Help files

Least favorite job.
Which is one reason why people say the help didnt help… :wink:

What do people use to create online help and/or printed manuals?
Right now Im duplicating effort between a web-based system that isnt very searchable, and a printed manual that I cant generate from the web pages.

Im looking for something I can use on the Mac, not too pricy, that might be able to generate a ‘web site’ view with search and TOC, plus a PDF version I can distribute or print into a manual.

My web searches have turned up Windows software that looks awful and costs a fortune, and web based subscription software, which I’m unsure of, for reasons I can’t easily define…

Check Answers from Tim Parnell at

Thanks for the pointer.
Answers has improved since the last time I looked at it… RTF editting for one.
The price is great. (Free at first)
But sadly, it fails on most of my other criteria.

It can’t create a PDF version even in the Pro (paid) edition.
You can’t search the contents in a deployed document.
(And I cant even find a way to use the images I dragged into media… the ‘insert’ option is empty)

So as a FAQ generator , yup. But I need something more.

I’m using Rapidweaver to generate an online version of the manual. The app contains a local version. Rapidweaver is pricey because you need several other “plugins” like you need for Xojo. But it works very well.

Currently, me too.
The help pages I have right now don’t need plugins as they don’t use Stacks or other fancy stuff.

The problems there are lack of searching, poor image layout (unless you start the page again as a Stacks page), and inability to take a group of pages into a PDF document. (Wish there was a plugin for that…)

I might be able to embed Google’s custom search, I think.
That may help.

Is it not simply possible to print to PDF ?


The program itself is windows only.

[quote=230297:@Jack Kingston]Helpndoc?[/quote]

Very nice, thank you. I may have the use for it. But the OP asked for Mac. Although he could run it in a VM or with CrossOver.

Yes, I overlooked that point.
If you are interested I’d hold off buying until Black Friday, I think that they had a deep discount last year.

For searching Rapidweaver websites online there is a plugin from Nimblehost. Stacks really gives you nice options for page layout and reusing content so I consider it essential.

For PDF I’ve been looking at some options but I would have to mess around with CSS (mostly getting rid of stuff that aren’t needed). A Javascript library (see didn’t look too bad.

You might want to try the tool used for the Xojo Dev Center: ProProfs KnowledgeBase

As you can see by the Dev Center it has a web version, ToC and searching with PDF output.


What that has in common with many others I have seen so far: I don’t understand the ‘pay per month’ model.
Does this mean they have my data and if I stop paying, I cant use it?

Usually this round of documentation happens maybe once a year, for a month.
What would be the purpose of paying during the remaining 11?

Clarify is pretty and a good one-off price, but doesn’t do TOC or searches.

It’s like any other web service (Basecamp, Xojo Cloud, Apple Music, etc.): you only get access to it while you are paying so you have to decide if it fits how you run your business. ProProfs does provide the hosting and you can export the content as HTML (and PDF).

ClickHelp is another service-based option.

A wiki might work if you want something you can host yourself. But they are not always well-suited for docs. Often searching and PDF export are weak. DokuWiki might be one to check out.

Or depending on the size of your docs, you could do the entire thing in Scrivener and then have it export to a bunch of formats (including HTML and PDF).

Nice, 500 - 1000 pages makes $ 150,00 / month.

I’ve used Help and Manual… You can generate epub, pdf, and proffesional wesite with toc and search. (Windows application)

I’m not afraid to spend money, but … nah… :wink:

One of my favorite arguments against ‘the cloud’.

Same here, but mostly because that was the system I used for our old VB6 version of our apps, and I already had a license. It’s on the expensive side as I recall and is Windows only. It can do several formats, but I create the HTML version, and show it in the app using the HTMLviewer in Xojo. It’s workable and I only have to maintain one set of help docs, but just like anything else in the cross platform world, it is not as good as if I had dedicated versions of the help in their native formats.

You can also look at BKeeney Software’s Simple Help Editor, it will run on the Mac.

I really like my system!

Although it is NOT single-code-based, I find it very effective and best of all makes everything look like I want it to. This is something all the automated solutions downplay. Documentation should look good to impress your customers/clients. I am not convinced any of these automated solutions, even the expensive ones, have the intelligence (if it’s even possible) to make a decent-looking PDF document based on what has to be HTML for the other Help methods.

I start with a HTML-linked file set. On Windows I use the standard old HTML Workshop from Microsoft to make the CHM Help File (standard). For Mac I simply move it into the app bundle and HelpViewer displays it and it looks great. Also, in my apps, I link to my company’s web site which has this same HTML code-base but it may be more updated than what their current HelpFile/HelpViewer is.

So far so good, everything is platform-specific and industry-standard so no one should be surprised.

For the PDF I use Adobe’s inDesign, the best IMHO layout program around. I’ve used Pagemaker since the 1980’s so it’s real easy for me to use. Like I said, I have to transfer by hand everything from the HTML, but I make sure initially I do the PDF LAST, when I’m very confident in the HTML. That way I’m not going back and forth on the initial pass.

Layout things on a page is so much different that laying it out on HTML, you want things to wrap differently around graphics and you want page breaks to be natural and not broken. HTML could care less about page breaks. And I want my PDF’s to look great, so I do this extra work, but it’s worth it.

As far as maintenance goes, I have to ALWAYS make sure I synchronize the PDF to the HTML. That takes discipline, but isn’t that what programmers are supposed to have? So I always - no matter what - open up Dreamweaver and inDesign when I am editing the docs. I do the HTML first and make sure I copy-paste over to inDesign afterwards. No quickie too-fast junk. With inDesign I can always keep in mind how I want larger or added areas to naturally flow, and when to page break appropriately so it’s natural to the reader.

BTW, the HTML and the PDF do share graphic files, so any changes in those automatically update the PDF. So there is some sharing, although it’s important for me to check the PDF so a graphic replacement that is a bigger size doesn’t look screwy or throw off the layout flow.

I made this sound complicated, but it’s not. Once you get in the flow it’s very natrual and easy. And VERY IMPORTANTLY, one of the great things documentation does for the programmer is clears your mind and forces you to do things in your program THE CLIENTS WAY, not YOUR WAY. The maxim: if you can’t explain it, you shouldn’t program it. You said you don’t like doc’ing - I get that, but really it’s so helpful for your work.

I’ve been doing this for 5 years now and I’m extremely pleased on how well by docs LOOK, and how well they synchronize. MAYBE I’m clueless about how good some of these automated programs are, but first I’m not paying the money, and second I’m absolutely convinced that good PDF print layout is ONLY accomplished by hand. Quality is important to me, I may not always succeed, but I’ll always hold the highest standards in play.

Have a look at their website and demo project.

Hi Joost, not sure I follow. I own a Help & Manual license and have used it for years. Is that what you are referring to?