It’s all in the timing. (And the marketing.)

Since my Craptastic review, there have been a lot of folks participating in the comments boards and/or e-mailing me with all sorts of different perspectives on the release of Adobe RoboHelp (RH) 6, both on and off the record. Thank you all very much for your opinions.

Adobe has brought its heavy resources to an all-out marketing blitz for RH. Last week they held a free webinar, with product evangelist RJ Jacquez providing the presentation.

We really didn’t learn anything new about RH 6, but if you listened between the lines, you learned an awful lot about Adobe’s view of its competitors and their place in the industry. To me, Adobe seems awfully interested in presenting its own “version” of recent history. There were a few statements in Jacquez’s presentation that left me scratching my head.

Go here to watch the webinar; my times below correspond to times or specific slides in Jacquez’s presentation.

Intro: Jacquez presents his vitae, how he started with eHelp/Blue Sky… then Macromedia… then Adobe. Interesting that he never mentioned that he was also with MadCap Software for awhile. Hmmm… I wonder why he left that out?

08:30: RJ shows the WritersUA chart of the most common tools used by technical communicators in 2006:

Image borrowed from Adobe, who borrowed it from WritersUA. Credit: Someone.

The purpose of this chart is to emphasize Adobe’s dominance in the industry. Fair enough… I won’t argue with that at all. With the arsenal of Acrobat, FrameMaker, RoboHelp, PhotoShop, InDesign, etc., no question Adobe is dominant, and deservedly so. It was especially pleasing to me to see Captivate make an appearance on this year’s chart. That’s a good thing.

But the kicker comes when Jacquez says, “…the closest [online help tool] to RH is Microsoft’s HTML Help Workshop.” The clear implication is that RoboHelp is teh awesome, and teh other toolz are teh suxors. Why even Micro$oft’s crappy free tool places higher then our pathetic competitors!!

Not necessarily. The chart only represents the percentage of survey respondents that indicated using a particular tool in 2006. Since HTML Help Workshop is free, and is already pre-installed on most copies of Windows, it seems likely that a majority of respondents would indicate having used it. That’s a far cry from insinuating that it’s the second most popular tool behind RH.

Two more interesting caveats, both from the original WritersUA report: (1) Microsoft Word was removed from the survey because of its overwhelmingly dominant share, and (2) a number of other authoring tools were significantly represented in the survey, including WebWorks Publisher, Flare, FAR, AuthorIT, Doc-to-Help, and ArborText. In other words, RH’s primary competitors did not individually score high enough to be included on this chart, yet their collective weight is quite significant. You’d never get that idea, however, from listening to the webinar.

13:00: Jacquez says, “…competitors telling people that [RH] is dead… one has to wonder what the competition is going to say when their customers begin to return their product because they bought it under the pretense that RH was dead.”

ZING!! Ouch. I’m not sure that’s really happening, too. Right now, zero thousands of UA developers are surfing the Internet clamoring to open return their copies of AuthorIT, WebWorks, and Flare to create usable UA symbolically protest the accurate false marketing employed by RH competitors.

But seriously, which competitors said RH was dead? Many companies have used the “replace RoboHelp” phrase in their marketing, but none that I’ve been able to find used the phrase “RH is dead.”

And this is where I thought: …*tsk, *tsk. If this guy really has been with the RH development team for years, then he should know better.

As an aside, if you really want to know the entire play-by-play of how Macromedia attempted to kill off RH, I urge you to listen to Mike Hamilton’s inside version of events over at Tech Writer Voices’ January 5th podcast. A fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the benefits and perils of producing a niche product in this era of software megacorps.

14:00 - : Starting here, Jacquez begins to list Adobe’s new features in Adobe RoboHelp 6 and pat the Adobe developers on the back for the great job Adobe did in bringing these new Adobe features to this fine Adobe product.

Enough! RH 6′s “new” features were developed years ago, by the old RH team, before and during the Macromedia era. Don’t believe me? Don’t take my word for it, check out the feature list for the never-released X6 version. Command-line compliation (CLC), snippets, variables, etc. were all coded into the X6 version that was subsquently scrapped by Macromedia.

It’s interesting that the feature list is still up; in fact, I expect it to be taken down once someone realizes that it proves the features Adobe is taking credit for were, in fact, developed under the eHelp/Macromedia umbrella.

For instance, Jacquez states that Adobe’s “talented developers” were able to implement CLC, even though their “[competitors] said it couldn’t be done.”



That screencap comes from the help topic on CLC, taken from the now-defunct X6 release notes.

Ergo, CLC and all the other “new” features of RH6 (excepting the Acrobat Elements integration) were implemented into RH long before Adobe came to the table. That Adobe is not only taking credit for them, but saying that these were things that the previous development team couldn’t pull off, is shameful.

