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.
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.