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Help and Support Center: Features That Communicate with the Internet

Applies To: Windows Server 2003 with SP1

This section provides information about:

  • The benefits of the Headlines and Online Search features in Help and Support Center

  • How the Headlines and Online Search features communicate with sites on the Internet

  • How to control the Headlines and Online Search features to limit the flow of information to and from the Internet

Benefits and Purposes of Headlines and Online Search

Help and Support Center is a self-help portal that was first included in Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition. It is also included in all versions of Windows Server 2003, including Windows Server 2003 with Service Pack 1 (SP1). You can access Help and Support Center in a number of ways, including:

  • Selecting Help and Support from the Start menu.

  • Selecting Help and Support Center from the Help menus for Control Panel, Windows Explorer, My Network Places, My Computer, or My Documents.

Headlines

A useful feature of Help and Support Center is the Headlines area. This area is typically titled "Top Issues" and is usually located in the lower-right corner of the main window, unless the window has been customized by the OEM or modified for certain languages. The Headlines area might also contain a hyperlink to additional content that can be viewed in Help and Support Center. Headlines provides a dynamic source of content that you can visit to find help and support on current issues as well as those that were known at the time the operating system was released. For example, it may display links to topics about new security bulletins, software updates, or new Help content.

Online Search

Online Search, another useful feature of Help and Support Center, enables users to query online Web sites automatically when performing a search. By default, the Microsoft Knowledge Base is designated as one of the Web sites for online searches. OEMs often customize the Online Search feature by, for example, adding a check box to the search window to enable the search engine to query their OEM-specific Web sites for results. To produce the most informative results when querying the Microsoft Knowledge Base, certain information such as the version of the product installed is collected from the user’s computer and uploaded to the servers hosting the Microsoft Knowledge Base.

Overview: Using Headlines and Online Search in a Managed Environment

By using Group Policy or using the Windows user interface, you can control the extent to which the Headlines and Online Search features access the Internet. More details on the methods and procedures for controlling these features are described in the following subsections.

How Headlines and Online Search Communicate with Sites on the Internet

Headlines

The Headlines ("Top Issues") area is updated only when there is Internet connectivity. You are not required or prompted to connect to the Internet. Help and Support Center uses information contained in the NewsSet.xml file (stored in the systemroot\PCHealth\Helpctr\Config folder) to determine:

  • Whether or not to update the Headlines area

  • How frequently to update the Headlines area

  • Where on the Internet to obtain the Headlines updates

This subsection summarizes the communication process:

  • Specific information sent or received: If there is Internet connectivity, when you start Help and Support Center, the Help and Support service (helpsvc) compares the current date to the date specified by the TIMESTAMP attribute in the NewsSet.xml file and calculates the total number of days that have elapsed since the last time Headlines was successfully updated.

    Then, if the number of elapsed days is greater than the number of days specified by the FREQUENCY attribute in NewsSet.xml, the Help and Support service connects to the Web site specified by the URL attribute and downloads an updated version of the file NewsVer.xml to the systemroot\PCHealth\Helpctr\Config\News folder. The administrator (or other person at the server) is not uniquely identified.

    noteNote
    For Headlines supplied by Microsoft, the URL attribute in NewsSet.xml is: http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkID=11. This redirects to a different site such as: http://windows.microsoft.com/windowsxp/newsver.xml

  • The downloaded NewsVer.xml file contains links to the news content files (news blocks) for Windows Server 2003 operating systems and the installed language. These news blocks contain the information used to update the Headlines area—that is, links to and descriptions of the latest information from Help and Support Center, Windows, or support-related articles posted on Microsoft Web sites.

    noteNote
    If the OEM has customized the Headlines feature, then the OEM-supplied Headlines may have links to the OEM’s Web site.

  • If there is no Internet connectivity, Help and Support Center displays an offline message in the Headlines area similar to the following:

    "When you are connected to the Internet, this area will display links to timely help and support information. If you want to connect to the Internet now, start the New Connection Wizard and see how to establish a Web connection through an Internet service provider."

  • Default and recommended settings: The Headlines feature is enabled by default. Recommended settings are described in the next subsection, "Controlling Headlines and Online Search to Limit the Flow of Information to and from the Internet."

  • Triggers: The Headlines feature is automatically triggered if there is Internet connectivity when you start Help and Support Center.

  • User notification: You are not given the choice to select whether or not to update the Headlines area before an update is performed. An "Updating …" status indicator is displayed in the Headlines area, however, to indicate when an update is being performed. Once Help and Support Center has completed checking for new headlines, the Headlines area is labeled "Updated: date," where date is the current date.

  • Logging: No information related to Headlines is entered into the event log.

  • Encryption: The data transferred to Microsoft is not encrypted.

  • Access: The only data generated on servers at Microsoft from the process of updates to the Headlines area is a single number telling how many times a connection has been made, by any computer, to the link that supports Headlines updates. No computer is identified in the process of a Headlines update. The data can be viewed by the Microsoft group that provides support for the link through which Headlines is updated.

  • Transmission protocol and port: The transmission protocol used is HTTP and the port is 80.

  • Ability to disable: You can disable Headlines by using Group Policy. For more information, see "Procedure for Disabling Headlines and Online Search," later in this section.

Online Search

Online Search can only query online Web sites like the Microsoft Knowledge Base when there is Internet connectivity; you are neither required nor prompted to connect to the Internet. When you perform a search in Help and Support Center, if you have set the search options to search the Microsoft Knowledge Base or an OEM-designated Web site, the search engine automatically searches the specified site.

