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I'm currently scouting the market for a software documentation and user guide solution for our organisation.

We are a mid-sized .Net software shop currently shipping compiled .chm files with our releases, a process we feel is somewhat antiquated and doesn't give us the possibility of a proper layout. Since we want to use this documentation as a user's manual we require modern template options and media support. The documentation creation is supposed to switch from developers to product managers and therefore has to be easily usable for non-programmers. We plan on distributing a working offline mirror of this documentation with releases, therefore the option to offline distribute is vital. The option to also host this documentation online and fully browse-able would be a big bonus. We are somewhat scared of security holes, so code quality and update policy are a big concern for us. Licencing costs are possible, if the paid solution offers more advantages. Commercial deployments (possibly with modifications) are a must.

I have so far looked at quite a few Wiki and CMSses, but am somewhat lost as to which software would be a maintainable solution for our specific requirements. I also feel like our requirements shouldn't be outlandish enough that nobody offers specialized solutions for this topic.

I am grateful for any help you can give me.

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I would suggest that you use a piece of software specifically designed for documentation. I have used several of them - all of which are free and open-source. Each one is slightly different, but they are all pretty good, so I would look at them all and then choose the one you like the most.

Here is a list of the ones that I have used (or considered using) myself. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, so I won't recommend a single option:

  • Sphinx is a Python program that builds documentation HTML sites (and PDF files) from reStructuredText documents.
  • ReadTheDocs is a web application built on top of Sphinx, with some project management features. If you don't want to use Sphinx directly, you could use the RTD website, or run your own copy on your own server.
  • MkDocs is similar to Sphinx, and produces some very nice-looking documentation. That said, it is much newer and it still has some bugs to be ironed out.
  • Slate is one of the newer programs, and it is designed with a focus on technical API documentation. That said, there are companies that are using it for their users' guides too. There is a list of example guides at the bottom of the page which includes some examples that are not of APIs.

There are some more that I have seen, but not used, so I can't comment on them. However, I am including them for completeness. You may find one of them to be a better fit.

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