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Issue 6.4


HelpLogic 1.5

Issue: 6.4 (May/June 2008)
Author: Dave Mancuso
Article Description: No description available.
Article Length (in bytes): 6,858
Starting Page Number: 8
Article Number: 6402
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Last year, we reviewed HelpLogic 1.0 by Electric Butterfly. We felt the application was very useful, but that it needed several features to make it truly shine. If we'd known that HelpLogic 1.5 was around the corner, we might have waited to review it. The new version fulfilled our wish list and added so many features that we feel compelled to update our review.

HelpLogic is a turnkey help system generator for application developers. It helps you develop your help system in its own native UniHelp system, which runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux. If you prefer to create a platform-specific help system, HelpLogic generates Apple Help system files. It also generates Windows help files, both Microsoft HTML and CHM. Would you like to make your help files into web pages for your website? No problem. And would you like to create PDF documents for file and print distribution? Well, Help Logic does that too.

In fact, HelpLogic does this all from a single project of help files you develop in the application. Once you create your help pages and refine them to your satisfaction, you can generate all of the formats mentioned above with the same set of core pages. Integrated application help, website help, and PDF file/print help is all yours without doing the work three or four times over again.

HelpLogic comes with a 68 page PDF manual. The documentation is pretty extensive. Every facet of the program is covered. It's nice (and unusual) to see product documentation that's so well fleshed out. It's not surprising, though. Fittingly, this PDF file was built and generated from HelpLogic itself.

To build your help system, you make HTML pages in the HelpLogic Project Window. You can make these files from scratch in HelpLogic, or import files you've created elsewhere. The application supports CSS and Javascript as well, with some welcome improvements over version 1.0. HelpLogic's CSS support has been strongly enhanced, as detailed below. You can bring entire HTML sites into HelpLogic, a great help for anyone transitioning from web-based help development.

It's fast, too. Dave Wooldridge, the developer behind the product, moved to an XML-based project format for version 1.5. HelpLogic 1.5 became a Universal Binary and Dave moved from a database format to an XML-based format for speed, small size (90 percent smaller than 1.0), congruency with application features, ease of cross-platform deployment, and stability against corruption. Dave is very excited about the success of his move to XML, and he recommends that RB developers explore how viable and powerful it can be for their own work.

As you develop your help pages, you can use HelpLogic's internal editor, but you can also set your own favorite external editor. I set TextMate and Coda as external editors, but I tended to use the internal editor for its toolbar buttons and special characters feature. I liked the way the application put codes, symbols, and characters right at my fingertips for insertion into my help pages.

The key to the help system is HelpLogic's Visual Table of Contents (TOC). It helps you easily tie everything together complete with keywords for help system cross-referencing. Help projects also support drag and drop rearrangement of pages for easy organizing. Its form tools work nicely for building forms, and it supports Apple and MS specific elements in your help files.

Even better is the ability to set page backgrounds, colors, and other things that we're used to in web page development. HelpLogic 1.5 supports external CSS stylesheets, a welcome upgrade from version 1.0. And CSS external stylesheets are supported throughout the application. This includes the PDF publisher, a new feature in version 1.5. HelpLogic's support of CSS includes respecting media types, so you can set different backgrounds, colors, formats, etc. for different outputs. For instance, your PDF files could look completely different from your on screen help or web help just by referencing a different stylesheet. This really helps you fine tune your help system for the medium you're presenting it in.

There's more. HelpLogic gives you context-sensitive help, searchable help, a Javascript based help engine, and access to code plugins. In fact, you can develop code plugins for HelpLogic if you so desire--the information is on Electric Butterfly's website (http://ebutterfly.com). I also liked the Apple and MS help commands accessed from the html editor's Special button.

HelpLogic's Workshop feature helps you annotate and track your project with Notes, ToDo items, Feature Requests. Bug Reports, etc. As well as storing items to use in your help system, It morphs HelpLogic into a scrapbook to help organize your application development needs. Very nice, and unexpected.

As mentioned above, HelpLogic includes UniHelp 3. It also includes MS help support, both uncompiled HTML and compiled CHM files for use with the Microsoft HTML Help Viewer.

Electric Butterfly does something very nice with its license as well. It's more than a single platform license, and more than a regular "X platform" license, good for one platform at a time. HelpLogic's single user license is good for both the Mac and Windows Editions. It gives you a very flexible solution for developing on both platforms.

Frankly, the only need I have now from HelpLogic is version 1.5 on Windows. Dave says it's coming, so I'll sit tight. In the meantime, HelpLogic gives you what REALbasic itself gives you: a single tool that lets you develop for three platforms simultaneously. HelpLogic gives you multiple formats for those platforms as well.

HelpLogic comes with a demo mode to explore its features. If you haven't seen it already, and if you haven't looked since version 1, look again. I highly recommend it.

End of article.