“And in this corner…”

WOW.

My earlier post that provided an initial review of RoboHelp (RH) 6 touched off a storm in the comments section… making it my most popular (and commented) post to-date.

First, thank you all for the time it took to chime in with your opinions. In paticular, Rick Stone (the RoboWizard) wrote about 10,000 words in the comments section vigorously defending RH.

First things first – I want to go on record, here. My earlier post covered my initial impressions after playing with RH 6 for just a few hours. Yes, I went after RH like a spider monkey, and I guess I roughed it up a little. But know that my intent was to judge the version 6 upgrade, not RH as a whole.

rhBoxer.jpg
RH gathers its thoughts in the corner after an attack by theMonkey

My disappointment came from my own expectations. The revolutionary, ground-breaking upgrade I had looked forward to for almost five years ended up being a minor one barely worth an incremental version number. RH 6 is nothing more than a glorified “patch” for the old X5. If my expectations were unreasonable, then that’s my bad. If they were set by Adobe, then that’s their fault.

At any rate, being rough on one product is not the same as endorsing another.

After the jump, I’ll dig a little more into the RH vs. the Future debate, using a lot of Rick Stone’s cogent points as fodder for discussion.

To reiterate, I’m not picking on Rick, rather I’m just using some of his points to state my own position. Paragraphs in blockquote below are Rick’s statements.

so I sit here wondering how much wailing and gnashing of teeth would have erupted had a drastic GUI change occurred? Geez, at least they kept the good stuff there.

To me, a drastic GUI change was expected. For instance, take a minute and try to come up with a single example of modern software that only allows the user to work on one file at a time. You can’t think of one, because that’s a convention that went away ten years ago. Yet RH is stuck in antiquity, here. It slows down the development process, increasing the time needed to create a system, annoying the users, increasing the likelihood for errors, etc. This is just one example; I could write thousands of words on the antiquated RH interface alone.

Okay, I know folks are fussy about the kadov tags. Personally, they have never bothered me. I’ve never understood the big deal… Keep in mind that the great and wonderful Flare has been and is developed by the same folks that gave RoboHelp HTML kadov tags.

Oh, boy… Where to start with the Kadov tag discussion… Okay, for starters, they’re proprietary code, and not valid XHTML, which means that your code won’t validate. It won’t be 508 compliant. It also bloats up the code in your topics, which at best only inhibits performance, and at worst creates conflicts with your web browser/OS.

At one time, they were useful for RH’s built-in web browser, which was built differently from IE. But the time for them came and went. In today’s world, modern browsers have much stricter security controls, and most don’t like or allow proprietary code to be executed, especially if it’s on a local hard drive (as a lot of help systems are designed to be installed).

Rick mentions an interesting irony: how the most vehement opponents of Kadov tags (the Flare development team) are the same ones that invented them in the first place. In my post, I wrote that a “senior ex-RH developer once told me that if you see Kadov tags, you’ll know they’ve been struggling with the code.” This was because the development team was partly through X6 when Macromedia bought them, and Kadov had all but been eliminated from the software. Macromedia killed the program, and scrapped the almost-done X6 code. Hence, when Adobe picked the project up years later, they didn’t have the partly-done X6 code to work with. They had to start “from scratch” with X5.

Kadov tags are legacy code, and are now unnecessary in the modern era of CSS. They add bloat, they slow down the help system, and they’re a clumsy way of doing things in 2007. And as long as they exist, RH will never be a true single-source tool, as Adobe claims it to be.

So the same developers that so smartly developed Flare simply couldn’t manage to accomplish command line compiling with code they are very familiar with?

I can’t speak for the developers there, but again, keep in mind that X5 was released in what, 2000? Seven years can make quite a difference. Also, note that almost every HAT tool supports CLI nowadays: Doc-To-Help, AuthorIT, Flare, and now RH all support command line interfaces.

Besides, only a select niche of folks can make CLI useful anyway. The problem I have with my RH projects is that I have tons of things to “fix” after compling and before delivery, so I can’t trust the developers to compile my system and run with it. I always have to first fix the things that (1) RH broke, or (2) RH couldn’t pull off.

Now I’m not a FrameMaker user… But isn’t FrameMaker a HAT? Or am I misunderstanding? Personally, I say give Adobe a chance and I’m fairly certain that if this is truly important, they will step up to the plate.

I wouldn’t call FrameMaker (FM) a HAT, unless it’s used as part of a workflow to single-source user assistance (UA). But I’m so glad Mike brought up FM, because that software more than any other will serve as a model for what I fear will happen (is happening?) to RH:

Keep in mind that the Adobe development staff is just coming to terms with code they have never seen… I think once they are totally familiar with the code, the sky will be the limit.

