Re: WinHelp

Subject: Re: WinHelp
From: James Robertson <jamesr@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 29 Jul 1997 11:28:44 +1000
At 21:16 28/07/97 -0400, you wrote:
  | > Personally, I would definitely prefer HTML over WinHelp. In fact, I
  | > created a comparison document for a client last week, and I could only
  | > find one technical advantage for WinHelp. The only other 'pluses' for
  | > WinHelp were related to the wide level of support for it as a help
  | > format.
  | Well, the first obvious benefit of WinHelp is the concept of an "index"
  | which HTML does not have. Next is the fact that WinHelp documents can
  | have more than six levels of nesting if necessary. WinHelp seems to have
  | a well-defined "fragment inclusion" model, which HTML does not. WinHelp
  | can also interoperate with the underlying system without complex
  | installation programs: "Click here to open that window." I can also
  | full-text search a WinHelp file with the software that is shipped with
  | Windows. WinHelp has a built-in, supported concept of "forward" and
  | "back". HTML does too, but nobody supports it. WinHelp files are
  | typically a single file per document (modulo the optional fragmenting
  | feature) whereas HTML documents are forced to be multiple small files if
  | you want a card-like display.
  | HTML clearly has advantages, but I think that WinHelp has strengths that
  | HTML cannot yet touch.

These are all excellent points. Yes, WinHelp's Index feature is one of its
major technical advantages. And certainly, the primary non-technical
advantage is 
that a viewer is supplied with every Windows environment.

I am not quite sure what "six levels of nesting" means. You can construct
HTML files however you like, and link them however you like, to an arbitrary
level. I should know. In a previous project, I was responsible for
creating and linking 60,000 HTML files, in a very large structure indeed.

Similarly, I am not quite sure I understand what "fragment inclusion" is. This
is perhaps due to my limited experience with WinHelp.

However, I would view some of these advantages as disadvantages:

* "Forward" and "Back" are bit of a misnomer, in my view. In a hierachical
  structure, it is often not clear what the "next" page should be. This
  can therefore confuse users. In any case, as previously noted, you can
  construct any link you like in HTML, including "forward" and "back".

* The fact that you have to squeeze all the data into a single file is
  one of the biggest problems with WinHelp. It creates unwieldy files,
  and means that IDs have to be used instead of more natural linking
  mechnisms. It also makes it hard to blur the lines between different
  "databases" of information. 
Of course, the greatest weakness of WinHelp is the "Win". It is not
cross-platform, it has a proprietary format, and is only really
maintained by one company (Microsoft). HTML, on the other hand,
is fully cross-platform (including text-only environments), is
an open format, and is being aggressively improved and supported
by a whole industry.

But still, I think it's "horses for courses". There is no one right
answer. In the past, I have summarised the differences between the 
two formats as: "HTML is technically superior; WinHelp is better 
supported by existing applications". 

But this is just my opinion. ;-)



James Robertson
Step Two Designs
Newton & SGML Consultancy

"Beyond the Idea"

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    • Paul Prescod - Mon, 28 Jul 1997 17:53:40 -0400 (EDT)
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