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Microsoft Help Viewer - New Help System in Visual Studio 2010

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  • MP3 (Audio only)
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In this video, Ryan Linton, a Senior Program Manager on the Library Experience Team, describes the new Help system in Visual Studio 2010 Beta 2. 

 

UPDATE: see the updates planned for the help viewer in Visual Studio 2010 SP1  


Kathleen McGrath
Developer Guidance
http://blogs.msdn.com/kathleen

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  • Awesome video, thanks!

     

    Will the help be still extensible for 3rd parties? In the past you could provide installers that integrate into the VSIP help namespace for that purpose.

     

    In addition, is it possible to provide an intranet help? For example, in our company we have many shared components that are updated quite frequently. We would like to centralize the help so that the updates of the intranet help could be done by a nightly build. This way, nobody needs to install anything but just press F1.

  • The updating and downloading of new content looks better than VS2008. 

     

    However the lack of an index that you can drill down into as you type each character is a big negative.  Why create a new system if right off the bat you don't have a feature that many people use.   Same as intellisense provides discoverability when you get a up-to-date list as you type each character, I find the help index provides the same analogue rather than doing a search for most help lookups. 

     

    I'd probably stay with VS2008 until this feature is available for VS2010.

     

  • rhmrhm

    Help in the web browser - seriously? Are we running Linux here? Who'd have thought regressing 15 years was the way forward.

  • I thought the same when I heard it the first time. Now I think it is actually not that bad:

    • When you are using help chances are that you also the web browser to investigate further (such as googling/binging for additional information.
    • CHM and HXS always used the browser to render the HTML content anyway.
    • According to the video the new help is way faster than the old doc explorer.

    What are your concerns?

  • In what way is help in the browser a step back? Help is documentation, and that's EXACTLY what the browser was designed for (unlike web applications that are all the rage and yet rarely are worth a darn). The old help system was nothing more than an embedded browser... which buys you nothing, and costs you a lot (lack of plugins for FF users, for instance). It's actually about darn time they stopped using an embedded browser and started using open standards.

  • How horrible!
    1. The browser is not a rich controls application. No tree-view control. No tabs and property sheets. No easy to use keyboard shortcuts.
    (A) Can I use the table of contents to navigate the documentation using the cursors in the browser? Most probably not. It is all a set of links and links and more links.
    (B) Can I press ctrl+alt+f1, f2 and f3 to get the table of contents, the index and the search in your new browser-based viewer? Most probably not. By the way, in VS 2008 although it says that these shortcuts should work, they don't so that is a bug in VS 2008 too.
    (C) Can I use alt+c and alt+n to get table contents and index in the browser?
    (D) Can I browser the index using cursors and tab or is there no index in the browser?
    (E) Is search its own floating window or every time I use it a new page would be navigated to in the browser? Of course the later. But in your previous viewer I could keep the search results and view them one by one without having to go back and forward.
    (F) There is a reason why desktop applications are richer than the browser, even though everybody talks about the browser and the browser nowadays.
    2. Can you at last decide on one help viewer for all your company? Windows has one, Office another, now you another. Where is the collaboration?
    3. Your MSDN online search results page is not a simple as Google and it doesn't still work as good. Even after so many years. Especially the interface has too many links. So, now you are going to make that the default search experience?
    4. You know how hard it is for me to navigate MSDN online? There is no Next and Previous link at the end of each help topic. And so every time I read a topic I have to go up to the table of contents again and again and find and click the next topic. Is hard, very hard. You go down to read, you finish and you go up and up to find the title of what you are reading in the TOC and then find and click the next and the next topic. All over and over. Whilst in your previous help viewer, one can easily press alt+down and alt+up to navigate through the topics. How easy. Can your "browser" do that?

  • I agree with the first post regarding help on the Intranet - that would be valuable when we got 100+ developers to support. Or even just at home if I have to rebuild my machine so I don't have to download all the help again.

     

    Also, the online/offline modes - is it possible to get the settings to respect first to check for content offline and then online? It would be nice if this could be more seamless.

     

    When I use offline help and click on a link to something I haven't downloaded I get a custom 404 screen asking if I want to go online and there is a link. Once I click on the link a new browser window opens. 