Now I am sincerely jealous of Rick! He’s never had the crushing frustration beat into him by a company’s failing to invest in a product that is superior to everything else on the market!

In case you didn’t know, FM was bought by Adobe and the users thought the same thing. “Adobe’s got some serious resources. As soon as they get the code down, the sky’s the limit.” But FM has largely stagnated since the acquisition. Fortunately, no other serious competitor has arisen, so FM still leads the pack as far as document-makers go. FM loyalists (of which I am one) have been relentless for almost a decade in pressuring Adobe to invest in FM. Now, finally, it looks like some good things are on the horizon.

Still, the parallels between RH and FM are strikingly similar. Both were bought by Adobe, both had fanatically loyal users, and both were given initially unsatisfying “upgrades.” In the case of FM, Adobe was clearly happy with keeping it on life-support, and bringing in a steady stream of revenue from the niche loyalists. It seems likely to me that they have the same plans for RH. Remember, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Acrobat are Adobe’s cash cows, and will always be Adobe’s top priority (unlike eHelp, whose top priority was RH).

I have been puzzled, business-wise, as to why Adobe re-invested in RH at all.
Why not? There is a definite user base left and who knows how many may switch back as a result of the update? Seems to me they were simply listening to loyal customers… Geez, I guess that means their priorities are screwed up? Glad you don’t run my business. If your priorities aren’t serving loyal customers, you won’t be in business very long. Even uneducated folks know that.

Well, my puzzlement is valid. Again, for years Adobe has been pushing the FrameMaker to WebWorks solution for UA development. In fact, with every purchase of FM, a free version of WebWorks is included. Adobe has spent a lot of resources to support and market this option, and Quadralay (who owns WebWorks) has invested heavily in this path as well. Now that they have RH, they have two competing products under the same roof.

Imagine if Microsoft acquired another word processing tool. Could you imagine MS investing heavily to develop and market both that product and Word? Even if the acquired product had a lot of loyal users? Something has to give. I wonder if Adobe’s release of RH 6 is a signal that the association with Quadralay is going away soon.

…all I can say is: Happy continuing struggling with Flare! RoboHelp it’s not and it really should be that way. There is a reason RoboHelp was (and is) so popular with many of us. That reason is because it’s so darn easy to use. I guess you expected a nice change of interface. Lots of odd large arrows and mysterious windows that rearrange themselves and weird, bizarre cursors that change for no obvious reason. WebHelp output with some strange layout that isn’t familiar. (okay, well maybe I do admit that was a bit of a swipe at Flare, but I personally find it too “developer like to suit my tastes.)

I think it’s clear from reading Rick’s statements (here and in other comments) that he was (1) very intimidated with Flare’s learning curve, (2) didn’t really give the software a fair chance (he’s puzzled over things that are easy to explain, like the cursors), and (3) angry that MadCap didn’t give him a free copy after beta testing.

It’s a different product — make no mistake. But I wonder if Rick remembers how terrible the RH user interface was in its earlier incarnations. (In college, we called the older versions of RH “RoboHell.”)

Steep learning curve does not equal bad software.

Yes, RH is user-friendly. In the same way as my dad’s 1975 console TV was user friendly; two dials and an antenna. There’s something to be said for simplicity, but at some point, we professionals are willing to deal with increased complexity in order to receive the benefits that fancier interfaces bring. Complex can be done right. (It can also be done wrong, if you’ve ever played with the more obscure CAD programs).

Ummm, since when can’t users get to HTML content? Did they revise the whole internet and change things to XML while I wasn’t looking? Wow, guess I’d best alert the troops that HTML is out and XML is in. Browsers galore suddenly stopped displaying the language of the web. Come on… get serious

HTML Help is not WebHelp. HTML Help requires the Microsoft Help viewer, which is being phased out by MS. Not Adobe’s fault, but it still affects them. Don’t believe me? Take one of your chm files and move it off your local machine. Then try to access it. MS no longer allows you to view the content. And as far as the future goes, here’s what MS has to say to UA developers: “HTML Help will ship in Windows Vista. However, only critical updates to the engine will be made. No new features or feature improvements will be added to the HTML Help engine for Windows Vista or future Windows releases.”

In short, changes to operating systems will begin to add up until you won’t be allowed to view CHM content on your own machine. The general consensus I’m hearing from industry leaders is that CHM files will only be reliable for another couple of years. WebHelp is safer for long-term use, and is platform independent. It only requires a browser of some sort.

