|Disclaimer: I was looking for an application to create a visual quick start guide for a program I wrote. I found Dr.Explain, downloaded the trial/free version and used it long enough to know that I would purchase a copy if I could only afford it. I then found this offer on the Dr.Explain website:|
Members of the press and bloggers who wish to write a review on the Dr.Explain software are eligible for a fully functional free license which they may use not only for review purposes but for their real projects as well. Great chance indeed!
As a reviewer of this program, I received a free copy of it for my own personal use; in my discussions with the company we agreed that the review need not paint the product in a favorable light. The developer told me (I'm using my own words here) that constructive criticism in any review, favorable or unfavorable, would result in a better product and increased sales in the long run.
|App Version Reviewed||2.5.93 (Advanced License)|
|Test System Specs||CPU: Intel T2050 @ 1.60 GHz|
RAM: 1.5 GB
OS: Windows XP Home SP2
|Supported OSes||MS Windows 2000 / XP / 2003 / Vista|
|Upgrade Policy||Discounted pricing on upgrades and new versions for existing owners.|
|Trial Version Available?|| You may use the free unregistered copy of Dr.Explain software as long as you wish, but you may have only 10 pages per project and all images will be watermarked.|
|Pricing Scheme||There are two versions: Standard $125.00 USD and Advanced $165.00 USD. Quantity discounts are available at 2-5, 6-10, and 11-25. Custom and Site licenses are also available. A variety of discounts are also available.|
|Author Donation Link|| Donate to Tinjaw, the reviewer|
|Screencast Video URL||There is an informative screencast available.|
Dr.Explain is a help authoring program with a focus on visually describing the Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) of programs. It is an excellent tools for easily creating those “Quick Start” guides that have lots of screenshots of the program and help you learn where everything resides in a program. It is also great for detailed user manuals that document all of the features and options reachable through a program’s GUI through highly annotated screenshots. Dr.Explain’s well thought-out design and intuitive workflow means even the default configuration produces attractive user-friendly interactive documentation with a minimal amount of fuss.Who is this app designed for:
The core functionality of Dr.Explain centers around the introspection of a running application and gathering information from the operating system about what buttons, textboxes, and other widgets are on an application’s GUI. Dr.Explain then takes a screenshot of the GUI and automatically creates a breakout diagram of all the window's components. Dr.Explain takes care of creating links to placeholders for descriptions of the individual components allowing you to concentrate on documenting your application instead of fussing with cutting, pasting, linking, etc. It is very likely that you have worked on at least one documentation project that burned 80% of your time on layout. Dr.Explain lets you concentrate on explaining instead of the presenting.
There are two versions of Dr.Explain: Regular License and Advanced License. The Advanced License has some nice added functionality. More details
can be found on the Dr.Explain website.
An excellent way to see an example of documentation produced by Dr.Explain is to view the online version of the Dr.Explain manual
on their website. Of course it was created using Dr.Explain.The Good
I can’t help but think of that stupid American commercial, “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.” and apply it to the two images shown below.
|This is your screenshot.||This is your screenshot on Dr.Explain.|
Here is another example. On the left is an image from Screenshot Captor's home page. On the right is what Dr.Explain created.
And here it is after a few minutes of quick changes.
There are many help authoring applications available. Dr.Explain's stands out from the pack through the ease and speed with which you can document your application's GUI. Dr.Explain's many "Ease of Use" features are well suited for creating graphically-rich interactive documentation for your application's GUI.
Dr.Explain has many capabilities, like the necessary hooks to integrate its finished products through the Window's help system to your application to support "F1 Help". However, in lieu of simply providing a feature list
that can be obtained by simply visiting Dr.Explain's own website, I shall provide a few examples of the "Ease of Use" features that I am discussing.
One of the best features is the ability to fully document any GUI form with a single screen capture, because Dr.Explain allows you not only to reference the full screenshot, but also to reference only portions of the screenshot without the need to create separate cropped images. This "Ease of Use" feature comes into play simply by defining a bounding box for the area you wish to document.
Another "Ease of Use" feature is the ability to have global settings that can be overridden by project settings. For example, you may want to use a particular visual style for the majority of your projects, and thus set it as such in the global settings, yet for each project you can override that global setting and use a different visual style. Or, as another example, you may have a standard footer that refers to the GPL, but on one project you wish to reference the BSD license instead.
