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I've always used Microsoft HTML Help Workshop for creating CHM help files for my applications.

On the website you can read that the last version of HTML Help Workshop is 1.3 which was released in 2009. This could mean 2 things

  1. It's not supported any more
  2. It's perfect, so there needn't be new versions

As a tester in the QA department I can hardly believe in the second option, so I'm now looking for a tool with the following specs:

  • can create help files according to Microsoft Help technology 1.4
  • input is HTML
  • can compile the help file from command line without user interaction (suitable for continuous integration)
  • is gratis like HTML Help Workshop
  • works on Windows
  • does not use HTML Help Workshop internally (some commercial products do)

In addition I hope I will get

  • a little bit better user experience
5
  • I think it has no more releases because now all help is online. Think the possibility to do that as well.
    – Rafael
    May 25 '17 at 17:16
  • 3
    @Rafael: Oh, please, no. "All help online" typically means that every second help topic says "Under construction". The absence of a help file bundled with the application removes the pressure from the producer to have all help topics ready in time. "All help online" means you are never quite sure whether the documentation you are looking at applies to the software version you have installed on your machine. "All help online" means "no help available" once the software's developer has shut down their website. IMHO, relying on software documentation to be online is an abysmal idea. May 25 '17 at 18:40
  • 1
    Then, another option is an indexable PDF document.
    – Rafael
    May 25 '17 at 18:46
  • 1
    @Rafael: That seems indeed like one of the most portable options commonly in use today, despite all its disadvantages compared to a true help reader. May 26 '17 at 4:02
  • Thomas, I don't know quite how I stumbled across this eight year old question, but I starred it as favourite - probably when you asked it - and would still love an answer. Did you find one? Feb 2 at 10:37
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Please note - Updated 2021-03-04

Further development of FAR HTML has been discontinued. A year ago, the shop at helpwaregroup.com was closed. As the translator (DE) of the software at the time, I have no contact with the former developer at the moment. I assume the domain was abandoned. I will continue to provide the download of FAR HTML as freeware and the corresponding licence keys as far as possible at https://www.help-info.de/download.html

A bit late to the party but hope to give some input.

Please remember, HTMLHelp (CHM's) is nearly 25 years old and Microsoft's Windows based help system is in "maintenance mode" only. No new features and support are expected. As far as I know there is no new help systems being developed at Microsoft.

Please note ("... does not use HTML Help Workshop internally ...") HTMLHelp Workshop is required to install in any case.

You know, most time consuming step must be used for the content and with the experience you have with Microsoft HTMLHelp Workshop I'd recommend using FAR HTML as a freeware tool now.

You'd use the Help Express and Wizard features - see: FAR HTML Tour (DE).

FAR HTML is a collection of help authoring and file utilities. If you need to quickly manipulate HTML, XML, ASCII text files, or author help projects (HTML Help 1.x, MS Help 2.x, MS Help Viewer 1.x, Help Viewer 2.x and Uncompressed Web Help) then FAR will save you lots of time and money. You can safely use FAR HTML and MS Workshop/SDK side by side. FAR also works in batch (unattended) mode.

Further information: FAR HTML (DE)

Foreign Language Version (partial translation available in German) and Download FAR HTML (DE) (Freeware version).

One more recommendation added:

HelpNDoc is available completely free for personal use and evaluation purposes: you can use the full version of HelpNDoc for as long as you want. All the features are available and enabled, there are no hidden fees or registration process and it doesn't contain any virus, spyware or malware of any kind. The only restriction is that the Personal Edition of HelpNDoc or its generated files can't be used for profit: only personal non-lucrative work and evaluation purposes are permitted by the license. A discreet banner is added in the generated documentation to remind that it has been created by the Personal Edition of HelpNDoc. To remove the banners and use HelpNDoc for commercial purposes, you might consider ordering a full version of HelpNDoc.

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  • Did you miss the "does not use HTML Help Workshop internally" part ? When hhc.exe crashes (which happens a lot) tools based on hhc.exe won't be able to produce any output either.
    – Arnaud
    May 23 '19 at 14:59
  • @Arnaud - no didn't miss (see my answer ..HTMLHelp Workshop is required to install in any case. and this is very special - see e.g. Bad Authoring programs install HHA.DLL -> Compiler Crash. May 23 '19 at 17:38
  • What is the status of FAR Html as a number of Links give a 404 error
    – albert
    Mar 4 at 11:35
  • 1
    @albert - Further development of FAR HTML has been discontinued. A year ago, the shop at helpwaregroup.com was closed. As the translator (DE) of the software at the time, I have no contact with the former developer at the moment. I assume the domain was abandoned. I will continue to provide the download of FAR HTML as freeware and the corresponding licence keys as far as possible at help-info.de/download.html. Mar 4 at 15:23
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    @albert - the download link microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=21138 was dropped by Microsoft last month - nothing news about this. You can get files from web archives: - Download Htmlhelp.exe - Download HelpDocs.zip Mar 4 at 15:53
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Help+Manual from EC Software offers a range of output formats (HTML, .chm) plus their own eWriter format and viewer (similar to .CHM). Not free, but you get what you pay for.

3
  • 3
    Can you give a link to the product? Are you affiliated to that company?
    – albert
    Feb 27 '20 at 17:21
  • 1
    @albert - Help&Manual from EC Software Apr 6 '20 at 17:30
  • 1
    I edited the answer to include the link provided in the comments, since there is no guarantee that these comments will remain. Dec 27 '20 at 16:46
2

The chmcmd executable that is distributed along Freepascal (https://www.freepascal.org/) is a command line alternative that can create chm files from the same sources supported by the HTML Help Workshop.

It is GPL licensed but this should not be a problem since no direct linking will be done with the software and instead just running it from the command line.

In my tests after FPC version 3.2, it just worked and I replaced the, now not anymore available from Microsoft, HTML Help Workshop, with it in my workflow.

I couldn't, though, find a convenient prepacked, standalone version of the chmcmd binary so if someone has ideas on making it more convenient to use, I would like information.

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One alternative, not for the CHM program itself, but to prepare a documentation to be delivered with the program could be.

  1. A searchable PDF.

  2. A folder with Html files.


  1. Another option could be preparing the documentation as Html and then convert them as an output file to CHM. There are some Word2CHM and Html2CHM converters.

Take a look: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/27997913/convert-html-or-word-to-chm-without-installation

https://www.google.com/search?q=html+to+chm

Probably yes, probably not.

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I actually use HelpNDoc as part of me help authoring process.

It allows you to build your help documentation in a variety of formats from the same source data. In my case I use two formats:

  • CHM
  • HTML

The HTML data files system gets uploaded to my website. Here are three live examples:

As you can see, the online HTML version of my help systems have a Table of Contents and Search features. I made customizations to the build process to include the Scroll to Top icon in the bottom right.

But at the same time, I can, and do, compile CHM versions of the help documentation which I put on my website packaged in setup executables. My software allows you to choose to download and install the CHM version of the help systems if you don't want to use the online HTML version.

As mentioned, HelpNDoc allows you to build your help system for several other formats:

enter image description here

  • ePub
  • Kindle
  • PDF
  • QT Help
  • Word

I have not really tried to use all of the other export formats. But I have found it a versatile and useful application for all my help authoring requirements.


Clarification

I should point out that HelpNDoc is available as a free version too.

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