  • 1. There's plenty of such "rich controls" on the web... most done through nothing but the DOM and JavaScript. Regardless, there's very little use for such controls when talking about reading documentation.

    (A) Keyboard navigation in the browser works just fine. If they had a TOC, you'd be able to navigate it with the keyboard.

    (B) Have you used GMail much? Keyboard shortcuts work just fine in the browser. You may not be able to keep the exact same short cuts... but that shouldn't matter.

    (C) Rehash of (B).

    (D) Again, keyboard navigation would work fine. As for an index... watch the video.

    (E) Either could be done, but I'm sure the separate search window implementation wasn't done. I think most people wouldn't care, or might even prefer not to have a separate search window. Obviously you don't, and so you've got a legitimate complaint here, even if it's one you're likely to not get resolution to.

    (F) Agreed... but that richness is pointless for documentation. After all, that is PRECISELY what the browser was designed for.

    2. Valid point... though I'm not sure how important.

    3. The online MSDN search is no worse than the existing offline MSDN search, so comparing it to Google, in this context at least, is a bit pointless.

    4. The browser CAN do that... but I'm willing to bet they didn't implement it. Most people don't use the documentation that way either. It's a legitimate complaint, and one that should be considered, though. Just doesn't mean the browser isn't the right implementation.

  • Why should someone write the whole "xmlreader" to search for it ...  I really want the search index back... just type three or four letters and I am there... the current way of showing table of contents confuses me, because there is no visual clue that where I am in the documentaion... convention of peer, child and parents doesn't quite make the cut here...  you should have some kind of visual indication.

  • nmarcelnmarcel How much near The Singularity is?

    I agree with the previous critics.

    The single most used feature of the current help explorer, for me at least, is that large index where dynamic search happens.

    The fact that classes and members appear next to other similiar, has helped me a lot for discover new things.

     

  • Definitely need some kind of Index UI.  I spend all my time in dexplore on the Index tab because I usually know exactly what I am looking for and things are indexed in such a way that it usually provides a great experience.

     

    In lieu of an index (for v1 at least) you could do some kind of type ahead drop down in the search box.  That gives you both paradigms and lets us Index junkies tap into the power of a real search interface.  It would also be nice to be able pin the type ahead box in place and navigate to search results and help content in a frame so that I can quickly browse through related search results without the hassle of constantly going back (either via the back button or through tab management).  If you implemented this in such that I don't lose my search result context and can quickly click through different results it would be very much like the current Index UI in dexplore but miles better because the search is much richer.

     

    If you could get these requests in for 1.0 (or soon thereafter) I would absolutely love the new system and this is coming from someone who really likes and gets a lot of use out of dexplore.

  • It's been said mant times that MS changes things based on how they think it should work, but don't truly ask lots of users...and in most cases don't give you the option to do it differently.  Herding everyone into searching for everything rather than using the index is stupid.  Please give back the index.  What good does it do to remove something that wasn't hurting anyone in the first place.  The index is much easier for me to not only logically find things, but to see where they fit in the parent topic.  Why would a company who promotes thinking intelligently, guide people into a lack of thinking by just searching for everything. 

  • When I started using VS 2010 B2 and started using the "Help Viewer" (so-called), I thought I must have had something mis-configured. This can't be the real help system for VS 2010. Unfortunately, this Channel 9 video indicates it is.

     

    I'm still in shock to think this is what Microsoft intends to release w/VS 2010. This is garbage -- total, unbridled garbage, compared to what we had in VS 2008.

     

     I agree that an HTML-based "viewer" could be made functional with enough AJAX, but as it stands now, this "viewer" is unusable. I'll keep VS 2008 installed just for the better help system.

     

    I am so disappointed and I believe 99% of the other developer will be too. I just feel like uninstalling VS 2010 now. This is so diappointing.

     

    (As an aside, If Microsoft intends to go with a web-based approach to the Help System, I think they should go with HTML 5 rather than XHTML since no further work is being done on XHTML by W3C, as far as I know.)

