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Application Help and Internet Communication (Windows Server 2003)

Updated: July 31, 2004

Applies To: Windows Server 2003 with SP1

This section provides information about:

  • The benefits of Application Help

  • How Application Help communicates with sites on the Internet

  • How to control Application Help to prevent the flow of information to and from the Internet

Benefits and Purposes of Application Help

Application Help is one of the application compatibility technologies that support the installation and operation of applications on Microsoft Windows Server 2003 family operating systems. Because some applications that work on earlier versions of Windows might not function properly on Windows Server 2003 family operating systems, the application compatibility technologies were developed to solve these potential problems and enable a better user experience.

Application Help is most commonly used to block low-level applications—such as antivirus and disk-access utilities—that were not written for or intended for use on Windows Server 2003 family operating systems. By blocking the installation of these applications, this feature serves to avert serious problems that could compromise system integrity.

Overview: Using Application Help in a Managed Environment

Despite testing applications before you deploy Windows Server 2003 family operating systems, your organization may still use some applications that can cause system instability.

Application Help is the last line of defense against users attempting to install incompatible applications, and it is invoked only in rare instances. When a user tries to run an application for which there is no compatibility fix, Application Help is invoked by default. The operating system uses information in a local database to determine if a user is about to run an incompatible application. Compatibility fixes are contained in a database file named SYSMAIN.SDB. The warning information used when an application cannot be run successfully is contained in another database file, APPHELP.SDB. The operating system uses matching information in SYSMAIN.SDB, which in turn determines what messages to draw from APPHELP.SDB to block the operation of applications with known compatibility problems and to inform users about them. The list of incompatible applications is updated through Windows Update.

Application Help generates a message that is presented to the user when a problematic process is about to initiate. A dialog box appears that contains a brief message about the problem, with the severity indicated by an icon:

  • If the icon is a yellow triangle with an exclamation mark, then the application is not blocked, which means that the user is still able to run the application.

  • If the icon is a red stop sign, then the application is blocked, which means that the user cannot run the application.

The way these Application Help messages lead the user to interaction with the Internet is described in the following subsection.

While Application Help provides a valuable function, administrators in a highly managed environment might want to block the installation of applications that would automatically invoke Application Help and thereby allow a user to access the Internet. You can create custom Application Help messages that redirect the user to an internal site for more information. This is described in greater detail in the subsection, "Controlling Application Help to Prevent the Flow of Information to and from the Internet."

How Application Help Communicates with Sites on the Internet

In the Application Help dialog box, the user can click the Details button, in which case additional information is displayed in Help and Support Center. The Help content comes from either Microsoft.com if the computer is online, or from a local HTML Help file.

The following list describes how interaction with the Internet takes place when Application Help is invoked:

  • Specific information sent or received: When the Details button is selected, a specific Web page from Microsoft.com is displayed; the Web page provides information about the problem application in the language of the operating system, for example, English (United States). The page that is displayed may provide a link to a non-Microsoft Web site, depending on the application. The URL provided for non-Microsoft Web sites is unique to each application. The user is not uniquely identified.

  • Default and recommended settings: Application Help is enabled by default. Recommended settings are presented in the following topic, "Controlling Application Help to Prevent the Flow of Information to and from the Internet."

  • Triggers: A user tries to run an application that is not compatible with Windows Server 2003 family operating systems.

  • User notification: When the user selects the Details button there is no indication of whether the information is coming from an internal or external site.

  • Logging: By default events related to Application Help are not logged; however, you can enable Application Help event logging. For this procedure see "To enable event logging for Application Help," later in this section.

  • Encryption: The query that causes the display of an appropriate Web page (described in "Specific information sent or received," earlier in this list) is not encrypted.

  • Access: No information from the use of Application Help is retained at Microsoft.

  • Privacy statement: Application Help is covered by the same privacy statement that covers Windows Update.

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

  • Ability to disable: You can prevent Application Help from sending the user to the Internet by creating custom Application Help messages.

Controlling Application Help to Prevent the Flow of Information to and from the Internet

You can block an application with known compatibility problems, such as antivirus programs. You can also create custom Application Help messages that describe the problem and redirect users to an intranet site rather than sending them to the Internet for more information. To do this you use the Compatibility Administrator tool which is part of the Application Compatibility Toolkit.

The Application Compatibility Toolkit is a collection of tools and documents that can help you resolve application compatibility problems. For information about downloading the toolkit, see "Using the Application Compatibility Toolkit," later in this section.

How creating custom Application Help messages can affect users and applications

The user experience with Application Help does not change if you block applications with known compatibility problems and create custom Application Help messages. The only difference is that when users click the Details button they are sent to an internal site for more information instead of to the Internet. Not only can you prevent users from accessing the Internet in this way, but you can also avoid having users try to install incompatible applications.

Procedures for Configuring Application Help

This section presents three procedures. The first two procedures help you get started with the Application Compatibility Toolkit. The last procedure explains how to enable event logging.

Using the Application Compatibility Toolkit

You need to first download the Application Compatibility Toolkit, and then you can use the Compatibility Administrator tool to create custom Application Help messages and to block specific applications from running.

To install the Application Compatibility Toolkit

  1. Read about the toolkit and find links for downloading it from the Windows Web site at:


  2. Follow the installation instructions. Once you have installed the toolkit you can view the Windows Application Compatibility 3.0 Reference and you can run the Compatibility Administrator tool to make the changes you need.

To create custom Application Help messages

  1. Make sure that the Application Compatibility Toolkit is installed by using the previous procedure.

  2. Click Start, point to Programs or All Programs, point to Microsoft Windows Application Compatibility Toolkit, and then click Compatibility Administrator Tool 3.0.

  3. In the console tree, click Custom Databases, and then click New Database.

  4. On the toolbar, click AppHelp. The Create a custom AppHelp message dialog box appears.

  5. Enter information as prompted in the dialog box.

  6. Save the new database file.


    When you have completed your entries and saved the file, you can deploy your changes to multiple computers running Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP. See "Deploying Compatibility Fixes," in Compatibility Administrator Help.

Application Help event logging

Events related to Application Help are not logged by default. You can enable event logging in the Application log (Control Panel\Administrative Tools\Event Viewer) by using Group Policy.

To enable event logging for Application Help

  1. Use the resources described in Appendix B: Resources for Learning About Group Policy (Windows Server 2003) to learn about Group Policy and the Group Policy Management Console. Apply Group Policy objects (GPOs) to an organizational unit, a domain, or a site, as appropriate for your situation.

  2. Click Computer Configuration, click Administrative Templates, click Windows Components, and then click Application Compatibility.

  3. In the details pane, double-click Turn On Application Help Log Events, and then select Enabled.

Related Links

For more information about application compatibility resources, see “Windows Application Compatibility” at:


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