication suite. Maybe get discount.
  • Arguably the industry standard
  • Plenty of tutorials online if I get stuck

Against Robohelp

  • Price
  • Concern that there is no real advantage in getting the Tech Communication suite anyway as we (i.e. the client) won’t use it once I’ve left
  • Found the user interface horrible to work with last time. Admittedly, this was four years ago but you know how these things stick.

Another alternative is Madcap Flare.

What do you think?

If you were in my shoes, what would you do?

18 thoughts on “Robohelp vs Doc-to-Help? Which is best for Online Help?

  1. I can't really speak for any other tool than RoboHelp so am biased. The UI has changed drasticly in the last four years to the point where it looks very different. That said it is so customisable that it can look exactly like it used to. The question I'd ask though is what tool would you find easiest to use. If time is an issue, you don't want to have to relrearn how to use a tool. Madcap also has tools that offer similar functionality to the applications in TCS2 albeit without the integration features.

  2. Thanks Colum,

    My feeling right now is to go with RoboHelp as there are so many people I can work with and get some direction from if I get stuck.

    Time is not that critical. I tend to pick up these HATs app fairly quickly but, of course, I have to be somewhat realistic.

    A few people have raved about MadCap so I will add them to the list.

    Thanks again,

    PS – I really enjoy your links on Twitter. Handy isn't it?

    Ivan

  3. I'm casting my vote for MadCap Flare, since I think it takes the best of RoboHelp to the next level. As you may know, MadCap Software is an outgrowth of former employees who worked on eHelp and, later, RoboHelp before the Macromedia and Adobe mergers/acquisitions. The folks at MadCap are super-friendly and flexible with pricing, especially if you are moving from a legacy tool, such as RoboHelp or Frame. Each subsequent release of Flare adds more features geared towards usability of both their product and the output formats. While RoboHelp 8's interface looks/feels more like other Adobe products (such as Photoshop), I still find it to be cumbersome and prone to crash. Flare is definitely worth throwing into the mix as part of your final evaluation.

  4. Hi Scott,

    Thanks for that. The people at Flare must be doing something right because I'm getting lots of rave reviews for TWs about it. Bit like the way people speak of Techsmith.

    Will download the latest trial version tonight and give it a workout on Friday.

    Know what you mean about the RH interface. It's terrible the way Adobe are trying to streamline all the apps UIs like this.

    Frame is a horror story. You'd think they'd get in some UI people and sort it out.

    Thanks again.

    Ivan

  5. I can't really speak for any other tool than RoboHelp so am biased. The UI has changed drasticly in the last four years to the point where it looks very different. That said it is so customisable that it can look exactly like it used to. The question I'd ask though is what tool would you find easiest to use. If time is an issue, you don't want to have to relrearn how to use a tool. Madcap also has tools that offer similar functionality to the applications in TCS2 albeit without the integration features.

  6. Thanks Colum,

    My feeling right now is to go with RoboHelp as there are so many people I can work with and get some direction from if I get stuck.

    Time is not that critical. I tend to pick up these HATs app fairly quickly but, of course, I have to be somewhat realistic.

    A few people have raved about MadCap so I will add them to the list.

    Thanks again,

    PS – I really enjoy your links on Twitter. Handy isn't it?

    Ivan

  7. I'm casting my vote for MadCap Flare, since I think it takes the best of RoboHelp to the next level. As you may know, MadCap Software is an outgrowth of former employees who worked on eHelp and, later, RoboHelp before the Macromedia and Adobe mergers/acquisitions. The folks at MadCap are super-friendly and flexible with pricing, especially if you are moving from a legacy tool, such as RoboHelp or Frame. Each subsequent release of Flare adds more features geared towards usability of both their product and the output formats. While RoboHelp 8's interface looks/feels more like other Adobe products (such as Photoshop), I still find it to be cumbersome and prone to crash. Flare is definitely worth throwing into the mix as part of your final evaluation.

  8. Hi Scott,

    Thanks for that. The people at Flare must be doing something right because I'm getting lots of rave reviews for TWs about it. Bit like the way people speak of Techsmith.

    Will download the latest trial version tonight and give it a workout on Friday.

    Know what you mean about the RH interface. It's terrible the way Adobe are trying to streamline all the apps UIs like this.

    Frame is a horror story. You'd think they'd get in some UI people and sort it out.

    Thanks again.

    Ivan

  9. I know what you mean about the Adobe UI but think about the help. You'll need to if you are using a new tool. The help for FM9, RH8 and the other TCS2 apps use an Adobe Air application that has its pluses and minuses. On the up side it allows you to interact with the content adding comments and link out to websites, blogs, etc. Very useful for getting actual working examples of how a feature is used. On the downside it looks VERY different from the actual output produced by FM or RH. It also is rather poor in certain areas, especially in some of the new integration features offered by TCS2. It is a widely held view that the RH help should be a special case and NOT follow the corporate Adobe look and feel.

  10. Hi Colum,

    <It is a widely held view that the RH help should be a special case and NOT follow the corporate Adobe look and feel.

    Agree completely.

    Not that I care too much about the branding and what not, but trying to use the actual app can be difficult if it’s hindered by the UI restrictions.

    You think they’d ask the end users (i.e. the technical writers) what they’re looking for before going away and designing these things.

