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Macromedia lends helping hand

The software maker releases the first product from its acquisition of eHelp, a specialist in tools for creating online tutorials and help resources.

Software maker Macromedia on Tuesday released the first product to emerge from its acquisition of eHelp, a specialist in tools for creating online help resources and tutorials.

RoboHelp X5, available now priced at $899 for the full version and $499 for those upgrading from an earlier edition, includes new tools for working with Macromedia's Flash animation format and several common document styles.

Macromedia bought privately held eHelp for $65 million late last year, as part of the company's plan to expand the role of Flash into a broad foundation for delivering information and applications over the Web.

The eHelp purchase dovetails with Macromedia's earlier acquisition of Presedia, a specialist in Flash-based tools for delivering e-learning content.

RoboHelp X5 will include FlashHelp, a set of simplified tools for transforming static tutorials into interactive Flash presentations. Miriam Geller, director of product management for Macromedia, said the idea is to let a new class of customers take advantage of Flash as a presentation format, without having to become full-fledged Flash developers.

"RoboHelp is mainly used by technical writers...and they're the type of people who wouldn't typically be using Macromedia products," Geller said. "You can have a whole set of customers now who might not be fluent in Flash...but they can easily use RoboHelp to create tutorials and other content."

The new RoboHelp also includes tools for exporting and reusing text from two of the most common formats for help documents--Microsoft's Word and Adobe Systems' portable document format (PDF).

"Let's say you've got a 100-page user guide built in Word," Geller said. "RoboHelp will automatically analyze that and sort it into a hundred topics...If you have a PDF document, it will convert it to HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), and it's fully editable and searchable."

Macromedia's RoboInfo 5.0, software that helps companies publish and manage polices and procedures online, is also now available, the company said.