Rob Houser on Vista help

May 26, 2007

At last Tuesday night’s STC meeting, Rob Houser discussed “How will Vista’s online help affect the future of documentation?” Look for the podcast on Michelle’s site and go to Rob’s site for the slides.

In recent years the listserves have been buzzing with speculations, revelations, and exclamations about Longhorn, then Vista help and its impact on our work. To be honest, I tuned out the discussion because I didn’t see an immediate impact on my own work. So I was happy to have Rob pull it all together and present an overview. Here are some things I learned.

  1. Vista help has no index.
    The assumption was that users would search rather than use an index. An unfortunate decision because—as Rob pointed out—many people do not know how to conduct an effective search. An index is a useful backup to help you pinpoint what you are looking for.
  2. With Vista, you are offered several ways to get assistance:
    • Traditional help
    • “Ask someone” (a friend, the Windows communities forum, or Microsoft support)
    • Embedded help in a dialog box or window
    • Guided Help
  3. Guided Help is the coolest innovation in Vista.
    You can choose to have it automatically complete the steps for you while you watch, or you can be guided through the procedure.
  4. Microsoft is not sharing their code for Vista help (called AML – Assistance Markup Language) so authoring tools cannot be built to create it in other applications.
  5. RoboHelp won’t run on Vista. There are also problems opening PDFs in Vista.

I also found this presentation on Windows Vista Help by Derek Torres and Stuart Mudie at last November’s UK STC Conference. They have written a book on Windows Vista that you may want to check out as well.