Here’s my “big-picture” speculation on the true story with RH:

  • RH doesn’t work in Vista. There’s a complex work-around, but it’s major surgery, and if you dare hack it to make it work, naturally, it won’t be supported.
  • RoboServer systems will also not run on Vista with IIS 7, and there are scary reports of them breaking with IE 7.0.
  • There’s no support for Microsoft Office 2007.

Between all of these factors and the fact that RH has been losing slow-but-steady ground to its competitors, it seems obvious that January 2007 was “use it or lose it” time for releasing RH 6. Any later, and too many folks might (1) install Vista and not be able to use/install the product, (2) install Office 2007 and not be able to import Word content, or (3) possibly get tired of waiting and switch to other products.

The Version 6 was all about timing. It keeps the revenue stream going, and buys Adobe a little more time. Later this year, when the “Vista!!” cries start, Adobe will be able to say, “We’re working on it. We just gave you a release, remember?”

Shades of FrameMaker.

27 Responses to “It’s all in the timing. (And the marketing.)”

  • Awesome post. I can’t believe Adobe took down their old release notes. I made a PDF copy before they were able to do that.

    Did you know that, during the webinar, as Jacquez kept referring to some podcast where someone had said such and such about Adobe, I used the live chat Q&A to ask if he was referring to Tech Writer Voices. No response. After a few minutes I wrote saying if Jacquez would like to be interviewed for a podcast on Tech Writer Voices, contact me — no response. I also asked about character-level indexing — no response.

    The lack of communication makes me very suspicious about Adobe’s plans to develop RoboHelp. I hope Vista terminates it for good.

    Wow — I must have had a hard day at work today. Thanks for your very informative post.

  • MP, thanks for sharing the information about Vista and Word 2007. I knew that it wasn’t possible to install RH6 07 with Word 2007, but I didn’t realize that RH couldn’t be installed on Vista. Even though I think that Vista’s adoption rate will be relatively low right now, it’s still something that folks need to be aware of.

    We have already added several features about Vista and Word 2007 at for those who need to know this information. (The latest update for Doc-To-Help includes compatibility for both, and AuthorIT can be used with Word 2007. We’re waiting to hear about the others…)

  • RJ was also with WebWorks Publisher. :-)

  • er, make that Quadralay. Who makes WWP.

  • I am a little confused about something.

    He said that his competitors said Command Line Compilation can’t be done? Doc-To-Help has allowed it for years. In fact, the technology was just updated to make it work even better.

    By the way, I am the Product manager for Doc-To-Help and I am not trying to spam this blog. I had to interject about this claim to clear our name from that statement.

  • Great points MP. The interview with Mike Hamilton on Tech Writer Voices was a real eye opener for me. The phoenix-like rise of RoboHelp from the ashes is being proven to be a gross exaggeration.

  • Thanks for stopping by, everyone.

    Dan - I think his “competitors said it couldn’t be done” statement was meant to imply that some said CLC “couldn’t be done [in RH].”

    However, as Tom pointed out, there’s no evidence (currently) that any such statement was ever made anyway.

    The transcript of the statement mentions that (sic) “…some said it couldn’t be done …we’ve only had this product for close to a year, we brought it out way ahead of schedule, and we have some very talented developers… we’ve been able to do a good job, and CLC was one of them…”

    Make no mistake: IMO, with the exception of the Acrobat Elements functionality, it sure seems like Adobe released the same Macromedia X6 version that was shipped to India in 2004. At least, that’s what the facts seem to show.

    One other thing… it’s an Adobe product now, and since they own it, are investing in it, and are promoting it, they definitely have a right to take credit for its success (and blame for its failure). But it does seem bad form to lie about accomplishments that never happened, maligning the competition in the process; especially to a niche, well-networked community that knows the entire story. Nothing alienates consumers more than a company that treats them like they’re stupid.

  • Thanks for the clarification. I actually realized the context after I left the post. I am always on a mision to make sure everybody knows the facts (there is a lot of misinformation out there) and I was reading those comments in that frame of mind.

  • Keith, you win teh internets for using the most farkisms in one post.

    Also, I understand that RJ did a stint at Quadralay, although that was before my time.

  • Not to beat a dead horse but RJ has no idea about other tools. Quadralay has command line for years called AutoMap.

  • Someone else knows about ‘farkisms,’ eh?!?

