So you may not know that with the VS 2011 SP1 release they brought back the standalone viewer (full TOC, full Index, favs etc).
The RTM help received such a flood of bad reviews that, to the credit of the help team, they quickly reinstated the standard viewer app.
The browser based help idea just didn’t go down well with customers.
There is still work to do with the SP1 viewer. These problems remain…
- A help system of this size must have filtering.
My idea is… Nothing too complicated. Just tag all pages of each book with the bookName, Locale and Version.
At the moment we take a new book, rip out all the pages and throw them in to the huge soup of single pages. Not a great experience,
- They need to reorganize the book version tagging and TOC Sync.
At the moment when you search you find 6 versions of the same thing.
But the TOC only has VS 2010 related help so a TOC Sync wont always work.
- Books you download often parent into another book. If that other book does not exist it wont show in the master TOC.
They need a way to dynamically add orphaned books to the TOC.
- Rich media. HTML is able to host rich content but currently VS 2010 help blocks Flash, video, links to PDF … everything.
We need a safe way to register local media associated with a help book (like Adobe do with Flash).
The easiest way is to register media associated with your help during install when elevated in admin mode.
- The help registration signing system is over the top and duplication.
Windows already has a way to securely install components. We install, we get challenged, we except the challenge and installation continues in an elevated (admin) context. To reinvent another layer of protection is just annoying & confusing to developers and customers.
One challenge is enough in installing content.
I think the MS standard help configuration still works well. Most companies creating help today offer TOC, Index & Bookmarking system and customers are happy.
CHMs work but we need a new help system which
- supports Unicode
- is scalable
- is open with a rich API (so we can embed help in apps and do background lookups etc).
The VS 2010 help actually ticks all these boxes. But the help system still needs to mature (ie. see top list above).
I am so wrapped with #3 the open API side of HV 1.x. If you haven’t tried our H3Viewer yet then please do so. It was very straight forward to build this alternate viewer using the new VS 2010 help engine.
With the web, we have to rely on search.. But the web is broken in to web sites and these can be searched independently (filtering) and often have their own navigation systems (filtering). At the moment MSDN is (as I said) mostly a large soup of single pages (with only some TOC structure holding them in relationship).