Help Authoring Tools

Market overview of recommendable tools for creating software documentation, especially for the creation of user manuals and online help files. Many of these help authoring tools can generate printable user manuals (PDF) and online help files from the same text base (single source publishing).

Tip: Also see the checklist in Choosing a Help Authoring Tool.

 

Flare

Clearly not a tool for occasional users but for full-time technical writers. Excellent single source publishing features. Can create PDF without the need of an external text processor, but can produce full-featured Microsoft Word and Adobe FrameMaker files as well. Other advanced features are its DITA import (including relation tables), the option to have different structures for online help and printed user manuals generated from the same source, and the professional translation workflow. Concept markers make it easy to add structured related-topic links. Within browser-based help files, sophisticated search features can be implemented. “MadCap Contributor” provides a simplified user interface for casual content contributors, such as subject matter experts and reviewers. The optional add-on product “MadCap Pulse” provides social collaboration features, such as comments, and can track reader activity.

Price: approx. $999 (Flare) and $249 (Contributor). Pulse starting at approx. $25 per month per advanced user

RoboHelp

For a long time, RoboHelp clearly was the market leader of help authoring tools. Today, some of its competitors have caught up or even outperformed it. Key advantages still are its large scope of functions, its efficient and powerful integrated HTML-editor, full control over the generated HTML code, version control, and multiauthor support. RoboHelp’s close integration with Microsoft Word and Adobe FrameMaker also enables you to create online help from existing user manuals. Another noteworthy feature is that RoboHelp can provide a search function that also includes external content. On the downside is the lack of a professional translation workflow. The add-on product “RoboHelp Server” lets you easily deploy and manage up-to-date online content and control and monitor the use of browser-based help systems in real time.

Prices: approx. €1150; also available as part of the Technical Communication Suite; RoboHelp Server approx. €2000

Help & Manual

Very efficient and easy to use. The output is highly customizable, especially on the HTML side. In addition to various help formats and ebooks, Help & Manual can also create high-quality PDF manuals without the need of using an external text processor, such as Microsoft Word, and without the need of an external PDF generator, such as Adobe Acrobat. Help & Manual provides excellent support for single source publishing, including user-defined builds, snippets, conditional text with IF THEN ELSE statements, and variables. Other advanced features are the XML-based translation workflow, team authoring support, and the possibility to integrate with version control systems. You can run complex builds from the command line, or you can set up publish tasks that generate various documents in one go. For example, you can generate the online help for a Standard version of your product, the online help for a Professional version of your product, and printed user manuals (PDF) for both versions as well—all at a press of a button and from the same source file. Help & Manual also is the only help authoring tool that comes with a full-featured screen capture tool.

Price: approx. €319 (“Basic”) and €479 (“Professional”)

Doc-To-Help

Has the unique feature that you can use various editors for editing your content: Doc-To-Help’s build-in WYSIWYG editor, Microsoft Word, or any HTML editor. You can even use different editors within the same project. This is particularly interesting when combining texts from different sources and contributors. Thorough and uniform support for conditional text, variables, and text snippets in all editors. Good possibilities for single source publishing. Other special features are the partly automated documentation of source code and program libraries, Doc-To-Help’s component that allows developers to easily embed a dynamic help pane in the application’s interface, and the built-in team authoring support. Creating printed user manuals (or PDF) requires Microsoft Word. Unlike some other help authoring tools, Doc-To-Help cannot create PDF files internally.

Price: approx. $1095

HelpStudio

One of the few tools that provide built-in support for translations. Projects can either be translated in HelpStudio right away, or be exported to XML, translated by an external translator with the help of a translation memory tool, and then imported back into HelpStudio. Another interesting feature is the possibility to create your own widgets, which simplifies creating and editing complex content such as drop down sections, thumbnail images, note boxes, includes etc. Good single source publishing capabilities; PDF output may have a different structure than the HTML output. The layout of the created PDF files, however, cannot be customized as flexibly as with some other help authoring tools. Excellent HTML-based editor with full code control. With the help of the optional “Community Extensions,” you can add interactive community features to your help system, such as private notes, public comments or a ratings bar.

Price: approx. €380; Community Extensions approx. €1260

Fast-Help

Quite similar to HelpStudio.

Price: approx. $299 (Stanbdard), $399 (International), and $499 (Corporate)

Doc-O-Matic Author

Despite the comparatively low price, all important features that you can expect from a professional help authoring tool are present: Conditional text, text snippets and variables, complete control over layout and formatting both in HTML and PDF, Unicode support, XML source files, and the creation of full-featured PDF manuals without the need for any additional tool or converter.

Price: approx. $199

The following programs are clearly less powerful than the market leaders, but they’re also easier to use. For a small help project, using one of these tools can be an economical alternative.