    I could have written a post that said “No, RH 6, you can’t have *.fm. Not yours.” Or maybe something about Flare’s sharp knees. Or perhaps a headline reading “RH X5 downgraded to Barbaro.” ;-)

    Got the “keith” part wrong, tho…

  • If RH6 was going to support Vista or Word 2007 then it would already. Why? Because the beta versions are what developers use to test compatibility. IF it doesn’t support it now, it’s probably (though not certainly) due to a conflict of interest.

    Now, how many tech writers want to stay with Word 2003 vs. Word 2007?

    RJ’s a sharp guy. I can’t wait to listen to the interview. But… Launching a product that requires people to stay legacy with WinXP AND Word2003 is not a sharp move.

    IMO, I don’t think he agreed to launch it without some serious pressure. Now he has to dress it up and show sales results or they’ll probably can him. Not fair, Adobe.

  • Oh, one other thing about Word 2007 compatibility: this impacts not just the tech writer but the entire workflow. Everyone has to output to a Word 2003 compatible document or the import function (one of my personal favorites within RH) may not work.

  • I really like the fact that RH is back. I was beginning to miss the self-proclaimed industry standard authoring tool, and wondered if I’d ever play in kadovland again. ;)

    Seriously though, since when has RH been about anything but hype? Yes, it was a wonderful tool back when Windows 95 came out and helped everyone jump into the HTML Help kiddie pool, but I honestly don’t understand what Blue Sky’s, er, eHelp’s, er, Macromedia’s, er, Adobe’s… um, yeah, Adobe’s deal is with lofting RH as the help authoring savior.

    It’s an old authoring tool that has name recognition because of longevity and a massive guerrilla marketing campaign. We will remember RoboHelp until the day we die, and will probably still be on their damn mailing list until that day too.

    Unless I see Viggo Mortensen lofting RoboHelp on high as he charges the consumer market with ghastly pale developers right behind him in an eerie green aura created by Crackberries and flourescent tans, I’ll not believe it’s the Return of the King.

  • Crackberries… eerie green aura

    I’m still laughing over that one.

  • Bohica29: me too!

    Techcomdood: Very clever. :)

  • I’m RJ Jacquez, a senior product evangelist at Adobe.

    While I’m pleased that my eSeminar on RoboHelp has been receiving a lot of attention recently, I’ve noticed that there have been a number of questions raised regarding its content. I’d like to give personal attention to anyone who has such questions. So if you have any comments or questions regarding my presentation, please give me a call directly, on (858) 847-7410. If I’m not at my desk when you call, leave me your number and I’ll call you back.

  • Thanks for making yourself available, RJ. I know we can get rough sometimes, but it shows how passionate we are about the tools we use. ;-)

    The only comments and questions I would have were addressed in the post above… the issues of the “competitors said RH was dead” statement and the swipe taken at the former dev team (your “the competitors said it couldn’t be done” statement, when the facts seem to show that Adobe didn’t innovate that particular feature). Any comments?

  • Re: Dans comment “lot of misinformation out there”

    Interesting. Well Dan, you’ve certainly come to the right place. Someone at Macromedia must have really really upset monkeypi - what a bitter and twisted missinformed blog….

  • PJ - thanks for stopping by. For the record, I’ve always been a big fan of Macromedia and Adobe.

    Would you care to clarify what you mean by my being “misinformed?”

  • With the maintenance plan I got my boss to pay for last year (top cost inc. engine), I am surprised nothing has been announced or delivered to me!
    However, I am far more surprised that they even bothered with this minor update.
    I mean - How the HELL could anyone trust them again?
    My support requests have gone to people that have no clue what I am talking about——”What is roboengine then?”
    My installation key was a nightmare to reactivate when I changed computers.
    These are show stoppers to a project
    I could never justify asking my boss for any further funds for Abobe and would not like to even mention Robohelp to him again.
    Flare is quite obviously a product that is rapidly becoming exactly what we need.
    At the end of the day, it all comes down to trust. Adobe don’t have mine any more and the Flare team has it in abundance. Why? ‘Cos they do what they say they are going to do. Simple!

  • Update: So I have to explain to not only one, but two corporate clients what the deal is with RoboHelp. They each want to get projects done, and their questions are about the workflow.


    This is why I’m frustrated with RH and the new release. It’s like - I get to tell one of them, well, you own three platinum level support packages from 2004 for RH5 but the webhelp doesn’t work as well without security issues. Good news for them - their display platforms haven’t moved away from NT so they’re stuck with browser versions that are compatible also.

    The other one is not so easy. I have to be on hand during a meeting to tell whether or not the help authoring tools out there will do what they want to do. They want to integrate help with demo movies into a brand new web application. The paths of discussion will be two - first, the benefits of a properly designed instructional help file / tutorial, and second, which software does the trick.

