Free Help Authoring Tools

Simplify your documentation writing tasks & authoring of Help files / manuals


Free Help Authoring, Manual and Documentation Writing Tools

Dreading the drudgery of writing your help files and online documentation for your software? Here are some tools that make it easier for you, by generating the necessary project files (such as WinHelp project files), manual pages (such as Unix man pages), RTF files, HTML files, include files, WinHelp .HLP files, HTMLHelp .CHM files, README files, etc, leaving you to concentrate on the task of writing the words. Included are also some tools and libraries that allow you to supercharge or modify your help systems such as to add Tip of the Day, tabs (for tabbed a help system), etc.

If you are looking for a commercial tool to create your help system, one possibility is HelpScribble, which has a free trial that you can download from their site to see if it meets your needs.

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Free Help Authoring Tools

HelpNDoc New

This software lets you create documentation and help files for your project. The program can then export your files as Windows CHM help files (the HTML help files used by newer Windows programs), web-based documents (HTML), PDF documents and Word documents. It has a built-in wordprocessor, complete with a spell checker, so that you can work from within the program itself (or if you prefer, you can work in some other editor and import the results). Other features include support for user defined variables, the ability to embed Flash files, etc. This Windows software is free for personal use only.

Sandcastle Help File Builder

Sandcastle is a command line tool to create MSDN-style documentation from .NET assemblies and their XML comment files. It generates documentation that has a similar GUI to NDoc. It can produce an HTML 1.x (.CHM) file, an HTML 2.x (HxS) file, or a website. It can also generate a single help file from multiple assemblies.

Shalom Help Maker

This Windows Help editor allows you to create Windows help files with images, pop-up windows, links to other pages, web pages, email addresses, etc. It will also automatically update your links when you change your pages. It is a stand alone program, and does *not* require you to have Microsoft Word installed. (You do, however, need the Microsoft Help Compiler, which can be downloaded from their page.)

Microsoft HTML Help Workshop and Documentation

The latest version of Microsoft's HTML Help Workshop can be downloaded from their web site. HTML Help is Microsoft's replacement for the original WinHelp (from the Windows 9x series). The package includes the help workshop as well as documentation, such as the HTML Help Authoring Guide, HTML Help API reference, etc.

Help2Man

This is a simple Perl script that allows you to generate a Unix manual page from program output. That is, it will attempt to re-arrange the output from a program that generates a standard "--help" or "--version" screen, into something that can be displayed as a manual page.

Helpmake, Helpread

Helpmake is a compiler and Helpread a decompiler for Borland's TurboHelp files. The latter were help files that used to be distributed with Borland's DOS compilers. It comes with sources, and supports THELP up to version 2.1. Note that the documentation is in German only. However, since the source code is included, it shouldn't be too difficult to figure out how to use it.

FTS (Full Text Search) for WinHelp3

If you are maintaining Windows 3.1 help files, you might be interested in the information on this site on how to add a full text search for such files. There are links on the site on how to obtain the necessary files for this purpose.

Microsoft Windows Help Authoring Tool (WHAT) (direct link to downloadable file)

This is Microsoft's own Windows Help Authoring Tool version 6.0 for use in developing help files for Windows 3.1. It's available free from Microsoft's public ftp site. It includes the help compiler (hcw.exe), documentation, etc. WARNING: the link leads to a downloadable file.

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