Through a French associate, CHL was called in to provide advice on producing the online help and a Printable User guide for the technical administrators of an Internet-based Banking and Portfolio Management system called Worldline Broker. The client, a large software house called Atos Origine, expressed a preference for having the source in Microsoft Word, since this was their chosen, in-house word processing package.
Following a detailed study concerning the structure and content, some experiments were undertaken with a number of the possible tools which could be used to create consistent quality, printable documents as well as help available on demand via the Internet. Using Word (2000) as the source and Adobe Acrobat for the printable form (Portable Document Format or PDF), three other tools were also tested for their abilities convert the source into standard HTML pages and retain and display the hierarchical structure. The tools tested were the then current versions of eHelp's RoboHelp, ForeFront's ForeHelp and Virtual Media's Hypertext Development Kit (HDK).
RoboHelp and HDK could both import standard Word documents, ForeHelp accepted Rich Text Format (RTF). It is simple enough to save a Word document as an RTF file but it is an extra step and unfortunately, the hierarchical structure created in the Word document using standard paragraph styling was not respected. Similarly, RoboHelp imported the document contents as a set of topics, but the hierarchy was not respected and this had to be re-imposed by hand.
The HDK Import document feature not only was able to import a document and convert it into an exact equivalent structure, but was also able to cope with a fairly complex Master and Sub-Document set of Word Documents. This became the chosen route.
The source comprised one Master document and 12 sub-documents which referenced 260 screen captures or images from the system all in one folder on the hard disk, taking up 7.86 Mb. The Word documents stayed relatively small – 1.89Mb – since all the images were linked but not saved in the documents, and this almost certainly contributed to the stability of the route to 'the Holy Grail'.
Indexing and cross-referencing to bookmarks was also respected and these were converted in to index items and hyperlinks within the HDK project. The outputs available included:
- HTML Help
- Standard HTML
- Standard HTML with a Java Table of Contents and index system
The latter was recommended and accepted by the client since the navigation was made simple using an interface similar to Windows Explorer. The resulting system comprised 572 files (gifs, jpgs and HTML files) totalling 6.14Mb.
Using the standard Adobe Acrobat PDF output from the Word Master document worked slowly, but without problem, to produce an 8.3Mb PDF file. While the structure and the hyperlinks were respected, these latter were not visible unless the mouse hovered over the 'hotspot'. With a document of 131 pages this was not acceptable so all the cross-references in Word were coloured blue and the hyperlinks were then easily visible when converted to PDF.
Certainly, the project demanded a suitable Word template to be created and the discipline and attention to detail to ensure its success. Clearly it was worth it – the client subsequently ordered three other documents including the system's Installation Guide to be created in the same way.