    So at the end of the day they all know the RoboHelp brand name, but the product won’t support what they eventually need to do - Vista and Word 2007 compatibility.

    Great news for me? The facts are that both clients will probably say to me, get it done, we don’t care how, we’ll pay you to maintain the file. I win, of course. But the clients lose the ability to organically modify their own files. When they need to do updates, they’ll always come knocking.

    Why? Because at this point in the market tying oneself to a specific authoring tool may be a fight that decision makers accountable to the upper management may not want to make. Hire a specialist, get it done, fixed cost versus training an internal asset in what may become a dead language.

  • MonkeyPi,

    Welcome to my hell of an evaluation. I’m now going to have to evaluate RH6 Server - does anyone have any idea about the natural language search and why it’s not available in this version?!? Are synonyms completely gone now?

    Is Adobe going back to text-only search capability? What other features are degraded - will it still build a searchable index of other locations within the server, and if there’s not natural language search, are we just looking at a ‘reporting box’ which Awstats from my linux apache server could do just as well?!?

    WTF - feel free to start a new thread about search integrated into with your results. I figure you’re better informed than I am. I’m not seeing info on the search functionality.

  • Bohica - I’ve heard about the issues, too. Seems like Adobe is advertising a capability that isn’t even there (or doesn’t work). (???)

    I don’t know a lot about it yet, so I’ve gotta do some poking around. I’ll probably post a thread about it soon & start a discussion on it.

  • Funny, I was just researching this and posted on the MadCap Forums. Someone told me to check this site out again about the RoboHelp Engine…

    Yeah, check out this article link written by John Daigle. He is very careful to mention I put up a link within the forums to this location.
    The Natural Language Search facility of older versions has been replaced. The new full text search facility is an important change for those upgrading from an older version of the RoboEngine. The natural language search concept seemed like a good idea years ago, but never caught on because users were more familiar with keyword searches. Since the natural language search technique often confused users, it has been replaced.

    Upgrade Tip #1: Upgraders will want to “archive” their older feedback reports before the change takes place, because the RoboHelp Server 6 database will replace the older RoboEngine database.
    Upgrade Tip #2: Those upgrading to RoboHelp Server 6 will want to let users know that rather than entering questions, they should use keywords for their search terms.

    Upgrade Tip #3: A best practice would be to set up a test server and publish your existing content. In this way, you can anticipate any rollout changes you want to make.


    To me, John seems to be giving a clear ‘caveat emptor’ warning here about checking the results for yourself. What I would do, as a client, is install both RH servers and have my test team try the past three months of previously entered content to see how well the new one compared to the old one.

    Questions then arise about a ‘forced upgrade’ possibility.

    About me:

    My history with eHelp started in 2002, and I proposed a change in the natural search engine back then. The strengths I was looking to add to the product were to support multiple byte language sets such as Japanese, Chinese, Greek (i think) and Cyrillic, along with improving the natural language search capabilities. We were even demo’ing a desktop search utility two years prior to Google’s Desktop Search. That’s innovation, and

    That idea was still in evaluation when Macromedia purchased eHelp, and I departed prior to the finalization of the sale.

    I use many Adobe products, and Captivate 2 is my current breadwinner. I maintain several RoboHelp generated websites, and have used it for nearly eight years. I like both companies, and maintain friendships with developers with both (just not at the same time). The strengths that eHelp staff have brought to Macromedia, and then Adobe (those who survived the purge) are still evident in the products which they designed. So yes, I like both, and try to play well with others.

    Search just happens to have been a focus of mine as a new technology for well before Google came to the forefront. My private company had been researching this as a core ‘disruptive technology’ since well before 2002 and had made several inroads into licensing a technology before I had begun to work at eHelp.

    I can speak volumes about the testing my company did with the servers and although it’s a parallel development we did approach Google with the Desktop search concept prior to their Google Desktop Search. That adds to an ownership I feel, like our interest contributed to that simple desktop tool which helps so many people with file management.

    - Charles Jeter
    aka eHelpCharlesJet (AIM from way back when)

  • Wupps - I typo’d.

    Should read - John is very careful to mention in his article that people should test the server prior to rolling it out. That sounds like caveat emptor to me in a very respectful tone.

  • My company purchased RoboHelp 6 two years ago and we have developed a help solution that involves importing Word documents. Our company would like to move to Office 2007 and I have just become aware that RoboHelp 6 will not import Word files with Office 2007 installed. I guess this is a matter of not doing due diligence at the time of purchase and of assuming that the support would be incorporated eventually.

    We’re seriously considering moving to Flare. If we have to pay to upgrade, we might as well move to another product. Compatibility with Microsoft products is a given. This lack of support in RoboHelp 6 is outrageous.

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