And yes, yes, YES… HTML is out and XML is ‘in.’ Or, to be specific, there’s no excuse any longer for publishing web-based help that isn’t XHTML compliant. You might as well be writing your UA in crayon. It’s just good practice.

From JSmithe:

Bottom line: Concentrate LESS on the tool and MORE on the content.

AMEN. No arguments here!

14 Responses to ““And in this corner…””


  • That’s Rick Stone, not Mike Stone – monkey, change that if you don’t mind (and then kill my comment if you wish)

  • Rick Stone has done a helluva job in defending the average RoboHelp user’s perspective. I should say ‘average subject matter expert user’ because Rick is no lightweight when it comes to RoboHelp.

    Additionally, I’m going to post a link to his excellent and peerless page for workarounds for RoboHelp – http://www.robowizard.com – so that legacy people will still know where to go to keep their projects tip-top condition. I have been honored to debate Rick because he is the ‘bad mamma-jamma’ for RoboHelp and at this point I’m convinced he knows more about the direction the product should take than the Adobe team tasked with bringing that about!

    While I look at the tools as a whole – what upgrades, when to purchase, who I recommend my clients to use – it really comes down to workflow management. It’s frequently called ‘Single Sourcing’.

    I have to get the information from several sources and implement them into a help file or other distributable media for mass consumption. Developers write small tooltags and other information for their buttons and doodads, and I have to document what they do and when to use them. The hot phase for development to communicate their internal descriptions has been XML for the past five to six years – containers of data that can be redistributed and updated quickly in revisions through basic text editing tools.

    For me and most of my clients, this means they have to have a way to keep churning the content on a regular basis. RoboHelp X5 was the pinnacle of this market when eHelp launched it. Back in 2003.

    I am currently keeping legacy programs alive with updates through X5, and beginning to use Flare on an intermittent basis for new projects. Most of my focus has been on answering

    The beef I’ve had with RoboHelp’s current development is straightforward:

    1) This release is not competitive with the new market innovations. You list a lot of cogent discussion points for why this is. I look forward to the debate about that.

    2) I don’t see the dedication to innovation with Adobe’s release of this product.
    This is disturbing to me, and I’ve seen it listed as ‘putting lipstick on a pig’ in the MadCap forums.

    This means if people keep buying it, it’s going to go like monkeypi says happened with FrameMaker – minimal upgrade potential for the diehard users – which shoehorns them into a market niche to maintain old projects.

    The problem with this philosophy is that competitors gradually chip away at that market dominance. Who wants to deal with that? In a similar situation going on with DVDs I have had enough of a hard time trying to figure out which HD-DVD player was going to make it on top, Blu-Ray or HD-DVD that I just bought an HDMI capable enhanced player for a third the price and gets the job done nearly as good. Deciding to keep the old standard in place of investing into a new and possibly Betamax issue… Which is what some RH clients have done. They will use this until they can no longer do so, then they have to make a business decision of how to proceed.

    RoboHelp intended to kill that FrameMaker market which is why they came out with RH for FrameMaker, and allowed .mif imports. Flare currently allows binary file imports, going one step further.

    3) Going forward is the biggest issue all of us face today. Who is the most dedicated to the core business of the HAT? What do they bring to the table?

    Vista kills .hlp files. Yay for me – my business will thrive because everyone migrating over in the next three years who uses .hlp files will have to rewrite the calls to go to another standard. What is that new standard going to be?

    a) HTML directly – webhelp
    b) .CHM files – HTML Help
    c) Some sort of new Longhorn capable product previously unheard of
    d) .NET calling – like DotNetHelp

    Whatever the business decision is, each and every company out there has to decide. What makes RoboHelp weaker in this game is that now Adobe has to provide a service that they may not be able to negotiate with Microsoft since they’re rivals in so many other areas!

    This is sort of like that movie ‘In Good Company’ starring Dennis Quaid as an exec whose company gets bought by an oversized monolith. His business relationships developed over a lifetime deteriorate because ‘our company is fighting with your company over a market’.
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0385267/ (IMDB)

    So what I see looking into my crystal ball is simple: Adobe will not be able to deal with the Word 2007 problem effectively. If they do, they will have to pay a very high price to do so, which will probably mean shortcuts in other areas of development budget. Either way the end user loses. The question remains to how much they lose.

    Monkey: Rick Stone will point out there is an undocumented way to have three files open at one time with RH – by using the index editor to launch one, the WYSIWYG editor, and the TOC editor you can keep those open. I haven’t used this much, and it’s a convenient workaround if you should need to try it.

