CHM Editor

{rw_text}Giveaway of the day for January 27, 2009 is CHM Editor v1.3 build 034.
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{rw_good}

  • Nice clean interface.
  • Built in translator (Google or Yahoo) allows you to convert text from language to language.
  • You have the option to write in WYSIWYG mode or HTML mode.
  • You can import RTF files.
  • Built in CHM -> HTML converter.
  • Comes with three templates.
  • Fairly light on resources.

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{rw_bad}

  • There is a bug that makes the program display errors whenever I go to “Files”.
  • You need to be connected to the internet to use the built in Google translator or Yahoo babelfish.
  • The “HTML” tab seems to be misleading.
  • Vista users need to run as Administrator to avoid a few problems.

{/rw_bad} –>

{rw_score}
{for=”Features as Described” value=”8″}The error earns this an 8.
{/for}
{for=”Ease of Use” value=”9″}Pretty freaking easy to use. Anyone that needs to make a help file will be able to easily understand how to use it.
{/for}
{for=”Usefulness” value=”4″}I give this a 4 because, obviously, it will not be useful to many people.
{/for}
{/rw_score} –>

Registration and installation went fine. Contrary to what people are saying on the GOTD comments section, I was able to copy + paste just fine. Be sure to try both the right click -> copy/paste and Ctrl C/Ctrl V methods of copy and paste before starting to manually enter the registration code. Also, Vista users should run as Administrator to avoid errors when trying to create a new file w/ templates.

For people that don’t know, CHM are associated with Help files. You know, the help files that appear under Help -> Contents; or when you press “F1″ for many programs. You even see many help files online. Those types of things. To know more, read up on it at wikipedia.

CHM Editor is pretty simple and the target audience this is aimed at should be able to easily figure out how to use it. So I won’t go through my usual step by step review. Rather I will just point out the main things I feel that need to be pointed out and be done with it.

This is what the program looks like when you open it:

If you are creating a new CHM file, you will have the ability to either choose a blank one, or use one of the three provided templates:

This is what the actual editor looks like:

If you want to translate some text, highlight it, choose your language settings from the topic, and hit the ‘play’ like button:

You will need to be connected to the internet because the program uses Google translator. If you want to translate all the text, don’t highlight any specific text. The language listed first is the language your text is currently in and the language listed second is the language you want your text to be in. You can change it from Google translator to Yahoo babelfish if you click on the drop down menu where Google is at.

To import text from an RTF file, click on Import -> Import from RTF File:

You can switch inbetween WYSISYW and HTML modes via the little tabs at the bottom:

The first tab is named “HTML”. However I think this may be a bit misleading (someone correct me if I am wrong) because when that tab is active, you are actually using the WYSISYW editor – no HTML will work there. The “Source” tab allows you to edit in HTML:

Lastly, you can convert CHM -> HTML, for easy uploading the help file onto a website, via the file menu:

There is one major bug that I ran into with this program. Everytime I would click on “Files” tab, I would get a huge error. I was forced to alt+ctrl+delete close the program each time. This happens everytime I click on the “Files” tab – I am running as Administrator:

Not sure why this is happening. I have not tried to troubleshoot it atm.

Free Alternatives:

HelpNDoc

Off developer’s website:

Key features…
Generate HTML Help
Generate Help Web Sites
WYSIWYG Word processor
Advanced keyword editor
Easy to use
Extremely low learning time
Free for personal use

HelpMaker

From developer’s website:

HelpMaker is the best freeware Help Authoring tool in the whole world.

It comes with these utilities:
ImageMaker, ButtonMaker, IconMaker, Batch Image Conveter, PDF Merge, PDF Manual Designer and SHG editor.

PMnet Verdict: This is the first time I have ever been exposed to creating help files. And I must say it seems pretty simple. For the average user, this program will be useless – most of us don’t need to create help files. Since this is my first time, I don’t think I am rightly qualified to recommend any program for this task because I would not know what important features are there and what are not. However, I can tell you that even if I knew what to look for in a help making software, I would not recommend CHM Editor because of that error that I keep facing. If that error can be fixed (and I have not tried to troubleshoot it), CHM Editor looks like it can be a keeper. Otherwise, from what little qualification I have on this matter, I would say HelpMaker looks the best – and it is freeware so commercial use is completely legal.

