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Issue 3.3


Postmortem: HelpLogic

Developing an IDE Application with the REALbasic IDE

Issue: 3.3 (January/February 2005)
Author: Dave Wooldridge
Author Bio: Dave Wooldridge is the founder of Electric Butterfly, Inc. (http://www.ebutterfly.com), the web design and software company responsible for UniHelp, WSL-Amazon, MaxiToolbar Pro, and the popular developer site, RBGarage.com.
Article Description: No description available.
Article Length (in bytes): 21,890
Starting Page Number: 13
Article Number: 3309
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Excerpt of article text...

HelpLogic is a cross-platform help authoring solution, available for both Mac OS X and Windows XP. It is a feature-rich development environment that allows users to easily create help systems for software applications and web sites from a single source of project files. With built-in features like the Visual TOC Builder, Project Workshop, HTML Code Editor, Link Manager, and Page Templates, HelpLogic was designed to be a time-saving authoring tool for programmers, documentation writers, web site designers, and e-book publishers.

HelpLogic started out as a very simple idea, but soon evolved into a very complex project. Consuming a year and a half of research, product design, and development, HelpLogic is by far the most sophisticated application I have ever worked on in REALbasic. For those of you out there who are afraid that REALbasic is not powerful enough to successfully tackle a large-scale commercial application, let me put any doubts to rest right now. HelpLogic contains thousands of lines of code, and yet it compiles into a relatively small executable and runs amazingly fast. Version control is a snap since I can compile both the Mac OS X edition and the Windows XP edition from a single REALbasic project file. Writing an integrated development environment like HelpLogic in any other programming language would have taken twice the amount of time (not to mention the headaches of maintaining a separate set of source code for each platform).

This postmortem aims to shed light on the things I've learned during this development process in the hopes that it may benefit other REALbasic developers who face the same hurdles and challenges.

The Genesis of HelpLogic

One of Electric Butterfly's first commercially released REALbasic add-on components was UniHelp, an embeddable HTML-savvy help system that quickly became a popular help solution for cross-platform developers. To create compatible help files for UniHelp required the use of an HTML editor. Keith DeLong of Redcort Software submitted a feature request, suggesting that a helper application that assists in the creation and management of UniHelp-compatible HTML files might be a nice addition to the UniHelp toolset. And thus, the concept of UniHelp Builder was born (Thanks, Keith).

Since building an HTML-based help editor is not unlike building an HTML web site editor, my ten years of web design experience filled my head with lots of cool features to add, such as a Link Manager to maintain the integrity of hyperlinks if files are renamed or moved. I spent several weeks planning the interface for UniHelp Builder, continually adding new functionality with every draft. At that time, a thread was growing on the REALbasic NUG mailing list with questions on how to implement Apple Help (the standard help system for the Mac OS). After searching the NUG archives, I discovered multiple threads of past inquires about various help formats. I then researched the Internet for Mac-based help authoring tools and only two products surfaced, one of which only supported a proprietary help format. I joined an Apple Help mailing list and found that a majority of Mac developers were using BBEdit, Dreamweaver, or GoLive to create their HTML pages, but were unclear on how to design a Table of Contents and intuitive help navigation.

...End of Excerpt. Please purchase the magazine to read the full article.