This subsection summarizes the communication process:

  • Specific information sent or received: To produce relevant results when querying the Microsoft Knowledge Base, certain information is collected from the computer and uploaded to a server at Microsoft that hosts the Microsoft Knowledge Base. The administrator (or other person at the server) is not uniquely identified. Following is a list of the information collected:

    • The search text string that was entered

    • The language code of the operating system

    • The product Knowledge Base to be searched (for example, the Windows Server 2003 family or Outlook)

    • The version of the operating system installed (for example, Standard Edition, Enterprise Edition, Datacenter Edition, or Web Edition)

    • The number of results specified for the result set

    • Titles field status (indicates whether or not to search the article title only)

    • Type field status (indicates whether to search using "all" or "any" of the search string)

  • Default and recommended settings: Online Search is enabled by default. Recommended settings are described in the next subsection, "Controlling Headlines and Online Search to Limit the Flow of Information to and from the Internet."

  • Triggers: Online Search is automatically triggered if you use the default search options or if you have set the search options to encompass searches on the Internet. (Online Search is also dependent on having Internet connectivity when the search is performed.)

  • User notification: You are not notified before Help and Support Center performs Online Search. A permanent headline is provided in the Headlines area that tells how to set Online Search options, including how to turn the feature off.

  • Logging: No information related to Online Search is entered into the event log.

  • Encryption: The data transferred to Microsoft is not encrypted.

  • Access: The data uploaded to the server at Microsoft is aggregated and clustered. Information about the most common queries is later made available to the Windows Product Support Services and Windows User Assistance teams to help in developing new content or in revising existing content.

  • Privacy: Microsoft does not retrieve personal information, such as user name or e-mail address, from the computer during an online search. A permanent headline is provided in the Headlines area that tells how to set Online Search options, including how to turn the feature off.

  • Transmission protocol and port: The transmission protocol used is HTTP and the port is 80.

  • Ability to disable: You can disable Online Search by using Group Policy or through the Help and Support Center user interface.

Controlling Headlines and Online Search to Limit the Flow of Information to and from the Internet

The following tables describe Group Policy settings and other configuration options for both Headlines and Online Search. For more information, see "Procedures for Disabling Headlines and Online Search," later in this section.

 

Headlines: Configuration Tool Setting Result

Group Policy

In Computer Configuration\Administrative Templates\System\Internet Communication Management\Internet Communication settings, enable Turn off Help and Support Center "Did you know?" content.

Help and Support Center no longer retrieves text for the Headlines area and instead replaces it with white space.

 

Online Search: Configuration Tool Setting Result

Help and Support Center user interface (Set Search Options pane)

Clear any check boxes for querying the Microsoft Knowledge Base or OEM Web sites for results.

Disables online searches. The search results window neither displays an area for the online Web sites (such as the Microsoft Knowledge Base) nor returns any search results from online Web sites.

Group Policy

In Computer Configuration\Administrative Templates\System\Internet Communication Management\Internet Communication settings, enable Turn off Help and Support Center Microsoft Knowledge Base search.

Removes the Knowledge Base section from the Help and Support Center Set search options page. Searches for information from Help topics are performed locally only.

 

Headlines and Online Search: Configuration Tool Setting Result

Firewall

Block HTTP port 80.

Displays offline message text in Headlines area. The search results window displays an area for the online Web sites (such as the Microsoft Knowledge Base), but it does not return any search results from online Web sites.

How Controlling Headlines and Online Search Can Affect Users and Applications

The Headlines area provides a good way to obtain up-to-date solutions to common problems, updated self-help content, and information about software and driver updates. If you decide to disable the Headlines feature, the Headlines ("Top Issues") area in the Help and Support Center user interface will be blank and links to new content or software update notifications will never be presented.

The Online Search feature enables you to obtain help from online Web sites. If you decide to disable the Online Search feature, you will only be able to query local Help content.

Disabling Headlines and Online Search will not affect any other applications.

Procedures for Disabling Headlines and Online Search

The following procedures describe how to:

  • Disable the Headlines feature by using Group Policy

  • Disable the Online Search feature on individual computers

  • Disable the Online Search feature by using Group Policy

To Disable the Headlines Feature by Using Group Policy

  1. See Appendix B: Resources for Learning About Group Policy, for information about using Group Policy. Ensure that your Administrative templates have been updated, and then edit an appropriate GPO.

  2. Click Computer Configuration, click Administrative Templates, click System, click Internet Communication Management, and then click Internet Communication settings.

  3. In the details pane, double-click Turn off Help and Support Center "Did you know?" content, and then click Enabled.

ImportantImportant
You can also restrict Internet access for this and a number of other components by applying the Restrict Internet communication policy setting, which is located in Computer Configuration/Administrative Templates/System/Internet Communication Management. For more information about this Group Policy and the policies that it controls, see Appendix C: Group Policy Settings Listed Under the Internet Communication Management Key.

To Disable the Online Search Feature on Individual Computers

  1. Click Start, and then click Help and Support.

  2. Below the Search box, click Set search options.

  3. Clear the Microsoft Knowledge Base check box and any other check boxes below it. For example, the manufacturer of your computer may have added a check box to enable your search to query their Web site for results.

  4. Close Help and Support Center.

To Disable the Online Search Feature by Using Group Policy

  1. See Appendix B: Resources for Learning About Group Policy, for information about using Group Policy. Ensure that your Administrative templates have been updated, and then edit an appropriate GPO.

  2. Click Computer Configuration, click Administrative Templates, click System, click Internet Communication Management, and then click Internet Communication settings.

  3. In the details pane, double-click Turn off Help and Support Center Microsoft Knowledge Base search.

ImportantImportant
You can also restrict Internet access for this and a number of other components by applying the Restrict Internet communication policy setting, which is located in Computer Configuration/Administrative Templates/System/Internet Communication Management. For more information about this Group Policy and the policies that it controls, see Appendix C: Group Policy Settings Listed Under the Internet Communication Management Key.

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