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ABSTRACT: By discussing three user scenarios common to a Help Desk or support professional, this article details how Windows 95's new WinHelp 4.0 features and functionality can reduce the support workload by solving problems for users at different skill levels. The article assumes previous knowledge of WinHelp 3.1.
Note: WinHelp 4.0 files can also run on Microsoft Windows NT 3.51.

A few months ago, the Windows 95 User Education team held a Windows Help Authoring Conference to introduce its latest version: WinHelp 4.0, created to work with Windows 95. The conference was attended mainly by independent software vendors and focused on familiarizing the audience with new features and functionality. The points discussed there and recapped in this article can be useful to Help Desk professionals and information providers. Following are examples of three types of users TechNet subscribers might support effectively by using the Windows 95 Help and WinHelp 4.0 authoring tools.

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Scenario 1: The Clueless User
Scenario 2: The User With A Clue
Scenario 3: The Information Expert

Scenario 1: The Clueless User

Every department has one. You know the type: the person who wouldn't read the manual, but doesn't know much more about the computer than how to turn it on and off consistently. These users write e-mail or they come looking for you; they typically begin with, "I just don't get it, and the person I usually ask isn't around..."

All education consists of building upon foundations of information. The perfect foundation for a person like this is the context-sensitive help available in Windows 95. What used to be an intimidating empty field in a dialog box is now just a left- or right-mouse button or an F1 key away from a user's understanding.

Context-sensitive help is readily available in Windows 95, primarily because WinHelp 4.0 can associate pop-up text to the interface and use Windows API calls. Context-sensitive help is integrated as pop-up text for each Windows 95 control in property sheets and dialog boxes, in addition to other interface elements. A user can now copy and print all help pop-ups.

To uncover all kinds of useful information, such as what a dialog box element is and how it is used, move the cursor over an element and press F1. Or, where available, click the ? button in the Windows Help toolbar (the cursor changes to a question mark) and then click on any text in a help topic.


Figure 1: Press F1 in the "Named" field to see this context-sensitive pop-up

One more way to get help for an element in a dialog box or in a properties sheet is to use the right mouse-button to click the area of interest on the screen, and then click the What's This? command.

If you produce the training materials in an organization, be sure to include how to access context-sensitive help. If you're the person who supplies the answers directly, always include how to access context-sensitive help as a part of your explanation. Before long the novice user will stop appearing at your desk. As you create your own custom tools and applications for Windows 95, it would serve users well to include this level of help with your application. With the WinHelp 4.0 development tools, you can author pop-up descriptions of interface elements by adding topic IDs for Windows 95–based applications.

Scenario 2: The User With A Clue

The next Help Desk customer is one step further up the scale. This user has a fundamental understanding of what Windows 95 or an application can do, but needs explicit information like a step-by-step procedure to follow.

In the past, this type of user might have looked first in a Win Help 3.1 file, failed to find an answer in the Contents topics, and recognized none of the Search keywords. The next step was to give up and call you.

Contents, Index, and Find Tabs

Windows 95 Help offers new ways of reaching information, so a user has more chances at successful information retrieval by using the help system. The Help Topics dialog box is the single point of entry into Windows 95 Help, and it displays the default Contents, Index, and Find tabs. The Contents tab lists topics and other help file contents in a hierarchical expand/collapse book and topic model, so a user can still browse the old fashioned way. Multiple-topic printing is also available.

WinHelp 3.1's Search keywords functionality has been renamed as the Index. The Index tab now displays an indented list, much like a book index. Windows 95 Help defines more keywords—terms used by beginning to advanced users, words that describe a topic in general to specific ways, and synonyms. The Index does incremental searches based on the first few letters of a word typed in and returns topics corresponding to the input in a Topics Found dialog box. Or you can double-click one of the listed keyword to display a topic.


