Adobe RoboHelp 2015 Review – have we reached the Responsive HTML5 Help Tipping Point?

RoboHelp 11 review

So, what are the major new features in Adobe RoboHelp (2015 Release)?

  • First thing you notice is there’s now a ribbon, great for those who love ribbons or thought that pods + menus + toolbars + shortcuts + right-clicks wasn’t enough.
  • There are notable improvements to the Responsive HTML5 Help
  • There’s also something called Dynamic Filtering (to cater for a situation where you have a variety of end-users, each wanting to see only portions of the help output, and switch between those portions on-the-fly).
  • And, err, that’s about it. Yes, there are a few features that might indeed be very useful for some, such as right-to-left language support, but not for the majority. The totality of all the updates is reasonable, but I fear that for most technical authors deciding which help development tool to purchase there’s nothing that will make Adobe RoboHelp (2015 Release) leap off the shelf.

Out of the improvements, I think those to Responsive HTML5 Help are worth investigating further in this article, as potentially they might entice potential upgraders to splash the cash. Indeed, let’s examine whether, for RoboHelp 10 or RoboHelp 11 users who currently produce WebHelp, it’s worth them switching to Responsive HTML5 Help as the preferred output option.

Before that let me just say that in my opinion over the last few RoboHelp releases Adobe has focussed too much on making RoboHelp increasingly consistent and compatible with FrameMaker and other Adobe products. I do see the benefits of consistency between products (well I’m a technical writer, after all, so I would) but I’d have preferred Adobe to put more into genuinely innovative or improved RoboHelp features that are purely designed for help authors. The name “Adobe RoboHelp (2015 Release)” to tie in with some of the other products in the Technical Communication Suite, is an indication of this.

Responsive HTML5 enhancements

In case you’re not familiar with what Responsive HTML5 Help is – it’s a way of producing a single output from RoboHelp that is viewed in a standard internet browser application that will automatically adjust to the size of the window (e.g. desktop / tablet / phone) in order to maximize the viewing experience of the user. It does this by cleverly hiding or showing navigational (and other) elements depending on the browser window width, e.g. on a smartphone most navigational items are hidden behind icons (so only the topic is shown), whereas on a large desktop computer display all items are available all of the time. This image illustrates the three layouts:

The three responsive layouts produced by RoboHelp 2015

Increased screen layout flexibility

A Responsive HTML5 screen layout may be thought of as the equivalent to a WebHelp skin. It lets you control the appearance and some functionality of the top bar and navigation pane. In particular you can now:

  • Adjust the breakpoints. Breakpoints are the screen width settings that tell the internet browser to switch between the different layouts – i.e. the points when reducing the window width where desktop layout should change to tablet layout and then tablet layout should change to phone layout. In RoboHelp 11 these were hard-coded and not possible to adjust within RoboHelp, and for our purposes at Armada were set at the wrong values. We had to go and fix the code behind the scenes. Thankfully now these are editable for each skin using two fields Phone maximum width and Tablet maximum width.
  • Have more precise control over the elements that appear in the views for phone, tablet and desktop.
  • Add integrated links to social media – Facebook and Twitter buttons.
  • Decide which items to include in the navigation pane – the TOC, Index, Glossary, Filter. This is important for those projects that don’t need all of the options, and is very welcome.

Enhanced search functionality

The way the search results were displayed in RoboHelp 11’s Responsive HTML5 Help output was, too be honest, a little clumsy. This has been improved in RoboHelp (2015 Release):

  • You can make the topic text preview more meaningful. In RoboHelp 11 the text would be the first several words of the topic, often far from ideal, as it usually duplicated the topic title. Now, you can instead type a phrase as a Topic Comment and use that to be the words shown in the preview topic text.
  • You can choose to make search appear either in the content or topic panes. I was disappointed that users had their topic replaced by searched results in RoboHelp 11, so for me this is a notable enhancement.
  • Instead of displaying the filename and path of each topic found, RoboHelp (2015 Release) now shows the breadcrumb path.

Additional layouts (skins)

The two RoboHelp 11’s Responsive HTML5 Help’s layouts (skins) were OK, but frankly a bit too similar and couldn’t be adjusted sufficiently in RoboHelp, unlike the adaptability of WebHelp.

The good news is that RoboHelp (2015 Release) comes with two new layouts – named Charcoal Grey and Azure Blue… and these are definitely better than the ‘varieties of black’ layouts available in RoboHelp 11. That said, it’s a little disappointing Adobe couldn’t have provided several more to give us a variety of options for our layout development starting point.

Anything else?

Well, yes. The Responsive HTML5 output now has (according to Adobe) a loading time reduction of about 50%, file size saving of about 20kb per topic, and will maintain the TOC state and allow you to open multiple books.

The end result – significantly improved user experience with Responsive HTML5 Help.

Conclusion

So, have we reached the time for most web-based help developers to switch from WebHelp to Responsive HTML5 Help? My opinion… For those who would really benefit from their help being accessible on phones as well as computers, then definitely yes, go for it! For those whose help systems need to run on small laptops (perhaps tablets) and desktops, then we’re right on the cusp – it still sadly lacks some of the WebHelp features and customization options, but it is certainly worth close investigation… I suggest you try it for yourself.

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Are the enhancements in Adobe RoboHelp (2015 Release) great for you? Is Responsive HTML5 Help going to be your preferred output type?

 

Adobe RoboHelp 2015 Review – have we reached the Responsive HTML5 Help Tipping Point?

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