• Facebook
  • RSS Feed
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
Apr 032013

For the last month or so I’ve been working on a project with QUADROtech to produce new, better, faster, slicker (you get the idea!) documentation for PST FlightDeck. During my time with QUADROtech we’ve used the traditional approach of Microsoft Word-turned-into-PDF for product documentation. Don’t get me wrong that has served us well, and most of the product documentation has been significantly revamped during my time with the company. We are ready for something else though now. That something else comes from Helpinator. Read on for more about Helpinator:


You can get a 14 day trial of Helpinator from their website (http://www.helpinator.com) and it will run on pretty much any version of Windows. The download is also pretty quick as it’s only 38 Mb.


Installation is very quick, and simple. About the only things that you have to decide on is the product language, and installation location. As part of the trial you get a full-fledged version of the product. It’s not cut down in anyway, nor does it add watermarks or anything else on to your work. The only bit that shows you’re in trial mode is when you close Helpinator. You get a small nag dialog for a few seconds:


What can Helpinator do?

Helpinator, as the name suggests, can help you produce online Windows-style help. If you just go with that assumption though you’re missing out on a whole lot more! There are too many features, and format possibilities to list them all, but a few of them are:

– Make a CHM file (i.e. for Windows help, that’s the obvious one)
– WebHelp
– QtHelp
– JavaHelp

And on top of all of this it helps with being able to create a solution for multiple languages all in the same project file. That’s not something that I’ve explored to date, as our product documentation is currently only available in English.

In Use – A test project

When you install Helpinator you get a few sample projects that will help you get used to some of the features in the product. The one that I opened first was called subtopics.hpz, and it was from within the ‘Helpinator Samples’ folder in the ‘My Documents’ folder. Straightaway you can see a rather neat interface:


It’s very easy to get used to the interface.

The whole product is so much more than ‘just’ a help file creator, take for example the neat task management feature which is built in. On the topic shown above, you will see the ‘ToDo’ tab. If you click on that you can see what else needs to be done in order for this topic to be completed, and you can add tasks, complete tasks, and show progress. Let’s go through a quick example:

Here is the ToDo tab on that same topic that you can see above:


Now I click the green ‘+’ sign to add a new task:


Each task gets a description a priority and a progress indicator. Once you click on ‘OK’ on the above dialog you can then see the task that I just added:


And, if I then edit the task to indicate that I’ve done some of it, it’s shown like this:


That’s all well and good but in a project that has many, many topics, I’d like to have an overview of the tasks and their relative progress. Well, you can do that easily with Helpinator. On the left hand side of the tree view is a link to ‘Tasks’ which quickly shows the overall progress of all of the tasks in your project:


From this view you can also jump to the appropriate topic, and start doing the task itself.

If you’re not interested in certain features, you can also turn them off to de-clutter the interface somewhat. This is controlled by the pushed-in buttons down the left hand side. Here it is after I’ve removed some things that I don’t want in this project:


Obviously after you have written some of your project you’re going to want to build it in to the format that you have chosen. For me that’s a CHM file ready for Windows Help.

To do that you simply click on the appropriate icon in the toolbar, though for the CHM production you may get this pop-up:


It’s nothing to worry about though, the htmlhelp.exe was included in the download. So you simple run the .exe from the download, and then build the CHM again – you don’t need to close Helpinator to do this either. You then see the build take place, and the good news is it only takes a few seconds:


The resulting CHM file will be opened in a window of it’s own too:


And that’s the first baby steps into producing your new project.

There are so many more features it’s almost impossible to list them, but other great things that I’ve found so far is that you have the ability to customise the stylesheet used to produce the help (ie change the fonts, colour scheme and so on) and you can use variables for frequently used names/objects within your project. For example you can define a variable called PROGRAMNAME and set it to PST FlightDeck. In the project you then use {%PROGRAMNAME%} and during the build process the text will be replaced. Another great feature is that you can re-order the topics in your project very quickly through a neat interface:


Going forward

Using Helpinator has begun to help us produce dramatically better online help and project documentation. We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of the things that it can do, the next step for us is to investigate the PDF side of the Helpinator product since we want product based online help, and an offline PDF for administrators to be able to ‘take away’ or download for review.


Helpinator does many, many things to help with the production of quality documentation. I’ve been using it in a small team, and we’ve never yet stumbled over each other or not been able to figure out what needs doing next in the project. I’d highly recommend you head on over to http://www.helpinator.com and get your free trial, and see if you find it as powerful, simple, and useful as I have.


If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

  5 Responses to “Helpinator – All the help you need?”

  1. Hi! I’m using Helpinator about 13 days, it means that I have only one more day in the free trial. Did you buy the product after that time? What happened?

    I write manuals and documentation, but I can’t find a good free help tool. Can you recomend me some?

    Best regards!

    • If you take a look at their web site you will see that if you write a good blog on the product, you can send them a link, and they’ll give you a free license.
      That’s what I did. And I’m going to be using Helpinator for a long time because it is very good. Plus their support staff are super helpful, and very quick to respond.

      • Ok, I’ll try to do that.

        If they don’t give me a free license, I’ll need a help tool to keep writing my documentation. Don’t you know another tool as good as Helpinator?

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>