A third example is the confirmation dialog pictured below. It appears when you attempt to automatically generate Help IDs for your entire project while some are already set. This goes beyond what I would expect from many programs, which would be a dialog that asked, "You are about to change all of your Help IDs. Do you wish to continue? [OK] [Cancel]".
The features Dr.Explain provides for more conventional help authoring are sufficient but, in some cases, limited to core functionality.
All of the tools required for the core functionality of help systems are provided. When creating a help document, the document is organized in a treeview. The nodes of the treeview are each topics and can be nested. Each node takes a Title - used when the topic is displayed, Topic/Anchor - used to name the page or anchor, Help ID - used to link to the applications help system, Alias – used as a string alias for the corresponding Help ID numeric code, and Description – used as the text on the topic’s page. Keywords can be organized and assigned to topics.
One example of sufficient but limited functionality is the RTF editor provided for editing the Topic Description, the main text of a topic. Dr.Explain provides the ability to add nodes/topics to a help document that are not based on window captures, but there is no ability to add images. An example of where this is a limitation would be documenting a process, like an explanation of a workflow or a business process that required several images along with the text. A viable workaround is to create a series of topics, each topic using an imported “window capture” that is simply an illustration. The process can then be documented in a manner that requires the reader to read a series of pages/topic, instead of having it all on one scrollable page/topic.The needs improvement section
An area that I feel needs improvement is the Screen Editor. Although the things it does, it does well, there are many features that it lacks in the area of adornments. The Screen Editor provides a simple variety of text boxes, but that's all. It doesn't provide even the basic capabilities that I have come to expect from programs like Screenshot Captor
like various highlighting tools, the ability to add callouts, or apply simple effects.
Although I am sure the developer wants to focus on help authoring features instead of another full-featured screen capture application, I would like to see easy integration with external applications. For example, currently there is no easy way take a screenshot from Dr.Explain, pull it into another application, like Screenshot Captor or SnagIt, modify it, and pull it back into Dr.Explain. I can replace an image in Dr.Explain with a new image (with either a directly captured screenshot or an imported graphic file), but cannot easily get an existing image out of Dr.Explain.
The second feature I would like to see added is some form of internal version control. Dr.Explain projects are self-contained in a proprietary file format (*.GUI), and those could easily be put under conventional version control, it would not provide the functionality I would like. I would like to see the ability to version individual nodes in the project, and the ability to perform the standard functions available under version control, like rolling back only a single node to an earlier version, or diffing and merging two versions of a node. This would prove invaluable on large projects.
(I am also quite certain there are several features that Dr.Explain currently lacks that I won't know I need until Dr.Explain adds them in future versions, and then I will not understand how I managed to get along without them.
)Why I think you should use this product
Although there are several well established help authoring applications available, they tend to be heavy-weight feature-rich applications that attempt to provide every possible feature any help author might need in any circumstance. Many full-time technical writers require these very powerful tools, but often, especially for the casual developer, it is more desirable to use a light-weight tool, especially if you only plan on using such a tool infrequently. It would be very easy to once again be productive in Dr.Explain after several months away from it.
I would also like to take this opportunity to point out that, if your project is small enough, as many of the fine programs here on DonationCoder are, any developer can use Dr.Explain free of charge.
You may use the free unregistered copy of Dr.Explain software as long as you wish. With a free copy you may have only 10 pages per project and all images will be watermarked.
This generous offer should be very appealing to developers working on Coding Snacks
.How does it compare to similar apps
Dr.Explain occupies the middle-ground between screen capture programs and sophisticated help authoring tools, and has more overlap with the latter than the former.Conclusions
The perfect projects to tackle with Dr.Explain are visual quick-start guides for large applications and complete technical documentation for small to medium-sized applications, especially for developers that will go long periods of time between the creation of help documentation. Dr.Explain is easy to learn, and a variety of features help it to score well in the "Ease of Use" category. I highly suggest trying it out on a small project that will only require 10 pages or less of documentation and see if it fits your work style well.Links to other reviews of this application
The developer maintains a list of User Reviews
on their website.