Review of LinKit! 4.0
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Dutch company Affixion has recently released a version 4.0 of its LinKit! tool. LinKit! is not a Help authoring toolinstead it does the job (as its name implies) of linking application screens to context-sensitive Help. The product's unique selling point is that it enables you to add Help to an application without needing to modify or even see the source code for the application.
LinKit! is aimed primarily at organizations that use off-the-shelf software packages and wish to supplement the standard online Help with their own customized user assistance. For example: a corporation could provide its sales and marketing staff with guidance on how to set up and use specific corporate backgrounds, slide layouts and templates within PowerPoint. With LinKit!, this guidance could be made available directly from the PowerPoint interface as an alternative to the regular PowerPoint Help. This would not be possible using conventional context-sensitive Help methods since it would require new map IDs to be inserted within PowerPoint's source code.
LinKit! actually consists of the following two applications:
You create your custom Help content in the usual way by creating one or more CHM files, HTML pages, or a mixture of both types of file. Then you use LinKit! Manager to set up links between the various screens and dialogs for which you want to provide Help, and the corresponding Help topics that you have created. The links (pairings of application screen and Help topic) are stored in XML format within a special LinKit! project file.
When you are ready to distribute the Help to your users, you publish (generate) from the project file a database with a .LKA extension. This is a small compiled file that provides all the information required to identify the appropriate custom Help topic (if any) for each screen and dialog of the application. For more information on setting up and publishing the links, see The development process below.
In order to view the customized Help that you have created for an application, users require the following to be on their PC:
LinKit!'s own documentation describes a six-stage process for setting up and publishing context-sensitive Help links. You complete this process using LinKit! Manager, and the six stages are as follows:
LinKit! Manager guides you through these six stages by providing a wealth of embedded user assistance and a UI that is highly task-oriented. The LinKit! Manager window is divided into three panes: Project, Details, and Procedure steps (which provides a combination of instructional text and command shortcuts, arranged in task sequence).
LinKit!'s three-pane layout
There is also an optional Info pane that provides more detailed instructional text and background informationthis pane overlays the Details pane making it no longer visible, which caused me some difficulty and confusion until I learned to close the Info pane each time I had finished reading it.
LinKit!'s three-pane layout with Info pane
Overall, although the rather elaborate interface takes a little getting used to, the visual nature of the tool, its task-oriented UI, and the rich user assistance all combine to make it very easy to use after a short period of familiarization and practice.
The context-sensitive Help created by LinKit! is driven by LinKit! Activator, a small application that needs to run in the background on the user's PC with the appropriate LinKit! database loaded. It is possible to configure LinKit! Activator to start automatically when Windows starts and to reload the last opened LinKit! databasethis saves users having to remember to start LinKit! Activator in order to display the customized context-sensitive Help.
When running, LinKit! Activator waits for the user to click the LinKit! icon in the Windows system tray (or to press a designated keyboard shortcut)when this happens, LinKit! Activator determines the window or dialog that currently has focus, checks within the currently loaded database for a corresponding Help topic, and displays it. If a Help topic has not been linked to the current window or dialog, then an error message containing the words "No help found..." is displayed.
LinKit! Activator appears to consume about 20MB of memorythis is a relatively insignificant drain, and represents (for example) about two thirds of the memory that Internet Explorer typically uses.
One of the potential uses of LinKit! is providing localized user assistance to match the native language of the user, even if the software itself has not been localized. LinKit! enables you to create Help topics in multiple languages within the same LinKit! projectusers can then select their own preferred language from a menu available in LinKit! Activator.
In my view, the most significant drawback of LinKit! is that users cannot activate the context-sensitive Help created by LinKit! for an application by clicking a control within the UI of the application itselfinstead users must remember either to click on the LinKit! icon in the Windows system tray or to use the designated keyboard shortcut. Although this may be somewhat unintuitive for new users, I imagine that after a time (and assuming that the customized Help has proved useful) they will become accustomed to the method for displaying the Help.
Another potential drawback is that users can only have one database open in LinKit! Activator at a time. Although this database could include screens from multiple applications, it does mean that LinKit! databases must be designed quite carefully in order to minimize the need for users to open new databases within LinKit! Activator as they switch between applications.
LinKit! is a unique tool that addresses a very specific set of needs. I would not recommend it as a method for routinely creating conventional Help as its pricing model is based on the number of end users of the Help. However, for organisations that need to provide customized or localized user assistance for third-party software, LinKit! provides a very effective solution and represents good value at 1,295 EUR, which includes the right to distribute the LinKit! Activator to 50 users.
For more information about LinKit!, visit the Affixion web site http://www.affixion.com..
Matthew Ellison has 18 years experience as a user assistance professional in the software industry. He has been a popular speaker at WritersUA events throughout the world since 1997, and now runs his own independent UK-based training and consulting company specializing in online Help design and technology. Matthew holds a B.Sc. in Electronic Engineering and a Post-Graduate Certificate of Education from Bristol University in the UK. He is also a certified instructor for a range of Help Authoring Tools.