  • Bohica – thanks a bajillion for catching the mistake. I’ve been a loyal reader of Rick’s for a long time. Don’t know why my fingers started typing “mike,” there… chalk that up to the perils of writing posts at 4am…

    And thank you also for your time. I’m learning a lot from reading your discussion with Mike Rick. ;-)

  • Hello all

    Wow, so much happens during a 14 hour flight! ;) (I was invited to speak at the Techshoret conference in Israel and just returned to the US and am waiting on a connecting flight home.

    Okay…

    First off, I’d like to state up front that I’m not in any way trying to convert anyone. I’m simply offering alternate viewpoints to what I interpreted as unwarranted negative feedback regarding this release of RoboHelp. Am I passionate about the product? You betcha! Am I out to tell the world to stop using any other product? Not at all. Admittedly I did take an intentional swipe here and there at Flare, but I sincerely do wish them well with the product. I’m sure in many areas it is superior.

    MonkeyPi said:
    To me, a drastic GUI change was expected. For instance, take a minute and try to come up with a single example of modern software that only allows the user to work on one file at a time.

    Rick replies:
    Uhhh, Notepad? Or is that not considered modern software? ;) My own feeling is that while major changes haven’t yet occurred, we will indeed see them in a different release. Personally, I’m willing to wait.

    MonkeyPi said:
    Oh, boy… Where to start with the Kadov tag discussion… Okay, for starters, they’re proprietary code, and not valid XHTML, which means that your code won’t validate. It won’t be 508 compliant. It also bloats up the code in your topics, which at best only inhibits performance, and at worst creates conflicts with your web browser/OS… more followed

    Rick replies:
    Again, somehow you managed to miss my point. This is precisely the reason I felt the urge to respond. Misinformation. Perhaps I should place it on a line of its own so it can’t be missed.

    *************************************************
    The much hated kadov tags are ***ONLY*** found in the source files. Unless you are deploying source files, they aren’t present in output.
    *************************************************

    Adobe are VERY aware that the kadov tags need to go. Personally, I’ll be very surprised myself if they are still present in the next release.

    MonkeyPi said:
    I can’t speak for the developers there, but again, keep in mind that X5 was released in what, 2000?

    Rick replies:
    According to my records, X5 wasn’t released until January 2004. Which makes it only three years old.

    MonkeyPi said:
    I wouldn’t call FrameMaker (FM) a HAT, unless it’s used as part of a workflow to single-source user assistance (UA). But I’m so glad Mike brought up FM, because that software more than any other will serve as a model for what I fear will happen (is happening?) to RH:

    Rick replies:
    Fair enough. Again, I openly admitted up front that I have no clue about Frame. So I apologize for any inaccuracies that may have resulted from my ignorance of the subject matter. Hey, I’m pleased that these discussions have helped me to at least know a bit more about what Frame is all about.

    MonkeyPi said:
    I think it’s clear from reading Rick’s statements (here and in other comments) that he was (1) very intimidated with Flare’s learning curve,

    Rick replies:
    I certainly wasn’t intimidated by it at all. You have to also understand that at the time I was beta testing Flare, I was among the saddened many that totally believed RoboHelp had ended life. I honestly felt Flare was going to be “The replacement” for RoboHelp users. As such, I probably felt more than most anyone a responsibility for learning it inside and out so I could provide decent information for a “lost” user base.

    As such, I approached Flare as any long time user of RoboHelp might. I had certain expectations of the way things would work. I knew I was in this brave, new world and things were foreign to me.

    MonkeyPi continues:
    (2) didn’t really give the software a fair chance (he’s puzzled over things that are easy to explain, like the cursors),

    Rick replies:
    Oh puh-leeze. I did give the software more than a fair chance. Keeping with what I said above, I thought it was truly ***THE*** RoboHelp replacement. But there were many interface changes that occurred that totally lost most users. Again, I’m assuming the original interface was largely unchanged. For a RoboHelp person, it’s confusing. Ask almost anyone. There were comments made to your other blog post from a different user that said it was confusing to them as well. Admittedly, with any beta software there are bound to be confusing issues. The cursor wasn’t a show stopper as wasn’t the ridiculously large arrows that were odd. They were just different. And to me, not intuitive. But that’s just me. If they make sense to you, great! I just come from a RoboHelp perspective and figure that while I may be more experienced than some, most will have the same expectations.

    MonkeyPi continues:
    and (3) angry that MadCap didn’t give him a free copy after beta testing.

