Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Microsoft Help Preview

Paul O'Rear

After agonizing about which session to go to--I was liking the session about gesture interfaces and thinking very seriously about the DITA case study (but Tony Self drags on when he speaks and the slides didn't look like they'd apply to my needs so much)--I decided to settle here.

With new release of Visual Studio, VS10 releasing new help system.

Looking at MS Help timeline.
  • 1990 with Windows 3.0, RTF source, .HLP files. 
  • 1997 brought HTMLHelp, HTML-based, with .CHM files. (The poster child of the famous Bill Gates memo to make everything "Internet.") 
  • 2002 was Help 2.x, HTML-based, .HXS files, but for Visual Studio, intent to replace HTMLHelp.
  • 2006, AP (assistance platform) Help, XML-based, .H1S files, "Longhorn" help, dependent on .NET platform, used in Windows Vista, MAML (Microsoft Assistance Markup Language)
  • 2010, Help Viewer, XHTML-based, .MSHC files, shipping with Visual Studio 2010.
Started in 2008 to try and create as simple as architecture as possible.

Help 2.x feedback was not good.

Goals for Help Viewer:
  • Help is quick and easy
  • View online and offline in familiar, browser-based experience
  • Ensure offline Help content relevantr and up-to-date (requires srtrong updating scenario and important componenet of architecture)
  • Get fast and relevant search results with both F1 and full text searches
  • Benefit from simple, standards-based architecture
Viewer is your default browser.

Help Library Manager generates runtime TOC, keyword index, search index for content cached locally.

Help Library Agent services ms-xhelp:/// protocol from applications & retrieves content from online or local based on user setting.

Help Viewer features

Contains along the left areas for search, a table of contents, related topics content, and an index. On the right is content. In Visual Studio, right content area has sections, some which have tabs. VS help shipping without index, and causing controversy. Had to cut because of time, resources, and user data suggested people using Google, but beta user feedback suggested needed index.

Classic view, lightweight view, and script-free view for online MSDN content.

Help Library Manager
When first installing content, user choose where to install, becomes default. Link to install content from online.

Don't have to have help content on distribution CD, but can install from online.

Content hierarchy start with products, then books, packages, and topics.

Two primary modes to install content: interactive and silent. with interactive, customer selection gets installed, and with silent, the installer decides. Latter useful for IT. Silent "remove content' supported.

Interactive security supports MSHC or digitally signed cabinet files. Silent install requires signed cabinet files and is not intended as an end-user scenario.

File types
  • MSHC, Microsoft Help Container, XHTML fies compiled into a Zip file, renamed for association with help viewer
  • MSHI, Microsoft Help Index, index fragment to expedite content merging
  • MSHA, Microsoftr Help Assets, manifest of MSHC files, used as  a setup definition file
  • CAB, Cabinet files, standard file for combining files and digitally signing authentication
Content requirements
  • XHTML 1.0, allows for greater separation of content from rendering
  • Must leverage a variety of MSHC-specific attributes to enable TOC, multiple language support, F1 support, etc.
  • Topics must contain attributes for ID, catalog disambiguities, word breaker to use when indexing, title, branding support
  • Optional attributes for TOC, F1, keywords, category, description
One of the differences from past, no separate files for TOC, index, etc., but all info is coded in the XHTML topic file. 

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