A New Way of looking at Help

The Windows Mobile 5.0 Documentation is on MSDN, and yes, I admit this is a sub-optimal approach as ideally it should be in the Visual Studio documentation along with everything else. Eventually, we'll get it in there. In the meantime, you need to make MSDN's copy of the docs a bookmark.

So to ease your pain, I've been wondering what we can do to make the docs more usable and discoverable. One idea that occured to me was a change in approach to the idea of a Table Of Contents.

I've a question for you - would you use something like what follows? Your feedback is going to drive this completely, so let me know either with comments or directly to johnkenn at microsoft (the links in this sample should work, by the way).

Upated: As per feedback, I took out the "|"s and yes, it looks much better. And don't worry, this is never going to replace the TOC on the left hand pane.


Windows Mobile 5.0 SDK Documentation


What's New
July  June  What's New in Windows Mobile 5.0
Getting Started
Preparing your Device  Tools  Remote Tools   Managed Walkthrough  Native Walkthrough  Requirements  Samples
Application Development
Developing in C++  Developing in Managed Code
User Interface
Common Controls  Today  Home  Shell  Samples
IR  Bluetooth  ActiveSync  Sockets  Samples
Multimedia & Games
GAPI  DirectDraw  Direct3D  DirectShow  Windows Media  Samples
Design Guidelines
 User Interface Guidelines  Screen rotation  Usability Guidelines  Samples
Device Architecture
Memory & Power  Best Practices  Samples
Managed Code
Smart Device Development Support for managed code Programming with .NET CF Differences from Desktop Managed Reference Samples
Setup & Deployment
Packaging Selecting a Certificate Signing Signing for Release Deployment Sample


Differences from Desktop Attach to Managed Process Change Device Regsitry
About Query a Device Use Signtool
Migrating & Porting
Porting from eVc Migrating between devices Porting from Desktop Writing code for multiple devices Samples


Device Emulators
Overview Launching the Emulator More Documentation


Smart Device Walkthroughs Smart Device Samples SDK Samples



Comments (22)

  1. Hi, I’m John Kennedy from the Mobile Embedded Division’s UA team – in other words, Help files.

    I thought…

  2. Jonathan says:

    I think the new layout is a big improvment – it looks as if it would make it easier to find your place on the contents page after looking at a topic.

  3. Johann Gerell says:

    Awesome! Simple but effective. The overview of what’s inside is superior compared to the lousy tree-view table of contents approach.

  4. I assume you’re trying to combat the awfulness of the tree interface?

    Why not try a paned interface like iTunes? Major topic in the left, minor topic in middle, article in right. Or if there are more than three levels shift everything left as you go down deeper.

    That way it is easy to grasp both where you are and what your alternate choices are at the same time.

    A great example online is Delicious director.


  5. Margo says:

    Hate to say it, but this is really thinking outside the box…and I think it’s a useful presentation.

  6. Alex Kac says:

    I really like this. I’m a huge non-fan of the current docs organization. This looks like a major improvement. Two things missing – pure and simple Reference – without the help. Sometimes I just can’t remember the name of the item I’m look ing for, but I know its a GDI function or its something in POOM. I’d like to see the reference be more top level so its easy to find in the TOC.

    Also, I don’t see anything related to POOM in the above. Or a few other key areas… Then again, its 1am here so I may not be thinking clearly.

  7. Matt Ward says:

    Hi John – I think your ‘table of contents’ idea looks good. It’s a nice way of presenting a navigation screen at the end-user, as well as giving them a quick overview of all topics that are covered.

    Cheers – Matt

    Matt Ward | Technical Architect

    Microsoft Solutions Unit | Computacenter (UK) Ltd.

  8. Peter Foot says:

    I like the concept, I posted my thoughts here:-


    However I’ve just realised what’s missing – a section on Telephony – to link through to the TAPI, Phone API, SIM, SMS etc topics


  9. igor says:

    If this would replace the toc on page’s left side, my advice is: no.

    This new toc gives better view on titles, but classic view let you see more nested elements

  10. Aderval Mendonça says:

    Looks really nice. Seems "lighter" and easier-to-find-contents than MSDN TOC.

  11. mitnerd says:

    I like the new organizational method. Make it easier to find what you need to know. However, the "|" format underneath the main subject heading isn’t that great.

  12. I think it seems concise and would probably be very usable.

  13. MSDN Archive says:

    Wow! Thanks everyone for your feedback. I originally thought no-one had posted anything, until I switched on anonymous feedback option 😉

    This has been very encouraging, and I’m definitely taking this forward to another stage. I should have a nice little surprise ready in a week or so: watch this space.


  14. jevans says:

    Looks slick but I don’t like the topics wrapping from one line to the next.

  15. MSDN Archive says:

    Yeah, the wrapping sucks. I’d definitely fix that.

    I really like the suggestion regarding the iTunes/multiple panes view, and although would require some serious meta-tagging, it would be awesome. That said, there’s only so much I can implement as static pages of HTML.

  16. Hau du joo spel tihis says:


    "Seaching the gloabal namespace:"

    Since the developers rely on Intellisense, wouldn’t it be fair to have english spell checking enabled when writing the comments in the sample code too.

  17. ce_base says:

    Hmm, this information does appear to be clearer. Though I am comparing it to the TOC in MSDN online, and it doesn’t really seem to map. Is this an organization you made up yourself, or does it map directly to the TOC somehow?

    This may be a controversial view, based on some of the other comments :-), but I personally don’t really have a problem with the *idea* of having a TOC. What I have a problem with is that our own TOC is not that easy to navigate. Which of the two is your layout fixing? Could we realize the same benefit just from reorganizing our TOC the way you’ve organized your topics? Could some of you go into more detail about WHAT you don’t like about the TOC?

    The other fallacy the TOC runs into is that there is "one view to rule them all." The nice thing about your "start page" kind of view is that we could actually create "start pages" for different audiences. One for OEMs, one for people writing drivers, one for people writing applications, one for end users, etc. It’s much more complicated, to have multiple organizations, but could end up making our documentation much clearer. I guess it is equivalent to letting Help users choose between different TOC "views."

    Sue Loh

  18. John says:

    Yes, I just made up the categories.

    I absolutely agree mutliple "index pages" like this would be great: one for enterprise, one for games development…

    Of course, maintaining index pages is a pain.

    The TOC currently reflects a little too much of the internal structure of how the docs are written, and so it also needs a good shake-down.

  19. Tahoma Toelkes says:

    I would like to be able to scan the topics in your Table of Contents more easily. Personally, within each section, I’d like to see a strict column of topics where the left edge of the topic titles align.

    However, I realize that might not pack as nicely, so it would be nice to at least have a bullet or something at the beginning of a topic title. As it is, the organization does not lend itself to quick scanning, forcing me to rollover with the mouse or read the full text and try to parse out the boundaries.

    I just realized the fact that I use FireFox instead of IE might make a difference, and I will go check that in a moment. However, that also makes me realize that I’m having far better luck reading this at all with FireFox than I do the standard MSDN docs. Bravo!

    — Tahoma

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