Adobe RoboHelp – my wishlist (part one)

RoboHelp 11 review

Adobe RoboHelp has, for two decades, been my Help Authoring Tool (HAT) of choice.

Ah, yes, I remember it well. It was cool, misty morning. I arrived at work early as was my wont, eager to see if the package had arrived in the mail that would unbeknownst to me at the time revolutionise my day-job. Like an excited school boy I installed this ‘new and improved’ software (the new component was “RoboHelp HTML” and the improved component was “RoboHelp for Word”) provided by eHelp Corporation (previously Blue Sky Software). And lo and behold – a tool we technical writers could use that was truly WYSIWYG for developing online help for Windows and the web.

It was a fundamentally brilliant innovation… and year on year, even when acquired by Macromedia, this market-leading application regularly offered major new features and usability enhancements.

When Adobe took over, the significant enhancements continued though at a slower pace and, let’s be honest, sometimes the features they’ve introduced over the last decade are not the ones most of us would really like to see.

We’re now at the point where the reality is there are two extremely sophisticated and powerful applications on the market that offer 90% of the same list of major features for single source, multiple output generation of help, knowledge bases, user guides, and so on. One is slightly easier to use, the other offers more meticulous control but has a slightly more challenging interface.

At Armada we produce help, manuals, and other documentation (as well as e-learning etc.) for a wide range of organisations – from multi-national corporations and governmental departments to small, fledgling companies, and for a variety of industries: technology, health, finance, project management, banking, automotive, and many more. This means that we need to use our HATs in a variety of ways, pushing to the limit their flexibility as well as their usability limit, and therefore I’m confident that my wishlist of features I’d like to see will match those of many other RoboHelp users.

So, what’s in my wishlist? Here are four (well, maybe five!) wishes…

1. Renaming wizard.

Although I try to avoid it, sometimes I need to rename either my RoboHelp project or topics within it. As I point out on the RoboHelp training course I run, this is far from simple. So I have two similar wishes…

Let’s take renaming a RoboHelp project first. It involves two main steps – the xpj file (and its posse of files) and the project title which is often used to filter down to other items: various output files (the WebHelp title, the HTML Help window title, the Word docx file title, etc.), and often the ToC, Index, Glossary files, and more.

» My wish: An option to link the project title to all the items often named with the same name, so that when I rename the project title, RoboHelp prompts me to choose which of all the other items I also want to rename perhaps even including the xpj.

And as for renaming topics: the name of each topic can be found in five ‘places’ – the topic title, the filename, the heading at the start of the topic and the ToC entry, as well potentially all the hyperlinks to that topic. Changing several topic titles in a project can be a painful, laborious exercise.

» My wish: When I rename a topic title, RoboHelp prompts me to choose whether I want to automatically rename the filename, the topic heading and the ToC entry, and then highlights every single hyperlink, one at a time, to see if I need to rename those too.

2. More (and better) Responsive HTML5 layouts.

Responsive HTML5 is growing fast in popularity. In RoboHelp (2015 Edition) Adobe provided two new layouts: Azure Blue and Charcoal Grey. These are fine but frankly there really needs to be more starting points than just these two. There should be another half a dozen (rather like what’s on offer with WebHelp skins), with different colours, a variety of imagery, and – importantly – a top-navigation layout, not just the now slightly old-fashioned tri-pane appearance. Also, of course, offer some more customization options; thank goodness we can now define our own break points, but there’s a lot more precise control that should be added to the user’s customization options within the UI itself.

» My wish: Provide a greater variety of Responsive HTML5 layouts, including some that are not the traditional tri-pane appearance.

3. Editable ribbon.

Opinion is a little divided on the new ribbon. Many like it, and say it brings RoboHelp up to date. Others (me included) point out that because RoboHelp has fantastically flexible pods, the ribbon wasn’t such a crucial UI enhancement. I’d add that there are two ribbon tabs that users will need to switch between in their daily work (Project and Edit), and not a single Home tab, meaning often two clicks not just one. Many programs that employ a ribbon interface have the facility to both customize the quick access toolbar and the ribbon itself. RoboHelp only permits the former (which is a great time-saving feature I totally recommend everyone using).

» My wish: Allow the ribbon to be customized, similar to the customization feature in Microsoft Word.

4. Image thumbnails.

There’s an alternative HAT, ahem, that has a few cool features that RoboHelp doesn’t have. One that I know I really like to use for my help output is inserting screenshots as thumbnail images that expand beautifully when the user clicks on them. It’s great for saving space in help topics and a more friendly option than hiding them within drop-downs.

» My wish: When inserting an image, on the Image properties dialog add a control to be able to insert the image as a thumbnail.