    Rick replies:
    Angry? No, not at all. I knew this was a new product. I knew the developers had their backs against the wall. Admittedly, as a RoboHelp MVP, I was quite accustomed to receiving a copy of the software at no charge. Some of the folks that are MVP/Team MacroMedia/Adobe Community Expert adamantly point out that “after all, we aren’t **PAID** staff. We simply offer our expertise at no charge in the forums. I’ve never been that way. I see the benefit of free software as two things:

    1. An incentive to continue providing support
    2. A benefit or “thanks for helping” as a result for all the time spent. Particularly after a beta test. So in that sense, it may have felt a bit like a slap in the face. But I was never angry about it. Just surprised. It was like helping someone refine a business, then those you helped say thanks! Now go jump in line with everyone else to buy my products.

    Keep in mind that up to that point, many of the same players involved, this was the norm. I wasn’t mad about it. Simply came as a surprise. For me, it’s pure economics. There was simply no way to spend the price of admission **JUST** so I could continue to support folks. So it was a simple decision made from a purely economical perspective.

    MonkeyPi said:
    Now I am sincerely jealous of Rick! He’s never had the crushing frustration beat into him by a company’s failing to invest in a product that is superior to everything else on the market!

    In case you didn’t know, FM was bought by Adobe and the users thought the same thing. “Adobe’s got some serious resources. As soon as they get the code down, the sky’s the limit. But FM has largely stagnated since the acquisition. Fortunately, no other serious competitor has arisen, so FM still leads the pack as far as document-makers go. FM loyalists (of which I am one) have been relentless for almost a decade in pressuring Adobe to invest in FM. Now, finally, it looks like some good things are on the horizon.

    Still, the parallels between RH and FM are strikingly similar. Both were bought by Adobe, both had fanatically loyal users, and both were given initially unsatisfying “upgrades. In the case of FM, Adobe was clearly happy with keeping it on life-support, and bringing in a steady stream of revenue from the niche loyalists. It seems likely to me that they have the same plans for RH. Remember, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Acrobat are Adobe’s cash cows, and will always be Adobe’s top priority (unlike eHelp, whose top priority was RH).

    Rick Replies:
    Well, I know that things change all the time. From my standpoint, the simple fact they released anything is a hint of things to come. Again, I do tend to be an optimist. Again, I’m willing to wait and see. Even though there are striking parallels, it’s a different product and different mix of folks involved.

    Please, for anyone reading this, keep in mind that these are my own opinions and I’m not suggesting anyone switch tools or that RoboHelp is far and above any other tool out there.

    MonkeyPi said:
    HTML Help is not WebHelp.

    Rick Replies:
    Okay, I’m taking a bit of a jab at you. I’ll openly admit it. (But you started it!) ;) Seriously, I don’t like to argue. However…

    I think you are trying to make me appear as if I don’t know what I’m talking about. As you have pressed on with this, it is clearly YOU who are sadly misinformed. Yes, I’m acutely aware that a compiled .CHM is totally different than WebHelp or FlashHelp. (I also know that WebHelp Pro and FlashHelp Pro are different from their cousins WebHelp and FlashHelp. And I also know that RoboInfo is different than RoboHelp)

    MonkeyPi then said:
    HTML Help requires the Microsoft Help viewer, which is being phased out by MS. Not Adobe’s fault, but it still affects them. Don’t believe me? Take one of your chm files and move it off your local machine.

    Rick replies:
    Okay, some of this is becoming clearer. You are referring to the fact that at some future point in time, Microsoft will not support the HTML Help viewer. I thought you were referring to the WinHelp files. But for now, compiled .CHM files are being **RECOMMENDED**. The help standard that Vista will set will certainly change things. But as Microsoft is now recommending .CHM files for locally installed content, I see no immediate danger with it. My guess is that it will be much like WinHelp was/is. Vista STILL supports it in varying ways. While I do agree that it’s better to be prepared for the future, there is no need to run out the door screaming with your hair on fire that you MUST switch to XML NOW! It’s simply not that alarming. After all, Microsoft STILL has not published the final format for the author developed Vista files. At least not that I’m aware of. And that “couple of years”? When was it Vista was initially projected to release? It STILL isn’t available except on a new PC as a preloaded Operating Environment. So I’d say we have substantially longer than two years. Even then, it will STILL likely be working in some way. ;)

    My point is that you seem to be wanting to imply that **now listen really close here** ***BROWSER*** based formats like WebHelp and FlashHelp aren’t deployed in HTML. That’s my issue. These formats use HTML and that’s been the language of the web for a long while. I’ve not seen any huge rush for all web sites to switch to some form of XML. That’s the point I was trying to make.

    My time is growing short here. Flight is boarding soon. So I’ll be keeping an eye on this thread (and others).

    Thanks for listening, all…. Rick :)

  • Rick wrote:
    The help standard that Vista will set will certainly change things.