HelpNDoc

Straightforward help authoring tool, which creates CHM, WebHelp for standard web browsers and IPhones, ePub and Kindle (MobiPocket) eBooks, plus customizable PDF and Word files. Supports styles, variables, and conditional content. Styles are also included in the Word export. Templates can be edited. Also exports code snippets to call online help (C/C++, Fortran, Delphi/Pascal, Power Basic, Visual Basic; other languages can be added via the built-in template engine).

Price: free for noncommercial use; professional license approx. €99 (“Standard”) and €249 (“Professional”)

Helpinator

Feature-rich help authoring tool, which can export to CHM, HTML, RTF, PDF, QtHelp, OracleHelp, JavaHelp, HelpGUI, EPUB, MOBI, and WordPress. Topic templates can be edited to customize the output. Supports styles, variables, snippets, conditional text (no nested conditions), projects in several languages, and XML export/import. Compilation can be run from the command line.

Price: approx. $249

HelpSmith

Provides full support of styles and quite flexible layout options. Creates high-quality browser-based help. Unicode compatible. Basic team authoring support. PDF and Word export. Conditional content. No HTML code control, no export for external translation.

Price: approx. $199

helpMATC Pro HTML

No bells and whistles but full HTML code control and CSS support. No single source publishing features.

Price: approx. $69

WinCHM Pro

Basic help editor with full HTML code control, template support for HTML page design, and PDF export. No advanced features, such as conditional text. Compilation can be run from the command line.

Price: approx. $129

ActoStudio

Integrated development environment for creating user manuals, software demos and presentations.

Price: free (freeware)

DAUX.IO

Documentation generator that uses a simple folder structure and Markdown files to create WebHelp on the fly. Needs to be installed on a web server. Key features are: Mobile-friendly responsive design, auto syntax highlighting, themes, flat design style, shareable SEO-friendly URLs, as well as support for Google Analytics and Piwik Analytics.

Price: free (open source)

The following tools can create some basic documentation semi-automatically. They do this by capturing screens from the software, by recording keystrokes or mouse movements, or by analyzing an application’s internal resource files. While this approach usually doesn’t achieve the same quality as manually written documentation, it can be an efficient way to obtain some preliminary documentation or to produce documents that supplement a training course, for example. Also, you can use the output as a good starting point and add more information later.

Dr. Explain

Automatically captures all windows of a program, adds callouts to all controls visible in each window, automatically labels these callouts, and then builds a fully linked online help system. All you need to do is to revise the automatically added text and to add some more detailed descriptions where this is necessary. In addition to CHM and WebHelp, you can also create a printed user manual (PDF or RFT format) from the same text base.

Price: approx. $190 (“Regular”) and $290 (“Advanced”)

Help Generator

Includes a help capture tool that generates topic pages of any part of a Windows user interface. For some program development platforms, most notably Visual Studio, there is an add-in available that scans the application user interface, generates a topic page for each form and links the pages for context-sensitive help. Many general help authoring features are also available, so this software is actually a mixture of a rapid help development tool and a conventional help authoring tool.

Price: starting at approx. $199

ScreenSteps

Allows you to take screen captures of a software and to easily create step-by-step instructions based on the images. When the documented software changes, screen captures can be updated with minimum effort. Especially useful for creating task-based documentation. Available for both Windows and Mac OS. Provides little options, so it’s very easy to use. Output can be flexibly customized based on templates.

Price: approx. $40 (“Standard”) and $80 (“Pro”)

HelpBurner

Creates short documents based on a series of screen captures. The approach is quite similar to ScreenSteps.

Price: approx. $249

StepShot

Same approach as ScreenSteps and HelpBurner but with fewer customization options. Screenshots are taken automatically, so your workflow isn’t interrupted. Templates can’t be modified.

Price: approx. $35; there’s also a free “Express” version available

MacSnapper

Transforms annotated screen captures to HTML-based help pages, Wordpress, or PDF files. Available for Mac OS only.

Price: approx. $49

Steps

Available for Mac OS only.

Price: approx. $10

IRIDIZE

Hosted service to easily add tips and guided tours to web applications.

Price: starting at approx. $25 per month

The following help authoring tools use Microsoft Word for editing the texts, or convert existing user manuals into online help:

WebWorks ePublisher

Easy to use, unmatched in performance but also in its price. Available in versions for Microsoft Word, FrameMaker, and DITA-XML. If you have the appropriate licenses, it’s even possible to generate common online help from different source formats. High flexibility coupled with low customization effort. Can even handle messily formatted documents quite well.

Price: approx. $795 per year

WebHelp Authoring Suite / ChmHelp Authoring Suite

Convert Microsoft Word documents into browser-based help or CHM. The set of build-in features only covers basic conversion tasks, but the software lets you create your own add-ins for custom processing.