     

     

  • Couldn't agree more - MS help has been awful on VS and Excel for ever - far too many search items returned in VS, little intelligence used, search in Excel can't even find words that aren't keywords, entirely for users who know what they're looking for

     

    When you're in a hole, the best advice is to stop digging - just link F1 to do a Google search and join the real world - and focus on adding intelligent content that a decent search engine can find

  • One feature of DExplore I'm missing in the new help system (and MSDN online) is the "Sync with Table of Contents" button.  Many times I'll do a search (or use the index) to find a .NET type and then I want to see the type in the context of the namespace it was defined in.  That way I can quickly surf related types.

  • tbaxter >> I absolutelly agree! When I entered that "help system" for the first time I thought that there is something bad with my VS installation or that it is not present in Beta 2, so they temporarily redirect me to the internet (and incorrectly). Then I realized that the address in browser is localhost! How do you dare to steel My port 80!? This will prevent me from using local help on my machine at work.

    Help Library Manager >> This "application" looks like when brought from some children-targeted application. It has absolutelly un-VisualStudio look and user experience. For so few options it provides one form is perfectly engough (when used by developer) no plenty of something-between-wizard-and-popup. Why it is not modal and constanly opens in background?

    UI in general >> Since release of Office 2007 every change Microsf have done to user interface upset me.

    • Office 2007 - absolutelly incustomizable UI
    • IE7/8 - no menu
    • Window 7 - no desktop toolbars, not Media Player toolbar, no QuickLaunch, no texts on taskbar buttons, popup systray
    • Visual Studio 2010 - no drag & drop editing toolbar, no custom icons for menu/toolbar items, no floating toolbars, impossible to use ALT+number when typing name of menu item, some missing commands and no help system - no index, no help inside visual studio, constantly openning new tabs in Fire-Fox, help opens in same window as application I debug, no dynamic help, no help favorites.

    For everybody who wants read more complaints or complain more: https://connect.microsoft.com/VisualStudio/feedback/ViewFeedback.aspx?FeedbackID=505032 (16 votes on connect is quite high number).

     

    After I saw the video...

    • Browse familiar fashion - obviously form amy of us this is not familiar fashoin.
    • XHTML - well, I have never expected to see valid [X]HTML from Microsoft, but when mention in video I had to run validator on help. You can probably imagine result yourself.
    • Last point - becaus o being in browse I could not watch the video on one monitor ant experiment with help on the other.
  • So the good news is that Help 3 has a rich API. If the Microsoft solution does not suit you then you can always use a 3rd party rich win32 or .NET solution. Or roll your own.

     

    H3Viewer is something I quickly knocked together and shows a full TOC and full Index. Microsoft also allow you to make any browser or 3rd party viewer and make it the main viewer for VS 2010 (This was announced by Charles at a public conference but they haven't made the mechanism public yet).

     

    If you would like to try H3Viewer you can download from --  http://mshcmigrate.helpmvp.com/viewer

    (Remember this is all Beta at the moment).

    Rob

    http://www.helpware.net/

     

     

  • Rob, you are my hero!

  • I too want the index! And the Tree-View TOC! And Sync-with-TOC! They are far better in DExplore.exe than what you have in the browser!

     

    I really don't like the non-interactive browser thing you have. Dexplore was infinitely better.

  • David Turnerdkturner dkturner

    I don't care whether the help is in the browser or now, however the lack of a type-ahead index is a serious omission.  When I use the MSDN library, it's because I know what I'm looking for and I just want to get the reference sheet.  Usually I want to know the finer points of permissible arguments to a method.  I use internet search when I don't know what I'm looking for - I may know what I want, but I have no idea how to achieve it.  It's okay that the latter is online and hence relative slow - because it'll take time to sort through the information in any case.  But when I just want to look up a class or a method, search is not the answer.

  • The new Visual Studio 2010 help system is really horrible! No hierarchical TOC, no index, no contents search, no printing functionality. But luckily, there is a solution - PackageThis program at CodePlex. It allows you to download any subtree of MSDN/TechNet (or whole if you want) and save it to CHM or HXS.

     

    Enjoy!

  • Ok, so they already knew that everybody wanted back their index, but still they pushed people into searching ... gr8 ... NOT. Searching is a waste of time when you already know what you are looking for. Why did they remove the most used feature of dexplore and replaced it with a crappy guess function (searching is just guessing)?