Figure 2: Incremental searches are available with the Index Tab

The Find tab uses a full-text search engine to perform searches that are not based on keywords. When a user clicks the Find tab, a dynamic link library (.DLL) indexes all words available in a help file. This method of searching for information works for the novice as well as the more experienced user doing a specialized search. As in TechNet, the search engine supports some Boolean operators: "AND" and "OR." Unlike TechNet, word stemming (which returns all variations on a root word) is optional—the user turns it on or off.

Task-Orientation and Shortcuts

Windows 95 Help has been conceptually re-designed and pared down for effective presentation of procedural and task-oriented information. Procedures are succinctly written to help a user accomplish a task quickly. These topics can now appear in secondary windows scaled to the length of the topic to maximize the screen's "free real estate." In addition, the new Keep Help On Top option allows a user to view the help steps while completing them. It's possible to keep only the secondary window open, and then navigate back to a main window when a task is complete. A user can also go to a related topic or press Esc to close help.

Windows Help also includes shortcuts that help users accomplish tasks. To perform infrequent tasks within Windows 95 (such as setting up a MIDI device or changing system colors, for example) shortcuts take a user directly to the dialog box to work in, rather than describing how to get to its location. The User With a Clue can take that next step towards self-reliance by using a shortcut to view the actual dialog and make changes in it while following the instructions in the help topic. For examples of this functionality, just look for the Shortcut icon shortcut within a help topic.

Scenario 3: The Information Expert

The last case is the ultimate user: the person who crafts the corporate procedures or provides information to a wide audience. Why consider using WinHelp 4.0 as the medium for delivering a message instead of dumping information into a static README file?

Information is more powerful if it's represented in a graphical way, and WinHelp 4.0 improves its visual presentation and enriches its information delivery in several ways. It's now possible to display 256-color files and higher (depending on a system's ability to handle them) and use many default bitmaps. A help author can specify default fonts for tabs and some help dialogs, and character sets are now stored as part of font descriptions (useful in localization). WinHelp 4.0 supports Script, Wingdings and some international fonts, and curly quotes included (depending on the character set).

WinHelp 4.0 effectively presents and integrates information by providing:

  • a single point of entry to multiple help files via the Contents file

  • combined Index files to browse and search keywords

  • associative-link keywords to jump to related topics across help files

  • an ability to create word indexes for full-text search across multiple help files, just by clicking the Find tab

Shortcuts and authorable buttons can launch more than 20 new WinHelp macros, and multimedia support for .AVI and .WAV files (or anything a system supports) is available.

In addition, the new Help Workshop graphical authoring interface makes the job of creating and modifying project and contents files easier than ever before. Testing commands are available to verify statement syntax, send a macro to the help file, verify topic jumps,and check WinHelp API calls. There are still more new and improved features in WinHelp 4.0 for the information expert to use to best advantage.


Figure 3: A new test command allows help authors to test syntax by calling the WinHelp API as though from a program


WinHelp 4.0 gives support professionals a tool for creating all-purpose assistance for all sorts of users. The depth and breadth of WinHelp make it possible for you to guide and inform users ranging from clueless to clued-in, all of which makes your job easier by making it possible for you to cut across varying levels of user knowledge effectively. Most organizations have representatives of all three user classes, and often plenty of in-betweens; WinHelp's cognitive layout and context-sensitivity let you address them all.

Compatibility: both Windows 95 and Windows NT 3.51 can run WinHelp 4.0 files. Windows 3.1 and Windows for Workgroups can run WinHelp 4.0 files using the Win32s.DLLs. (All functionality but context-sensitive help and the ability to view .AVI files is available in Win32s. Previous versions of Windows NT cannot support WinHelp 4.0.)

For more information: The WinHelp 4.0 authoring tools, the Help Author Guide, and the Win32s.DLLs are currently available on the Microsoft Win32 Development Kit. We'll keep you informed of any future release of the Help Development Kit, in TechNet or elsewhere.

Maurine Bryan

Editorial Manager

Microsoft TechNet

August 1995
Volume 3, Issue 8