Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 157 / OCTOBER 1993 / PAGE 51

Becoming a help power user. (Windows Help application) (Windows Workshop)
by Clifton Karnes

Nothing can transform you into a power user faster than the ability to get the right information about Windows and Windows applications when you need it. And no tool can deliver this crucial info faster than Windows Help.

In this column, I'm going to talk a little about Help and how to use it. Next issue, I'll talk about how you can create your own Help files.

Most of us have used Help at one time or another. Help is on the menu bar of almost every Windows application, pressing the Fl hot key summons Help for most apps, and many dialog boxes have a Help button you can press.

If you call Help in any one of these ways, the Help window will pop onto your screen. Now the fun starts. But before we dive into Help itself, let's back up and look at what Windows Help really is.

Windows Help is an application, WINHELP.EXE, that loads and displays Help file documents, which always have an HLP extension.

You can run WinHelp by choosing Run from Program Manager or File Manager and typing winhelp.exe. Windows Help will run without a Help document loaded. To view any Help file, choose File, Open from the menu bar. Try this now to get a feel for all the HLP files in your WINDOWS subdirectory.

You'll also note that WinHelp's menu bar has its own Help option. This calls Help on Help in a second Help window. Now, on to the details.

Help files usually consist of a Contents page and several Topic pages. When you choose Help Contents from the menu bar, you'll see the Contents page. As the name implies, this is like a table of contents, giving a broad outline of what the file covers.

Click on any underlined green text (green is the default), and you can jump to that topic.

When you're reading a topic, green text that appears with a dotted underline has a pop-up definition. Click on these words, and a window with the definition pops up on your screen.

When you look at the Help window, you'll notice a row of buttons just below the me bar. These are quick navigation buttons. The Contents button takes you back to the Contents page, Search calls up a dialog box that lets you search for keywords, Back moves you to the previous topic, and History displays a dialog box of the topics you've viewed. In addition to these standard buttons, Help authors can add their own. You may, for example, see browse buttons, marked << and >>, that move you backward and forward through the available topics. You may also see a Glossary button that lists all the pop-up definitions throughout the Help file.

All that is pretty standard. Following, however, are some specialized features that are worth exploring.

First, if you look at the File menu, you'll see an option for Print Topic. As you'd expect, this prints the current topic. Very useful.

Under the Edit menu, you'll see Copy. If you select this, the entire topic is displayed in a text window, and you can copy text from it to the Clipboard and from there to any Windows application.

Directly under the Copy option on the Edit menu is Annotate. This is one of Help's neatest features. Select this, and you'll be treated to a dialog box in which you can put any notes about the current topic. After you make an annotation, a small green paper clip appears by the topic title. You can click on the paper clip to bring up the annotation. These annotations are stored in your WINDOWS subdirectory with the Help file's name plus the extension ANN.

Perhaps the neatest Help feature is Bookmark, which lets you place named bookmarks on any topic. The Bookmark names appear as Bookmark menu items. If you use a Help file often, this is a real timesaver. Bookmarks are stored in your WINDOWS subdirectory in a file named WINHELP.BMK.

The last feature of Help I want to discuss is Help, Always on Top. This will keep the Help window from being buried by other windows. I never use this one, but I can see how it could have its uses.

That's the quick tour. To get your feet wet with Help, make a practice of loading the Help files for your favorite applications and browsing them from time to time.