One of the marks of a world class desktop application is well designed, good looking help. If you’ve done any research, you’ll realize that it can be extremely time consuming to create help for Mac apps without a good help authoring tool, and probably found that there wasn’t much out there before Help Crafter.
I believe that if you are developing apps for the Mac OS, Help Crafter is the best authoring tool available. Even if you’re only developing for the web, it’s also worth a look.
To understand why, let’s take some time to explore some of the options I found when I was looking for a Help Authoring tool for my own development prior to creating Help Crafter.
Creating your help bundle manually
Apple has documented the process of creating a help bundle very well (some have said too well). You can find everything you need to know from Apple’s Help Authoring Guide. Be warned that this guide still uses the style of help from previous versions of Mac OS, so although much the information is still relevant, you’ll want to take a look at the content Apple is publishing currently for modern examples.
The Apple Help viewer is basically the core of a browser, so you create your help bundle much the same as you would a web site. To summarize creating a help bundle manually you’ll need to:
- Create an Html page for each help topic
- Create the basic Help Bundle folder structure
- (optionally) Add Apple links to your pages so you can open them from your app
- (optionally) Add keywords meta tags to each page to better tune how it’s found when searching in the Apple Help Viewer
- Create the Info.plist for the Help Bundle, including all of the plist relevant keys.
- Run hiutil for each localization in your Help Bundle to create the index
- Add the Help Bundle to your project
Using one of the many Windows based Help Authoring Tools
- Your help will likely look like it belongs on a Windows PC instead of a Mac. Many of the fonts on your Mac probably won’t be available on your Windows PC.
- Your help will probably not look or behave like the help for any modern Mac apps.
- Your help may or may not display correctly on previous versions of the Mac. Help Crafter help output is tested on Snow Leopard as well as the latest version of Mac OS to ensure compatibility.
- You will have to perform most of the manual steps above to get a working Help Bundle.
- Depending on the Html generated, you may have problems indexing your content. The hiutil indexing tool tends to be picky about the Html is is indexing, and some of the available tools don’t generate strict enough Html.
Using Help Crafter to author your help
Help Crafter was designed from the ground up to author help content for Mac Applications. Its style based editing lets you focus on your content first, creates everything for you, and lets you see what your end content will look like as you create it.
Authoring with Help Crafter can be as simple as:
- Adding topic pages with one click
- Typing, and optionally dragging images into your content. Of course, Help Crafter supports things you’d expect like lists, tables, fonts, etc.
- Generating a fully indexed help bundle with one command
- Add the help bundle to your help project.