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Mark Trescowthick - GUI Computing
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At last! My favourite Help file creator is finally available in a Win95 version.

As regular readers will know, I've been a Help Magician fan since the dim dark days, three or more years ago, so it was great to see the Win95 version land on the doorstep. In this case, doubly so...

Help Magician 3 certainly ran OK under Win95 - when you got it running. But it had some real problems with its supporting VBXs which meant that, often, getting it going was no easy matter (at least on my, rather untidy, system). So a version which was Win95 aware was most welcome.

More important, though, was its ability to compile Help Files for both the Windows 3.x and Windows 95 Help engines - something I'd been waiting for since Win95 was first released. All those neat new features like Table of Contents, buttons on secondary windows, etc, etc, etc. Lots of new toys to play with.

So, what's really new? Well, leaving the direct Win95 support to one side for the moment, the new version features much-improved Build Tag and Compression management, both of which are real boons.

Build Tags enable you to do conditional compiles of Help files (for example, for Standard and Professional versions) and, until this release, setting these up called for a deal of fiddling in Notepad. No longer, as the new version features point and click setting of these useful beasties.

Help Compiler compression has also always been a useful tool, but until now Help Magician basically allowed two choices - on or off. We now have a number of options available, which should really help in the tradeoff between small size and Help performance. And the ability to use an old phrase file for subsequent compiles won't do any harm to development performance, either.

Another real improvement is the new Keyword management panel. This makes getting keywords consistent across a file (or even a project) so much easier than before that I wonder how I did without it.

Screen snap of Help Mag's Key Management

A brand new feature is Help Magician's ability to create quite passable HTML from your Help File. This is a feature I'm really pleased to see, as it means a lot less duplication of work for Help Files that also have a Web equivalent (our product catalogue springs immediately to mind). This is not, and is not intended to be, a replacement for your favourite Web authoring tool. But it produces pretty clean HTML with all the links intact, so it's a huge step onward from what we had before. It's also quick. I'd really like to see the ability to import HTML as well sometime soon, but for now, this will do nicely.

Now to the Win95 Help features.

First cab off the rank is the ability to run Help files as they'll be seen (i.e. as Popups, Training cards, Help Files or Context Sensitive). This makes testing easier than its ever been.

And, of course, there's a Contents Editor. It works very easily, with imported (from .CNT and .HPJ files) and created topics both supported, along with full support for macro jumps, secondary windows, etc.

Screen snap of Help Mag

There's also the full raft of additional Win95 support you'd expect, such as integration of all Win95 macro syntax into the macro editor, support for all graphic formats (as well, I might add, as an improved 256 colour support DLL for Win 3.x Help), authorable buttons and find.

All in all, then, Help Magician is once more on top of the Help Authoring heap - assuming the two or three minor glitches I found in the beta version I tested are resolved.



Written by: Mark Trescwothick
November '96

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