EC Software GmbH, the Austrian company behind authoring tool Help+Manual, recently announced a free converter called eWriter. According to it’s own publicity:
Originally designed as a solution to all those Compiled HTML (CHM) files that no longer worked on Windows machines, it uses a lot of the same functionality of CHM files. It also supports Unicode characters, HTML 5 and CSS3.
Matthew Ellison of UA Europe mentioned recently that he’d tried it out using WebHelp output from Madcap Flare. It worked well for him, so I thought I’d try the same using WebHelp output from Adobe RoboHelp.
There’s a good introductory video on their website should you need it, but no help file. Thankfully the software is easy to use. It is pretty much just specifying the source and output directories, and your desired output format (.EXE or EBOOK). There are configuration options that control the size of the window and what actions users can perform, and there’s a useful option of saving the configuration to a file should you need to repeat the process.
I used the .EXE output option. The generation was surprisingly quick considering the number of files involved. Once the .EXE file was launched, the output was displayed is a browser type window, but looks exactly like the WebHelp output would. All navigational elements worked as expected. Even our heavily customised search tool worked well.
On the face of it, this seems like a useful tool in certain scenarios. However it does have some drawbacks:
- Whilst it is possible to run some .EXE files on non-Windows machines, it isn’t something most users want to do. Therefore eWriter isn’t a viable solution if your users have an iOS device.
- .EXE files themselves are problematic to distribute. Firewalls almost certainly flag them as suspicious, and maybe even reject them.
- To get around the .EXE file problem, an option is available to output just the data to an .EBOOK file. This makes it easier to distribute, but users must have the appropriate reader application on their machines to open the file.
eWriter works well to package up any files in a directory into a single file. That in itself makes it very easy to distribute. It also displays the output in much the same way as the original output format.
However the limitations make this a nice to know solution. To most of us, it could prove useful at some point in the future, but isn’t right now. It’s one to place in your memory banks for when it does.