Conclusion

OK, that’s four of my wishlist items for “Adobe RoboHelp (2016 Edition)” – I assume that’s what it’ll be called! I wonder will any of them be included in the next release?!

Have you got your own wishlist for RoboHelp? I’d love to hear your ideas – as I’m sure Adobe would too. Please do reply to this blog with them – thank you.

 

Adobe RoboHelp – my wishlist (part one)

5 thoughts on “Adobe RoboHelp – my wishlist (part one)

  • November 4, 2015 at 12:55 pm
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    Hi David – I’m a bit perplexed over your desire for a “Rename Wizard”. The way you described it seems to suggest you may be unaware of the ability to easily rename a project via File > Rename Project. Where do you see this fail for you that requires manual intervention or cleanup afterward?

    As for linking the title to various things, I find judicious use of the Variables feature helps overcome that issue.

    Likewise, renaming a Topic. Sure, there will be places (such as the Table of Contents) where what is presented isn’t actually renamed. But I believe that actually works in your favor.

    Reply
    • November 4, 2015 at 1:45 pm
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      Hi Rick. Thanks for commenting. I appreciate it.

      On the first point… we often help companies who have a RH project where a name is used consistently as the RH “Project Title”, and also the ToC name (i.e. the pod tab name), the Index name, the Glossary name, the title that appears in the WebHelp title bar, the Word doc title page, and other output titles. Using File > Rename Project doesn’t automatically update all the other references; indeed neither does Project > Project Settings > Project Title.
      Often, of course, you don’t want it to because you deliberately want the WebHelp’s “Title Bar” title to be different, but sometimes as I say we find that a project has all references identical (or nearly identical) and so using both File > Rename Project and Project > Project Settings doesn’t catch all references. That’s why an option to “Rename All Project Title References” that guided users through all of the places it might be used and let users choose what to do would be beneficial. It isn’t needed very often, granted, but non-experienced users often struggle to find all the places where a project’s name might need updating.

      User Defined Variable can indeed be useful, I agree, but they can’t be used everywhere, e.g. the WebHelp’s “Title Bar” title. That said, maybe I and others don’t use Variables as much as we could.

      As for renaming topics, yes there will be occasions when you don’t want the ToC page reference to match. But we find that most RoboHelp users will 99% of the time try to tie the topic’s “Topic Title” with the ToC’s page and the Heading 1 wording at the top of the topic. In addition, one of the really great selling points of RoboHelp (compared with say a leading competitor) is just how easy it is to create topics, hyperlinks and so on. Being able to drag a topic from the ToC or from the Project Manager into a topic to create a hyperlink is great for those users who aren’t RoboHelp experts. But then when a topic needs renaming there could potentially be four “titles” to be renamed, let alone all the hyperlinks previously created. Show Topic Links is good but I envisage a better way.
      My suggestion is an option called “Rename topic” that allows the user to rename the official Topic Title, and then asks whether the other references, e.g. the ToC page and hyperlinks should also be renamed by taking the user one at a time through them. Perhaps this would work similarly to the much improved Find & Replace utility.

      Well, these are Armada’s experiences, anyway. Both directly ourselves and our clients, and also the feedback I receive on RoboHelp training courses from delegates who can’t get to grip with some of RoboHelp’s features or struggle with certain areas – and the renaming of topics and projects is a common bugbear many delegates have.

      With such a powerful and flexible application like RoboHelp, I relaise people will use it in different ways, and it’s good to hear from experienced experts like yourself as well as from novice users to find out how it’s being used and what usability improvements and feature gaps people can see … especially when I can pick up a useful tip or two myself … so more comments most welcome! Thanks!

      Reply
  • November 4, 2015 at 7:52 pm
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    There are some sites out there – http://www.wvanweelden.eu being one – that has some Responsive layouts. Some you have to pay for, but therein lies the problem. They can be time consuming to create or customise to your requirements.

    Reply
    • November 5, 2015 at 10:40 am
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      Hi Colum.

      This is a good point, thanks – there are some people/sites where additional Responsive layouts are available, but yes most come at a cost. The option on the “New Screen Layout” dialog called “Check for new screen layouts” takes users to a site where currently only the two pre-installed layouts are available for download.

      I do honestly think that it would help with the uptake of RH’s Responsive HTML5 output, and convince potential users (or those considering switching to MadCap Flare) that Adobe are taking Responsive HTML5 output seriously if there were 9 or 10 good pre-installed layouts available. After all, there have been at least that many WebHelp skins users can use as a starting point for their customized skin design for a decade or more – which I know from the feedback I’ve received that for new RoboHelp users has proved a wonderful feature.

      It seems to me that, along with adding some more user controls to the “Layout Customization” dialog, it would be of great benefit and very good for their marketing for Adobe to provide another half a dozen ore more Responsive layouts of wide variety.

      Reply
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