    RamonS replies:
    Vista sadly doesn’t bring any new help standard, so you either go the XHTML / XML&XSLT route or you are stuck with CHM. CHM help looks like the typical battleship gray 16 bit app for Windows 3.11. With all this glitz included in modern applications (and no, Notepad is not a modern application and pretty much sucks as editor) using CHM just doesn’t fit the picture. Of course, Microsoft recommends using CHM as this is the only help format that they control and they just haven’t come up with anything else. That is the reason why Microsoft joins forces with strategic partners, in this case with MadCap who created the DotNetHelp with viewer.

    Switching to XML is tough, but forces outside of our control made the changes in the great scheme of things. And by looking at the advantages of using something that is XML based I do not see any reason to continue using old stuff. We no longer record our music on wax cylinders, but use CDs although a CD is way more complex than the wax cylinders.

    Oh pulease, FlashHelp? I deployed everything in FlashHelp and then Microsoft released SP2 for XP, which basically made anything Flash based to stop working unless one goes through a 27 step process to change the security settings. And customers are paranoid and get really disturbed when you tell them to lower the security level in IE. FlashHelp looks great, but that doesn’t come through when people can’t see it. Same with the less disturbing CHM security problem. How one can make a help viewer that is capable of compromising an entire OS is beyond me anyway, but hey, that’s why they now mark “patch tuesdays” in the calendars.

    And finally, yes, RH is easier to use, because RH does the thinking and one can only hope it does it right. I rather am in the driver seat with CSS and XHTML and what not and have nobody else to blame than me for screwing stuff up.

    I don’t know, but RH is way behind in too many things and some patch release won’t fix this…or even make people switch back.

  • Hi Rick,

    Thanks again for your insight. In the interest of clarifying some of my points, I’d like to expand on some of what you wrote:

    Rick wrote:
    “Misinformation. Perhaps I should place it on a line of its own so it can’t be missed. The much hated kadov tags are ***ONLY*** found in the source files. Unless you are deploying source files, they aren’t present in output.”

    …and later goes on:
    “I think you are trying to make me appear as if I don’t know what I’m talking about. As you have pressed on with this, it is clearly YOU who are sadly misinformed.”

    theMonkey replies:
    Sorry, Rick, but this is absolutely, undeniably wrong. I’m dumbfounded that you make this claim, actually… and claim that I’m pushing misinformation. Here is a screenshot of Kadov functions being called from my OUTPUT code:

    Furthermore, the simpler Kadov functions are given classes in the project’s CSS files, bloating the CSS. QED.

    Rick says:
    “Uhhh, Notepad? Or is that not considered modern software? ;) My own feeling is that while major changes haven’t yet occurred, we will indeed see them in a different release. Personally, I’m willing to wait.”

    theMonkey replies:
    Yet I can open thousands of txt files in notepad simultaneously, if I wanted. Each opens separately. You cannot do this with RH, so my point is still valid. And I must ask: how long are you willing to wait? It’s been a decade, already. This isn’t hard to do. It’s something even I know how to pull off using Expressions C#, and I’m not a programmer by any stretch of the imagination.

    Rick says:
    “According to my records, X5 wasn’t released until January 2004. Which makes it only three years old.”

    theMonkey replies:
    Yes, I checked my records, and I was using X5 in 2003. Again, my point is still valid, though. Three to four years is plenty of time to solve that problem [adding CLI], so I don’t think your “but the former RH/current Flare team couldn’t even pull it off four years ago” point carries much weight.

    Rick says:
    “The cursor wasn’t a show stopper as wasn’t the ridiculously large arrows that were odd. They were just different. And to me, not intuitive.”

    theMonkey replies:
    I have to plead ignorance, here. I’ve just gone through my Flare programs (both version 1 and 2) and don’t see the large arrows that you mention. Maybe it’s something they got rid of during beta testing?

    Finally, I’d also like to go on record as saying that I’m not necessarily pushing Flare. I’m not so much “pro-Flare” as I am becoming “anti-RH.” To me, deliberately choosing to use an antiquated system, that causes problems, annoyances, produces bloated non-compliant problematic output, and isn’t future-proof is folly. Use Flare, or Doc-to-Help, or FM/WebWorks, or whatever; but if you stick with RH out of loyalty only, you kinda lose credibility when you attempt to critically evaluate the other tools, which ARE designed with modern users and their professional goals in mind.

    To put it simply, after the way we users were treated, we deserved a better “make-up” attempt from Adobe. At the risk of getting melodramatic, so what if the abusive husband has bought some flowers for the battered wife? Version 6 is a pathetic attempt to make up for how badly RH users were treated.