Price: approx. $299 each

Mif2Go

Converts FrameMaker files into compiled online help (CHM), browser-based help, DITA, and Microsoft Word. Rather complex installation and customization required. Uses a proprietary “Document Coding Language” (DCL) for configuration. Mif2Go is interesting especially when you need custom conversions that aren’t provided by existing converters, or when you need to closely integrate a conversion into a specific production processes.

Price: approx. $295; free for students, academics, consultants, and unemployed technical writers

Help Producer

Merely adds a small toolbar to Microsoft Word. However, don’t be fooled: Help Producer is surprisingly powerful, and can be integrated seamlessly into Word-based workflows. Extensive customization possibilities (templates, style sheets, themes). COM scripting object model lets you control the output and automate complex tasks.

Price: approx. $395

WordToHelp

Converts Microsoft Word documents (Doc, Docx) to CHM and to WebHelp.

Price: approx. $249

chmProcessor

Creates CHM files and JavaHelp files from Word documents.

Price: free (open source)

Doc-O-Matic Professional

Professional documentation tool, particularly for source code documentation and for developer documentation. HTML output can be customized to a high degree. Good support for single source publishing. Can also create high-quality PDF manuals.

Price: approx. $999

Document! X

Automates the process of creating and maintaining documentation particularly for complex components or XSD schemas. High degree of automation and flexibility. “Community Extensions” enable you to add interactive community features to a help system, such as private notes, public comments, or a ratings bar. Translations into foreign languages can be done either with the help of a built-in translation editor, or via XML export/import.

Price: approx. €360; “Community Extensions” approx. €1260

West Wind HTML Help Builder

Although this tool shows its strengths especially when it comes to documentation of source code and program libraries, it also meets the requirements of technical writers who create end user documentation. Supports discrete information types and templates and gives you full control over the generated HTML code. Can also create clean Microsoft Word documents, including paragraph and character styles. Another advantage is the built-in multiple user support. A major disadvantage of the program is that it doesn’t support conditional text and text variables.

Price: approx. $299

TechWriter

Automatically documents, which files and data are part of a web site, and creates database references, xml schema references, and web service API documentation.

Price: approx. €120 for one documentation type, approx. €235 for all documentation types

VSdocman, VBdocman

Code commenter and class documentation generator for Visual Basic .NET and C# projects, including ASP .NET and for Visual Basic projects. Option to export to the tool Help & Manual (see above) and to XML for advanced editing.

Price: approx. $229 and $79

GenHelp

Help authoring tool for component writers. Imports Delphi Object Pascal, C++, C#, and C files.

Price: approx. €60 (“Standard”) and €140 (“Professional”)

TwinText

Automatically generates browser-based help and compiled HTML Help (CHM) directly from code comments. Supports a wide range of programming languages.

Price: approx. $169

AS2Doc

Automatic documentation generator for ActionScript-based classes. Various output formats and customization options.

Price: approx. €79

Documentation Insight

Delphi Source Code Documentation Solution.

Price: approx. €99 (Professional) and €249 (Enterprise)

VisDoc

Can generate HTML-based documentation from ActionScript and Java class files. Exclusively runs on Mac OS.

Price: free (open source)

HTML Help COM Assistant

Automatically analyzes components and creates basic online documentation for enumerators, objects, properties, and methods.

Price: free (freeware)

Sphinx

Designed for the documentation of Python projects and C/C++ projects. Output formats include HTML, Windows HTML Help, and LaTeX for printable PDF versions.

Price: free (open source)

Microsoft Sandcastle

Produces MSDN-style documentation by scanning source assemblies. Optionally also integrates XML documentation comments.

Price: free (freeware)

Javadoc

Generates API documentation in HTML format from doc comments in source code.

Price: free (freeware)

ROBODoc

Creates source code documentation by extracting comments from shell scripts and source code written in C, C++, Fortran, Perl, Assembler, DCL, DB/C, Tcl/Tk, Forth, Lisp, COBOL, Occam, Basic, HTML, Clarion, and any other language that supports comments.

Price: free (open source)

HeaderDoc

Generates HTML reference documentation from comments in headers and source code written in C, C++, Objective-C, Java, JavaScript, Pascal, PHP, Perl, MIG, as well as from comments in shell scripts.

Price: free (open source)

Doxygen

Documentation system for C++, C, Java, Objective-C, Python, IDL, Fortran, VHDL, PHP, and C#.

Price: free (open source)

DoxyS

Code documentation tool for C++/C. Based on Doxygen.

Price: free (open source)

VBDoxygen

Visual Basic add-in that converts VB code into java-like syntax for processing via Doxygen.

Price: free (open source)

Natural Docs

Scans source code for comments that are written according to a special syntax, and then builds documentation in HTML format from these comments.

Price: free (open source)

FunDoc

Tool designed to ease the documentation process of simulation models. Gathers simulation model information from Matlab/Simulink and Ascet.