    I worked in usability / market research in another lifetime and it was a real eye-opener to see how political it could get, i.e. how stats, polls, results were skewered to get the result the most dominant team wanted to get approved.

    Some of the decision-making beggared belief.

    Off to download Flare now and then Doc to Help…

    Thanks for all the input. This post seems to have struck a chord.

    Regards,

    Ivan

  11. I know what you mean about the Adobe UI but think about the help. You'll need to if you are using a new tool. The help for FM9, RH8 and the other TCS2 apps use an Adobe Air application that has its pluses and minuses. On the up side it allows you to interact with the content adding comments and link out to websites, blogs, etc. Very useful for getting actual working examples of how a feature is used. On the downside it looks VERY different from the actual output produced by FM or RH. It also is rather poor in certain areas, especially in some of the new integration features offered by TCS2. It is a widely held view that the RH help should be a special case and NOT follow the corporate Adobe look and feel.

  12. Hi Colum,

    <It is a widely held view that the RH help should be a special case and NOT follow the corporate Adobe look and feel.

    Agree completely.

    Not that I care too much about the branding and what not, but trying to use the actual app can be difficult if it’s hindered by the UI restrictions.

    You think they’d ask the end users (i.e. the technical writers) what they’re looking for before going away and designing these things.

    I worked in usability / market research in another lifetime and it was a real eye-opener to see how political it could get, i.e. how stats, polls, results were skewered to get the result the most dominant team wanted to get approved.

    Some of the decision-making beggared belief.

    Off to download Flare now and then Doc to Help…

    Thanks for all the input. This post seems to have struck a chord.

    Regards,

    Ivan

  13. Not to take things on a whole different tangent, but what your thoughts on AIR Help? This probably lends itself to a separate post, which would likely spill into a larger discussion.

    I have trouble with making users install an application on their computer in order to receive help. And I don't just mean Adobe AIR — since *some* users may have it installed, and someday it may become as ubiquitous as Acrobat Reader or Flash — but AIR Help itself is an application. Even if you package both AIR and AIR Help with your application (if the latter is even possible), what happens when you create an update? It seems like this would need to be streamlined with a product update as well.

    There doesn't seem to be a strong standard to replace HTML Help (as a locally installed file), though I'm a huge fan of online help (particularly WebHelp). What's interesting about WebHelp is that with a product like MadCap Flare, when used in conjunction with MadCap Feedback, can produce the Web 2.0 user community feature through comments and the generation of user data.

    Again, sorry to bring things elsewhere with this (and not to single out and blast Adobe), but Colum raised an important point that I'd love to see fleshed out further by technical writers and their perspective on new help formats, such as AIR Help.

  14. Not to take things on a whole different tangent, but what your thoughts on AIR Help? This probably lends itself to a separate post, which would likely spill into a larger discussion.

    I have trouble with making users install an application on their computer in order to receive help. And I don't just mean Adobe AIR — since *some* users may have it installed, and someday it may become as ubiquitous as Acrobat Reader or Flash — but AIR Help itself is an application. Even if you package both AIR and AIR Help with your application (if the latter is even possible), what happens when you create an update? It seems like this would need to be streamlined with a product update as well.

    There doesn't seem to be a strong standard to replace HTML Help (as a locally installed file), though I'm a huge fan of online help (particularly WebHelp). What's interesting about WebHelp is that with a product like MadCap Flare, when used in conjunction with MadCap Feedback, can produce the Web 2.0 user community feature through comments and the generation of user data.

    Again, sorry to bring things elsewhere with this (and not to single out and blast Adobe), but Colum raised an important point that I'd love to see fleshed out further by technical writers and their perspective on new help formats, such as AIR Help.

  15. I'm an exprienced D-2-H user, but don't know RH that well.
    You shouldn't worry about whether there will be enough qualified Doc-to-Help experts to take over when you move on. From my experience, D-2-H is an easy tool, it didn't take me more than a couple of weeks to learn to use it well. Also, the company provides a good support if problems arise.
    To adress another of your questions, D-2-H integrates well with other technical writing apps and it certainly does intergrate with Microsoft Word. I produce my docs in Word and then build the projects in D-2-H and it works fine.

  16. I'm an exprienced D-2-H user, but don't know RH that well.
    You shouldn't worry about whether there will be enough qualified Doc-to-Help experts to take over when you move on. From my experience, D-2-H is an easy tool, it didn't take me more than a couple of weeks to learn to use it well. Also, the company provides a good support if problems arise.
    To adress another of your questions, D-2-H integrates well with other technical writing apps and it certainly does intergrate with Microsoft Word. I produce my docs in Word and then build the projects in D-2-H and it works fine.

  17. Thanks Liz,
    We’re finding it hard to recruit Doc to Help people in the UK right now, which is making my client a bit concerned.
    She wants to push for Adobe as she knows the brand and feels it will be less expensive in the long run.
    Costs are a major issue right now.
    Ivan

  18. Thanks Liz,
    We’re finding it hard to recruit Doc to Help people in the UK right now, which is making my client a bit concerned.
    She wants to push for Adobe as she knows the brand and feels it will be less expensive in the long run.
    Costs are a major issue right now.
    Ivan

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