Getting by with a little help from XML
For as long as most developers working in the Windows world can remember, there has been one tool for adding help to applications -- RoboHelp from San Diego-based eHelp.
This week, Rob Frankland, president and CEO at Seattle-based start-up Rascal Software (www.rascalsoftware.com), issued a challenge to RoboHelp's preeminence.
While eHelp has incorporated XML technology into its tool as the W3C standard has evolved, Frankland's company, founded just last year, built its Veredus help authoring tool from the bottom up on the XML standard.
Released on Sept. 2, Veredus is touted by Frankland for its single-source capabilities. Single sourcing is the Holy Grail of tech-writing productivity in which the documentation files can be created once and translated to an application's online help files without extensive rewriting.
XML, which allows content to be separated from formatting, "is really the perfect solution for single sourcing," said Frankland, who spent 20 years in the technical writing field, including a stint as documentation manager at Lotus.
Frankland said that people developing help files often work with as many as nine different tools to provide online help formatted for the variety of devices -- from Windows-based applications to Web browsers to handhelds -- end users may have. His goal is, if not to get down to one tool, to at least reduce the number of tools.
In fact, one area where users will find Veredus different from the competition is that while RoboHelp uses Microsoft Word, the Rascal product comes with its own text editor, Frankland explained. With that editor, XML-based text can be created "once for multiple deliverables that differ in content and format, including various online Help systems, PostScript and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF)," according to the Rascal announcement.
Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.