Price: not published

 

 

For more source code documentation generators and for a side-by-side comparison, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_documentation_generators

QuickHelp

Help authoring tool that can author and run application help on Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows. The software consists of a builder for creating the help system and of royalty-free viewer executables to ship with your application. The help files displayed by the viewer are XML-based. Within a displayed help file, user-initiated actions can popup messages, start programs, an run COM methods, apple events, and apple scripts. The system can also generate user manuals in PDF format.

Price: approx. $295

Help Steward (formerly HelpLogic)

Another alternative for those who have to supply Apple Help (and browser-based help, HTML Help, or a PDF manual) from one source. Runs on Mac OS. Doesn’t support any conditional text and has no built-in WYSIWYG editor.

Price: approx. $100

Simple Help Editor

Produces help content for viewing in Apple Help Viewer, in Windows HTML Help Viewer, or in a web browser. Runs on Windows and Mac OS.

Price: approx. $85 (cross-platform license)

HelpBlocks

Cross-platform help authoring tool. Generates Microsoft HTML Help and wxWidgets HTML Help files.

Price: approx. €50

HelpSupreme

Simple, straightforward help authoring tool available for Mac OS and Windows. Exports to HTML, Qt Help, and Apple Help Book.

Price: approx. €34

Helen

Platform independent authoring tool to create JavaHelp.

Price: approx. €169

Manula

Easy-to-use manual authoring tool. Creates public and private online manuals that look great on desktops, tablets and phones. Also generates downloadable PDF manuals.

Price: starting at approx. $10 per month; there is also a free version available, limited to a maximum of 20 topics

HelpConsole

Web-based help authoring tool with full support of conditional content, context-sensitive help, and PDF output.

Price: starting at approx. $299

HelpIQ

Online help authoring tool with a focus on creating browser-based help centers. Contextual help can be authored in the same source as standalone documents.

Price: starting at approx. $14 per month

HelpServer

Web-based CMS for help and documentation. Supports structured authoring and team authoring. Creates various output formats, such as HTML, video, and PDF.

Price: starting at approx. €700 per concurrent author

ClickHelp

Modern online help authoring tool in a web browser. Created manuals can be hosted in the vendor’s cloud. Content management and single-sourcing functionality to produce online and printed documentation from the same source (PDF, DOCX, EPUB, ODT, RTF, MHT, HTML). Can import existing help files from the CHM format, preserving styles and scripts. Supports both WYSIWYG and source code editing of topics.

Price: approx. $10 per user per month

exxDoc

Multi-user, multi-language, web-based system that creates online help and other documents (HTML and PDF). Works with various databases.

Price: starting at approx. $398

3Rabbitz Book

Simple server-based authoring platform that can create various types of output files.

Price: free Personal version; Standard version approx. $1000

Docmenta

Web application for creating online and printable documentation from a single source.

Price: free (open source)

tomeCMS

Specialized content management system for creating and publishing online user manuals.

Price: free (open source); commercial license upon request if you want to remove the small “powered by” notice that appears near the bottom of each page

The following wikis are especially recommendable for technical documentation and user assistance purposes.

dokuwiki

Price: free (open source)

MediaWiki

Price: free (open source)

Tiki Wiki

Price free (open source)

TWiki

Price: free (open source)

Confluence

Price: starting at approx. $10

Dozuki Guidebook

Price: starting at approx. $49 a month

MindTouch TCS

Collaborative help system for creating product help communities with a wiki-like interface. Also has an option to provide context-sensitive information.

Price: not published

Wiki Web Help

Wiki with standard webhelp navigation.

Price: free (open source)

Commenting systems can be used to add social features to online help systems, such as user comments and ratings. You can use the commenting systems with all help authoring tools that let you modify the topics' HTML templates or embed HTML code snippets. So you don’t necessarily have to use a help authoring tool with a built-in commenting feature.

XCommentPro

Commenting and ratings system software. Can be applied to any static or dynamic HTML page that’s hosted on a web server (requires PHP).

Price: approx. $97

Commentics

Advanced PHP comment script with many features and a comprehensive administration backend.

Price: free (open source)

Commentator

Simple PHP-based commenting system.

Price: free (open source)

MadCap Pulse

Documentation-centric social collaboration platform. Creates a social layer around documentation in order to connect, collaborate and share knowledge with authors, employees and customers. Designed to be used in combination with MadCap Flare.

Price: starting at $.50/month per Basic User and at $25/month per Advanced User

If you create webhelp, you can monitor its use like you can monitor access to any web site. So you don’t necessarily have to use a help authoring tool with built-in monitoring and statistics features.

Google Analytics

Price: free (hosted service)

Piwik

Price: free (open source)

Open Web Analytics (OWA)

Price: free (open source)

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This page was last updated 04/2014.

 

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