    I wish I could show you the Google search strings that people use to land here at monkeyPi. It would break your heart to see how many people use things like “RH activation,” “RH support not answering,” “RH not working anymore,” “when-will-Adobe-fix-RH,” “CHMs-stopped-working,” “RH-maintenance-contract-nobody-answering,” “RH-output-won’t-validate,” and on and on and on. And after all of that, they give us this?

    I acknowledge that it’s not Adobe’s fault, and they just ended up with the problem. And I hope that you are right, and this is just a bone to keep people’s interest piqued for a better version that’s coming down the road. Adobe usually doesn’t let me down, but given Adobe’s history in this area (the Frame fiasco), useful innovation with RH isn’t likely. I will continue to look forward to new RH releases, but until they arrive, I’ll be using other products.

    Speaking of ideal releases… Know what I wish for? I think Adobe’s InDesign is the best thing they’ve done in decades, and one of my favorite programs to work with. If I’m thinking innovatively, I create plugins for InDesign that support FrameMaker and RoboHelp functions. Imagine that: a complete single-source document maker that delivers content however you want it to. I’d mortgage my house for a product like that.

  • I have been following this thread with interest. You guys are really getting into it! Today you made a boring half-hour meeting go by much more quickly. Thank you.

    Tom

  • Wow…

    Where to begin?

    Let’s step to the side for a minute and talk like we’re talking to an end user of the help files we develop.

    They want them to work. And to be legible and easy to search.

    How about the developers who are writing the code?

    They want their content pushed through as easily as possible without taking their valuable time up with rewriting anything.

    XML solves both of these problems – it’s something that can constantly update (like, with a dev pipeline using a free ‘fckeditor’ program you can even do it from a web interface and no, that’s not a misspelled profanity, google fckeditor) and something that with a command line interface you can constantly update the files. Not that this is the absolute preferred method of getting your help files done; nobody wants a monkey typing it out (apologies, monkeypi I am referring to code monkeys, not you)

    So what am I selling to potential clients? A workflow. Pure and simple. Not a help file. I am selling them a method to save time and make more money.

    Is RoboHelp helping that process or hindering it? That is the hard question that has to be answered. Can I do as much in RH as I potentially can do with Flare? Not today. Could I do it if they catch up? Yes. They used to be the market leaders. Now they are playing catchup. There’s a post on the Adobe thread today about that from the PM of RH.

    In the long run, competition breeds the best product. If MadCap’s Flare stays innovative, they will dominate the market. If Adobe catches up to MadCap and can surpass them in innovative features then Adobe will win.

    Either way, we, the consumers win by having the best product possible.

    What I don’t want is an appeal to my emotional side for what should be a simple business decision. I don’t want to hear about what happened in the past, however much I love RH, I don’t want to think about the good old days. I want a solution that I can recommend to my clients as part of a workflow that will not cream them.

    And I referred RoboHelp X5 to my clients back in 2003. They even bought Platinum support for five licenses plus a server. Do you think, Rick, that they got their money’s worth?

    And don’t pass the buck to MACR saying that it’s all their fault and Adobe is scott-free. The business decision was made to charge $1000 and think that everyone would pay it. Hell no – Adobe give me some free updates first to let me try your upgrade and see where you’re headed. Build up that trust first, then maybe we’ll talk about shaking that money tree.

    I love the InDesign idea. Have all roads lead to InDesign, and import the rest of the gaggle into it. ;-)

  • Hey, Bohica39
    I genuinely appreciate your fair-minded comments. Yes it is tragic what MACR did to RoboHelp. Believe me, as an lone instructor/consultant it was hard living in that three-year desert.

    But, I think Adobe has responded in less than a year with some nice enhancements in what will be a much more rapid development cycle than most other Adobe products. My clients and students have told me they wanted “something” as soon as possible so that at least there was a tangible demonstration of Adobe’s support for the future.

    RoboHelp 6 is a worthwhile upgrade, but it’s important to understand that development continues. We can anticipate the obvious integration with Adobe’s other technical communications products like Framemaker, Captivate and Acrobat. Adobe has been a strong advocate for such technologies as XML and DITA and lauded for the “clean code” of Dreamweaver. It makes sense (to me anyway) that this philosophy and talent will eventually make its way into RoboHelp as well. For some it will not be soon enough and they will try something else.

    As you said, Madcap and Adobe (and others) will both continue their improvements and help authors will ultimately decide.

    Sorry monkeyPi if this is a “plug”, but it might be appropriate to this thread. In case anyone may be interested, there is an eSeminar titled “What’s new in Adobe RoboHelp 6?” Obviously it is promotional, but it will be interactive, so perhaps you could ask some questions.

