How to Provide Help with Your Cross-Platform Linux and Windows Applications

The Help Situation on Linux

There is no standard help format on Linux like there is on Windows. Most Linux applications provide a bunch of HTML files, or one large HTML file, as documentation.

How to Create HTML Files from Your HelpScribble Project

With HelpScribble's Project|Export to Web Help, you can easily create HTML files from your help project. You can use these HTML files to provide online documentation on your web site, or you can include them with your application.

You have several choices for the layout of the HTML pages. You can create simple pages: one HTML file for each topic, with no navigational aids besides the links already present in the topic text. You can also have a navigation header added to the top of each HTML file, with links to a table of contents, and index, the previous and the next topic.

You can also provide your readers with more navigational options by having HelpScribble create a framed page that shows the table of contents or the index in the left frame, and the topic text in the right pane.

Note that HelpScribble is a Windows application. If you do not have a Windows machine, you can run HelpScribble under VMware or Win4Lin.

How to Add Integrated Context-Sensitive Help to Your Kylix Applications

If you develop your Linux applications using Borland Kylix, you can easily provide integrated, context-sensitive help using the HTML files created by HelpScribble's Web Help feature.

You are free to download the Simple HTML HelpViewer. Simple HTML HelpViewer is an implementation of the ICustomHelpViewer. It allows you to add context-sensitive help to your Kylix 2 and Delphi 6 CLX applications. Simple HTML HelpViewer allows you to use ordinary HTML files for context-sensitive help and to display them on a form that is part of your application, rather than trying to figure out which web browser the user has.

Using Simple HTML HelpViewer has several advantages. Simple HTML HelpViewer enables context-sensitive help, rather than having the user open an HTML file in his/her browser and search for the information. People who have used Windows software in the past certainly expect this functionality. By displaying the HTML file in a TTextBrowser component, your application does not have to figure out which web browser(s) the user has installed and it will work the same on all systems, reducing the burden on tech support.

The most important disadvantage of Simple HTML HelpViewer is the TTextBrowser component it uses to show the HTML files. This CLX component is a wrapper around the QTextBrowser QT class, which is not exactly a state-of-the-art browser. It does support plain HTML fairly well, and all the HTML files created with HelpScribble's Export to Web Help feature were displayed properly.

Simple HTML HelpViewer is licensed under the Lesser GPL. Basically, this license allows you to use Simple HTML HelpViewer in closed source applications, but you must make the source code of Simple HTML HelpViewer, including any modifications you may have made, available to anybody who asks.

You can customize the form used by Simple HTML HelpViewer to your heart's content. Since you have the full source code, you will not have any problems doing so. You do not need to be aware of the gory details of the Kylix help system as the TSimpleHTMLHelpViewer class takes care of that. The form used to display the HTML files is an ordinary form with a standard TTextBrowser control on it.

Cross-Platform Help

If you are creating a cross-platform CLX application with Kylix and Delphi, you can use TSimpleHTMLHelpViewer on both Windows and Linux. However, you can also chose to use the HTML solution only on Linux, and to provide your Windows customers with the classic WinHelp file they have come to expect. With HelpScribble, you can easily provide your documentation in both formats from the same source.

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