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Convert Your Help Files to Make Them Compatible with Windows Vista, 7, 8, and 8.1

With the release of Windows Vista, Microsoft has decided that the good old WinHelp format no longer meets its standards. When your users try to open a .hlp file on Windows Vista, they'll get an error message saying your application is using an outdated format for its help. This makes your products look obsolete, and will cause users to worry if they'll bump into more serious issues with your software later.

Microsoft does make the WinHelp viewer available as a separate download. There's a different download for different versions of Windows:

The WinHelp viewer is not available for Windows Server 2012. Microsoft has stated that WinHelp will not be supported on Windows Server 2012 or any future versions of Windows Server.

Easily Convert Help Files to HTML Help (.chm)

Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8 do support the HTML Help format based on .chm files. This is the same help file format introduced with Windows 98. It is also fully supported by Windows ME, 2000, and XP. Converting your help file to HTML Help will bring your application up to date. Your help file will work on 99% of all the Windows PCs in use today.

Converting a WinHelp File Created with HelpScribble

Compiling your help file as a .chm file is trivial if you previously used HelpScribble to create your WinHelp files:

  1. Open the HelpScribble project (.hsc file) you used to create your .hlp file.
  2. Select Project|Options in the menu, and select the HTML Help compiler.
  3. Select Project|Make in the menu to create your .chm file.

That's all there's to it. Using a help authoring tool like HelpScribble is a smart investment. Since the HTML Help format also has its share of problems, it's quite likely it will be next on Microsoft's chopping block. When Microsoft releases a new help format, we'll add a new compiler option to HelpScribble, allowing you to trivially migrate to the new format once more.

Importing and Converting Any HLP File with HelpScribble

If you previously used another help authoring tool, or suffered through the manual process of creating HLP files from HPJ and RTF sources, you can still use HelpScribble to make your help file ready for Windows Vista, 7, 8, and 8.1. It only takes a few extra steps.

  1. Use the WinHelp decompiler to decompile your existing .hlp file into .hpj and .rtf source files. (Using the decompiler is recommended, even if you have .hpj and .rtf files already.)
  2. Select Project|Import in HelpScribble and point it to the decompiled .hpj file. In a minute or two, your whole help project will appear in HelpScribble.
  3. Select Project|Options in the menu, and select the HTML Help compiler.
  4. Select Project|Make in the menu to create your .chm file.

Connect Your New CHM File to Your Application

If your application used your WinHelp file to implement context-sensitive help, you'll need to update it to use your new HTML Help file instead. Depending on the development tool you use to create your software, this may be as trivial as changing the file name of the help file your application uses.

Most development tools have built-in HTML Help support these days, or support it via downloadable libraries. If yours doesn't, you can always call the HtmlHelp() API directly.

Examples for Particular Development Environments:

WinHelp to HTML Help Conversion Issues

Since WinHelp and HTML Help are rather different technologies, there are some minor issues that you may need to overcome when converting your help files. The main difference is that WinHelp is based on RTF (Rich Text Format), while HTML Help is based on HTML. RTF is designed as a portable format for word processors like MS Word, while HTML is designed for the Internet. I recommend that you set aside an hour or two to proof-read your new CHM file, with particular attention to the layout of the text.

An issue you're likely to run into is that HTML does not support tabs like RTF does. If you've used tab to lay out tables or columns in your WinHelp files, you'll need to make sure they're converted properly. Many help authoring tools simply convert each tab into a space, which completely messes up the text's structure. HelpScribble uses SPAN tags to emulate tabs in HTML. The only thing you need to do is to make sure to set exactly one tab stop on the ruler in HelpScribble for each tab you're using in the text. Then HelpScribble will convert your tabbed layouts perfectly.

"I'm a new user, adapting my WinHelp file (done in ForeHelp) to the chm format in response to Vista. Helpscribble has allowed me to get a very functional chm file within a day of my purchase, and I congratulate you on a very good product. I love the view where I can see and edit my keywords right next to the topic title."

— Robert W. Feakins
  9 January 2008, California, USA

"I just want to say what a fantastic product you have created.

"For years and years I have been using the old "HELP FILE" system that Microsoft created. It gave me a lot of grief especially as I had to acquire and learn Office Word in order to create the RTF file. So you can imagine how my heart sank when I discovered that Windows Vista no longer handled that system. At the ripe old age of 70 I would have to learn something completely new and convert a help file already almost as big as a dictionary.

"Well I hunted through the Internet and came upon your program. It looked the best of the bunch so I took a chance and bought it.

"It was incredible. It converted my entire old help file automatically and I was able to go in and alter topics that have been created over 20 years so that they now all look the same. It is so intuitive that, although I still have no idea how it works, I do not need to know and it is a pleasure adding or editing topics. Creating a new help file is a breeze. Even though I only work with it a few times a year it is so simple that I do not need to remember how it works."

— Eric Taylor
  12 August 2009, South Africa

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