Update: For input from a professional who has worked with HELP files before, read comment #6 below.

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8 comments

  1. Cad Delworth CEng MBCS CITP

    Firstly, on my XP SP3 machine here, I don’t have the ‘Files tab’ problem you describe. Probably that’s down to you using the inferior Vista OS? :D

    Ashraf, as you said yourself, you’re not experienced either in writing Help files nor in HATs (Help Authoring Tools). So let me help!

    I’ve written several Help files professionally, and I have to say that CHM Editor is OK for small Help projects or for use by inexperienced Help writers, but it lacks several features which a ‘pro’ Help author would expect. It’s not possible to build your own Index or Keywords, for example, and worst of all, there’s no way to insert a table (an absolutely ESSENTIAL feature for any Help file beyond REALLY simple ones). The developers of CHM Editor seem to be really proud of their automated Google or Yahoo! translations; the reality is that anyone needing to write a multi-language Help file would either bite the bullet and pay to have it translated professionally, OR pass the file to a colleague (or Internet buddy ;)) who is a native speaker of whatever language. Automated translations invariably look ‘wrong’ to native speakers and are frequently laughable: so I wouldn’t be plugging that as a USP if I were them.

    On the other hand, looking at the ‘free’ alternatives, HelpMaker is still (after all these years!) somewhat buggy in places, but CAN insert tables and support manual index building, as well as ‘pop-up’ or ‘extra’ Help windows, and is VERY MUCH worth grabbing in its current version, before they finally produce their ‘super duper’ new version which seemingly will be supported by a database (oh dear!), and which will in my opinion wreck their product. It’s currently my relctant preferred product in the freeware arena (try it and you’ll soon find the ‘huh?’ editing bugs in it). To confirm: yes, HelpMaker CAN produce CHMs, and well as HLPs and pure HTML.

    HelpNDoc is also pretty good, and would be my choice if I had to produce a printed document and Help file from a common source file. As you correctly, say though, it’s not free for ‘commercial’ use, and I’m not sure it’s worth their asking price. It has slightly fewer features than HelpMaker, but is much less buggy in my opinion. If you don’t need the more ‘fancy’ stuff that HelpMaker can do, or if you’re working on a commercial project, HelpNDoc would be the better choice.

    CHM Editor, then, is great for the small stuff which doesn’t need much in the way of formatting or tables ;), or for the newbies, but not really suitable for anything more complex. I also worry about the standard of English on the Gridinsoft site…maybe they auto-translated it from the original Ukrainian using CHM Editor?!! :D

    So I’d give your review a 3/5, and CHM Editor itself a 4/5 for beginners, but only a 2/5 for larger Help projects.

  2. Ashraf
    Author/

    W13, I am now going to have to ban you for giving me a 4/5 instead of 5/5. :D

    Yes I believe HelpMaker can do CHMs.

    Thanks for pointing out the solution of the problem – I will check it out a bit later.

  3. watcher13

    Let me get this straight. You review a pretty much self explanatory software and don’t break everything down because it isn’t necessary and, per your GOTD comment, you think it isn’t up to your usual review standards. Well, flagellate yourself with a wet noodle! Thanks again for another useful review. I’m sorry to give it 4 stars, but I very rarely give 5 stars. I’d give 4.5 on your stuff if I could (and, occassionally, 5).

    2 things:
    Does HelpMaker do chm? I can’t tell from the webpage, because I don’t know the difference between “HTML_Help” and “Webpage help”. I’m not clear on what the difference between those two are. Do they mean chm when they say HTML_Help? I would have thought HTML help is help in HTML, not compiled html, but then what is Webpage help?

    I assume your problem is the address violation that others, including Fubar, are reporting. Have you seen a new post saying they got it to work on Vista by using NT compatibility mode after XP mode didn’t work for them? (I wonder if they tried 2000?) #56 – christoria. I just mention this in case you want to try and keep it.