Abandon DotNet Help in favor of a better approach?

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Abandon DotNet Help in favor of a better approach?

Postby alex on Fri Apr 26, 2013 2:59 pm

Hello all,

Is there anyone out there who has previously created, deployed, and supported updates of DotNet Help/dynamic help for an application? I would appreciate hearing from someone who has experience with this.

I created a DotNet help solution for an application a few years ago, and it initially worked great... However, each time there's been an update with the Help Viewer, customers and support alike have reported issues with the help not displaying properly after updates have been rolled out.

We recently learned that v 6.1 of the MadCap Help Viewer has been replaced on the redistributables page with a new version (which we didn't know about). When one of our trainers installed our software and then followed the procedure to install the Help Viewer, she downloaded v 6.2 because v 6.1 was no longer on the MadCap website. Not only did our help not work anymore, but the application wouldn't run, either, from what I heard. :shock:

What other options do we have to include CSH Help for a DotNet application (it's a stand-alone app... not a web-based app)?

Thanks!
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Re: Abandon DotNet Help in favor of a better approach?

Postby RamonS on Sat Apr 27, 2013 9:59 am

I haven't use DotNetHelp so far, but other options are CHMs, WebHelp, HTML5 help. There are means to use HTML based help locally, either by displaying it in a browser or by embedding it into the application through use of a custom form with a browser control.
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Re: Abandon DotNet Help in favor of a better approach?

Postby alex on Mon Apr 29, 2013 7:15 am

RamonS wrote:I haven't use DotNetHelp so far, but other options are CHMs, WebHelp, HTML5 help. There are means to use HTML based help locally, either by displaying it in a browser or by embedding it into the application through use of a custom form with a browser control.


Thanks for your response. We'd like to be able to keep the dynamic help functionality, so would the "use of a custom form with a browser control" give us that same benefit? Can you point me in the right direction to get more information about this?

Also, I'm still very much hoping to hear from someone who *has* worked with DotNet help :)

Thanks!
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Re: Abandon DotNet Help in favor of a better approach?

Postby Dave Lee on Mon Apr 29, 2013 8:09 am

alex wrote:We'd like to be able to keep the dynamic help functionality, so would the "use of a custom form with a browser control" give us that same benefit? Can you point me in the right direction to get more information about this?


No, the 'dynamic help' functionality is part of the HelpViewer API, and is specifically for DotNetHelp.

Using a "custom form with a browser control" just means your app could include a window/area with a browser control (which would use the system IE browser engine). You could use this to display WebHelp output, using CSH calls (URLs). However, if you wanted the equivalent of 'dynamic help', you'd have to write something to handle that yourself.

I'd suggest contacting MadCap support regarding the compatibility issues with upgrades, they're usually quite good.
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Re: Abandon DotNet Help in favor of a better approach?

Postby RamonS on Mon Apr 29, 2013 10:13 am

alex wrote:
RamonS wrote:I haven't use DotNetHelp so far, but other options are CHMs, WebHelp, HTML5 help. There are means to use HTML based help locally, either by displaying it in a browser or by embedding it into the application through use of a custom form with a browser control.


Thanks for your response. We'd like to be able to keep the dynamic help functionality, so would the "use of a custom form with a browser control" give us that same benefit? Can you point me in the right direction to get more information about this?


It is a CSH call that shows in a browser control that the developers embed into the application. Basically, what the DotNetHelp API does implemented with a simple browser control and extra code. Not saying it is straight forward, but possible.
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Re: Abandon DotNet Help in favor of a better approach?

Postby alex on Tue Apr 30, 2013 7:31 am

Dave Lee wrote:
I'd suggest contacting MadCap support regarding the compatibility issues with upgrades, they're usually quite good.


I submitted a bug, and I have my maintenance plan info handy :)

One of our developers verified that installing v 6.1 of the help viewer makes everything work fine again. v 6.1 is still available, but it is not on the redistributables page, which is where our procedure tells users to go to download the help viewer. We didn't even know there WAS a v 6.2 help viewer until we started getting support calls (there was no notification email or forum post from MadCap announcing this new version taking over the previous version).

When users get to the redistributables page, they don't see v 6.1, so they download v 6.2 instead. After they install it, neither the help, nor the application works, from what was reported to me. This is obviously a Very Bad Thing (TM). FWIW, the direct link to v 6.1 is: http://downloads.madcapsoftware.com/helpviewer060/SetupMadCapHelpViewer0610.msi

We are looking into whether there is something on our end that we can do to make our application work with v 6.2, but I'm getting the impression that DotNet help has become a bit of a dirty word around these parts, and people are wondering if there is a more reliable way of including help for this application. I personally don't enjoy getting the frustrated emails and calls about why the help viewer doesn't work, and why the help viewer requires one to jump through so many hoops during installation, etc., and I'm sure all of our developers, trainers, and help desk people (not to mention, our CUSTOMERS) would love to have a simple resolution to this issue.

Thanks for the comments and suggestions. Still hoping a DotNet help guru exists out there who might see this and be able to tell us how to future proof our help/application so that each new version doesn't blow out the current one... ;)
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Re: Abandon DotNet Help in favor of a better approach?

Postby Dave Lee on Tue Apr 30, 2013 8:44 am

alex wrote:I'm getting the impression that DotNet help has become a bit of a dirty word around these parts, and people are wondering if there is a more reliable way of including help for this application.


I hadn't got the impression DotNetHelp is bad, but the lack of posts about DotNetHelp compared to other outputs makes me think it's not widely used. Your issue sounds fairly serious though, so fingers crossed MadCap support can help.
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Re: Abandon DotNet Help in favor of a better approach?

Postby alex on Tue Apr 30, 2013 12:14 pm

Dave Lee wrote:
alex wrote:I'm getting the impression that DotNet help has become a bit of a dirty word around these parts, and people are wondering if there is a more reliable way of including help for this application.


I hadn't got the impression DotNetHelp is bad, but the lack of posts about DotNetHelp compared to other outputs makes me think it's not widely used. Your issue sounds fairly serious though, so fingers crossed MadCap support can help.


To clarify, by "around these parts" I meant the company I work for and our customers, trainers, and help desk people. DotNet Help is actually very cool (when it is set up and working properly).

I just received an email in response to the bug I entered, and yes, MadCap Software Technical Support came through, as usual :) Thanks to Bobby, we now have a possible explanation for why this issue is occurring (dll version conflicts), as well as the link to the v 6.1 Help Viewer restored on the redistributables page. This buys us time to decide how to proceed, which is helpful.
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