    Thursday, January 25, 2007
    1:00 PM – 2:00 PM US/Eastern
    http://www.adobe.com/cfusion/event/index.cfm?event=detail&id=700382&loc=en_us

    That said, it is unlikely to change anyone’s minds given the tenor of this thread, but who knows?

    John

    Adobe Certified RoboHelp Instructor

  • Have just found this great debate after one of our team googled RoboHelp. Historically, we are probably the biggest vendor (that is to say, reseller) of RH in the UK (thousands of units). We only discovered late last week that a new version had shipped on 16 January. Adobe didn’t advise us – careless oversight or upgrade our users before we reach them? I couldn’t possibly comment, except to say we were only able to get our pricing today!. We did contact Adobe several times late last year to be told that there would be a new version “sometime in 2007″ – somewhat disingenuous, I think. Whatever, that’s a business gripe, but thanks for your indulgence.

    I found Monkey’s comment re: InDesign both interesting, pertinent and ironic. I feel there is a direct parallel between RH v Flare and Quark v InDesign (of which I have copious direct user experience). The market leader: overpriced and out-of-date, its publisher taking a distinctly lackadaisical attitude to loyal customers. The newcomer: modern, fairly priced, feature-rich albeit perhaps difficult to learn initially, but you soon get into it. If Flare or InDesign steal the market from under the noses of the owners of the space, good for them.

  • Hello Mike,

    I wanted to respond to your comments about the way in which Adobe informs its channel about future product announcements.

    It is standard practice for all our members of staff not to provide company confidential information outside of the organisation. This includes pre-announcing product introduction dates. I am sure you recognise as a company that needs to innovate in a highly competitive market place, we must maintain strict confidentiallity.

    However, in the case of our reseller community, we recognise that they need to be up to speed and trained on our products as soon as they are available. For this reason, it is Adobe policy to inform all its resellers of product introductions and relevant order processing information 30 days prior to product announcement via our dedicated channel portal. In the case of Robohelp 6 all of our UK channel partners were also invited in December to participate in an online briefing on the 11th of January, ahead of the formal product announcement the following week.

    If you feel you are not in the communications loop, then please feel free to contact me personally and I will ensure that any issue is resolved.

    Sincere regards, Mark Wheeler. Adobe Systems, Marketing Director – Northern Europe.

  • Mark,

    Back when eHelp and prior to eHelp Blue Sky Software had direct control of RoboHelp, there were dedicated channel sales staff who would at least keep their channel sales partners informed of a release cycle. I’m not seeing that occurring here.

    In fact, I don’t believe there’s an existant relationship between resellers and your product management group at all. So don’t hide behind ‘confidentiality’. I’m not buying it because it’s a copout.
    Adobe staff stated they were releasing a new version nine months ago in open meetings in person with the public in Palm Springs.

    I think that the raw deal that Macromedia stuck the RH user base with was pulling dev out of a product that had a strong user base while their support agreements were still intact which I feel was immoral however it was not illegal according to the licensing agreement.

    My opinion about the communications loop you mention is honest but blunt and painful:

    It’s not up to the resellers to find out about the product release if you want them to push your product. Nobody will sell it ‘because it’s Adobe’; if it’s returned they lose revenue also. Where is your dedicated support for these clients, of whom I may (or may not) be one?

    Therefore – it’s up to you and your sales staff to push the knowledge, not up to the resellers to pull it. To assume otherwise is a serious mistake and frankly, it’s insulting.

    I still have to sell a workflow. Your product is not helping me do that when it’s not useable with Vista or Word 2007. It’s not an industry standard to release workable software post-OS release. I’ve never seen that occur in my ten years of working with RoboHelp, and I don’t expect people to suck it up and pay the $1000 hoping you’ll release a dot-version to fix the compatibility. That’s a pig in a poke and frankly, it’s insulting.

  • I’m not terribly impressed by the way the new release was handled, either. I realise that Adobe is/was trying to preserve its sales flow, but from my perspective, having bought a copy of X5 on December 11 and migrating over from Help&Manual, I feel like I got a very raw deal…especially considering that I’m an independent consultant who doesn’t make a whole lot of money. That $499US upgrade on offer is a non-trivial expense for me, especially since US$ is not my home currency. All of which is certainly not leaving me with a tremendous amount of brand loyalty to RH.

    Thanks for the input on where to go from here, since I’m considering attempting to move away from RH already.

  • I am new with Robohelp 6 .I am really having a tuff time tryin to bring a customized look for my webhelp output.I wanted to integrated a customized search and a diffrent HOMEPage for my help.So can anybody help me abt hw to accomplish this…

    Thanks for replays in advance..

Leave a Reply