     

    Luckily they can add it at a later stage,.. but most of the time this means 'never' because of the idea that: "people will get used to this mediocre interface and eventually will give up complaining".

     

  • Why is Visual Studio 2010 help service tied to the PID? This creates problems with bookmarking items within the browser. Everytime the Help Library Agent is restarted a new PID will be assigned breaking all the links that have been saved under IE Favorites.

  • Dear Ryan

     

    OMG, just installed the VS 2010 help system and found NO INDEX. In response to your invitation at the end of the video, please please implement an index. Anyone knows that an Index and Search are two different things.

     

    Less important but what I also find amusing is that the TOC in the new system is fixed to the left, whereas I notice from the video that you (like me) prefer to have your solution explorer and such like on the right. So another step backwards 'cos Dexplorer could put the TOC anywhere.

     

    This whole debacle breaks a lot of tenets of good customer-oriented software analysis and design IMO. Did someone say: "Wouldn't it be cool if..."? I do like the way you have implemented the web server app though, and wouldn't mind knowing how you did that.

     

    Cheers

  • Ego trip! did you notice how many times he said "we"? not one mention on what the users (developers) want. then again... who cares.

  • DonaldBydia Donald

    Download the Help Viewer SDK.  Tried to import the sample help on Win7... it said I needed Administrator rights... so I launched CSharp Express using Admin right... cause that's only user friendly way to access the Help Manager.  Tried again this time it errored.. not sure why but I had to go look in the Windows Log.  There it said it couldn't find the .mshc file which is in the same folder.

    The message starts with:
    An error occurred while fetching a list of available content from disk Microsoft.Help.CacheLib.CacheLibBadLinkException: The item at 'file:///C:/Acct/HelpContentSetup.msha' refers to an item at 'file:///C:/Acct/ContosoWidgets.mshc' which cannot be found.

     

    I checked, the paths and file locations are correct... so it must be a problem with the load from disk method in the Help Manager.

     

    Sad

     

  • WinInsiderWinInsider Mike, MCAD

    I felt compelled to add my own disenchantment about the "in the browser" help system for VS2010, after using it for few months ... it is slow and a form of torture to use it.  It is a step backwards... Where is the kick a** WPF based Document Explorer?

  • Jeff LewisJeff Lewis

    @wkempf: What you're doing here is a perfect example two major problems when developers meet end users (even if those end users are other developers).
    First, the summation of your response is "you don't need all that fancy stuff, so stop asking for it.. learn to live with what you're getting" while the audience is saying "we like what we had - why did you take it away from us?". "You don't need it" doesn't cut it with the audience.
    The second part is even more bizarre. The complaint is that browsers aren't useful because they don't have rich interface support, to which you argue they do. In the most technical sense, yes, they do - BUT - then you turn around and argue that you don't need it anyway (see previous point). In well designed and *user experience* oriented web pages, they do indeed exist - but not in the new document viewer or at least not in any of the content we've seen so far... so your point is kind of irrelevent because whether or not it *can* exist, it doesn't in the content the audience is using.
    (Which brings us back to their point - why did Microsoft make such a huge change before they could implement all the stuff the existing audience has come to rely on?)
    While we're at it - the original design of HTML (back in the early 1990s) was actually for minimalist document presentation, but more about content tagging for searching. That's why text-only browsers like Lynx existed (or even could exist). Welcome to 2010. People expect a web page to be more than simple text. In the case of help, we expect... well... that it *helps*.
    Case in point - I've just spent the entire afternoon trying to answer a very simple question: how do you determine if an exchange contact is a person or a resource. I've still not found an answer. I've been sent to over two dozen websites. I've been shown more forum comments than I can shake a stick at, most dated 2007 or older. I've been shown five different versions of Outlook API (oddly their help system never thought to point me at Exchange API documentation - which wouldn't have helped, but still). And I've spent a lot of time climbing up and down the hierarchy because I can't SEE it.
    Allow me to add my own complaints.
    I'm NOT online all of the time - and when I am, the cost and speed (not to mention reliability) of being online varies wildly. I'd prefer my help files to be here where I am. Try developing something on a 10 hour bus or plane flight. Here's a fun exercise - try resetting the help documentation source for Outlook 2010. Bon chance.
    Showing me where I am is good. Showing me where I am relative to everything else is MUCH better.
    Somewhere we lost the notion of 'minimal clicks'. I seem to have to click around a LOT more in this new system.
    Consistency isn't foolish. A foolish consistency is. So is a foolish inconsistency. So why do some class documents have a link for all members, methods, properties and fields at one level, then break out to show details - while OTHER pages list the methods in a massive clump of links formatted as a paragraph (which is essentially unreadable?)
    A job well done isn't done until it's done. Some of the documentation out there is still showing 'beta' or 'incomplete'. There's a lot of 'placeholder' documentation that reads like "AppointmentItem - an item that holds an appointment". Thank you for that tremendous insight.
    A picture is worth a thousand words. Here's an example of a really, really terrible way to explain something: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/officedevdocs/archive/2009/11/18/accessing-outlook-developer-help-during-the-office-2010-beta-period.aspx The problem? This line "What all of this means is that when you click F1 to view help in a client application, you should make sure that Developer Reference is selected under Content from This Computer in the drop-down menu adjacent to Search."
    Try it. I dare you. It's not doable. Now.. if the author had just clipped a screen shot and shown us what he or she was up to, it would be simple. Similarly, a *good* code sample is good - but one that shows the easy stuff is generally bad. Most of the code examples I see show the perfectly obvious, but rarely show the more complicated or unexpected stuff.
    What works should only be replaced when you have something better - *for the end user*. Clearly from the complaints here (and my own experience pretty much replicated their complaints), that's not the case here. The technology choice is irrelevent. Web browser is not a better solution over an application unless it provides some real benefit to someone other than the content creator. Supply-side economics doesn't work here (or anywhere) - the consumer should be the king.
    Even then, much of the problems can be prevented by simply including a conversion tool (preferably in the reader) to automatically take old content (ie: chm files) and make it work. Ahhhh.. but see - the new document reader can't even its OWN HsX file formats. For some reason, rather than just making it readable, it has to be *registered* with a special tool in a way that can only be done with an installer.
    Let me underline this: we had a file format that did not require anything but a reader and the file - and the reader was preinstalled for us anyway. No installation time requirements for the help file. No 'associations'. It just worked. And building these chm files in the free Help Workshop was actually not terribly hard with a good basic website designer. Now, the developer documentation files they include with Office are unreadable... or if they are - I've not found a way to do it. I used to be able to double click the chm file - nice and simple. Now? Who knows.
    Finally, a blog is not documentation. It's not even reliable (you'd not believe how many 'not founds' I've run into today).
    Yes, it's been a long day and I'm tired. One insanely simple question and I've spent four hours jumping back and forth having to learn a hell of a lot of stuff I had no need to know just to try and answer this question... and I still don't have an answer.
    Colour me unimpressed.

  • Jeff LewisJeff Lewis

    @Jeff Lewis: Oh.. and what 'HTML' did to my nicely formatted reply kind of underlined a point I missed - a lot of pages I've been to in the new online documentation doesn't actually format correctly in IE8... the lines run together and overlap.

  • JamesJames

    I have to say the new help is dreadful.It's nowhere near as usuable as the old help and I often open up the 2008 help instead.
    What really matters of course is whether they're going to update the content.Frankly we use google instead as Microsoft never updates their help to mention problems or to add help in areas where people have found it difficult.
    Because you can't trust (or now use) the offical documentation, you end up relying on a load of people out there on the internet often doing things the wrong way or not realising there is a simple method call to replace their 50 lines of code.

  • TollerToller

    The help system is terrible! As a simple test, I was trying to find a help for "std::list" and I got three answers : 1. Compiler error C2751, 2. <allocators> and 3. Best practices in parallel patterns library. Where is the help topic abou a list container?

  • I think the new system is a pile of cow dung..... to put it bluntly. I loved the dynamic index and search capabilities of the 2008 system. It helps to locate something the you don't know the EXACT name of. At my job, we also have to develop on systems that are disconnected and have NO internet, so how do we get help? We are limited or have to go back to our desk to search and then back to the lab with what might or might not be the solution we needed.

    PLEASE Bring back the previous interface.

     

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