Hello and welcome to “The Help Guy” blog!

Why “The Help Guy?”

I was aiming for just “Help Guy”, but it was already taken, though not accessible for some reason. Hmmm. Not very helpful.

For me, THE Help Guy will always be Ralph Walden. I call him “The Father of Help” – primary driver and developer of the 3 main help systems that have had Microsoft platform-wide use to this day: QuickHelp (used in 1980’s DOS products, like the original Microsoft C++ Programmers Workbench, etc.), Windows Help (aka. WinHelp), and HTML Help 1.x. He even worked on the OS2 Help system while Microsoft was still involved with that OS.

I could have gone with – wait for it – Ivory Boy. Nan Hickman, author of “Building Windows 95 Help” gave me this dubious appellation for some strange reason around 1995, back when Compuserve was still the rage and we had a lively WinHelp forum there. Ralph even gave me the perhaps more dubious distinction of naming an internal HTML Help system file after me: #IVB – used for storing Alias string information for context sensitive help purposes (See this interesting article for gory details.). Somehow Ivory Boy just isn’t that intuitive, though.

Another alternative – Mr. F1 Help. A good friend of mine came up with that name back in the ‘90’s and I tried coining it for my consulting business at the time, but perhaps it’s a bit too formal. J

So – “The Help Guy”. For the last 8 years that I’ve been working at Microsoft, I’ve worked a lot with Visual Studio Industry Partners (VSIPs) and their need to integrate their Help content with the various versions of Visual Studio that we’ve been shipping since around 2000. To many of them I’ve become “the Help guy.” Also, for many teams in Microsoft who have tried to work with that Help system (Microsoft Help 2.x) I’ve become the go-to guy for getting answers.

Even before working at Microsoft though, I’ve always been passionate about “helping” people with Help related conundrums. I was even a Microsoft Help MVP for several years, and oversee the current Help MVPs now. I just can’t help myself!

So there you have it.

Why here?

I’ve recently moved into a more intentional Partner Engagement type of role with Visual Studio 2010’s shipping-any-day-now new Help system – affectionately dubbed Microsoft Help Viewer 1.0. The meat and potatoes of my job is to ensure that all our Visual Studio partners are successful in migrating to the new Help system (and format), as well as to ensure that their needs and requirements are understood and represented to our team (LEX – Library Experience). Our team essentially owns the MSDN Library as well as the new Help Viewer, so what better place than http://blogs.msdn.com?

A big part of this is making information readily available for our partners. One of the aims of this blog will be to post best-practice types of solutions, workarounds (where necessary), and to document odd bits that have not made it into formal documentation yet.

Why now?

Lots of reasons spring to mind for me. #1 being that my management would like me to. J However, I’ve been thinking about doing something like this for quite a while. The primary thing that’s been missing for me till now has been the right combination of whatever my current job responsibilities were, the team I was on, and the role I could play in the future of a Help system. Right now feels like the right job, the right team and the right time with the right Help system.

My primary aim with this blog is to make information available on this new Microsoft Help Viewer 1.0 platform, especially as it relates to Visual Studio 2010 Help integration. This is critical as it is an entirely new system and way of doing Help. There are and will be growing pains. This is a 1.0 product.

I have a secondary aim though as well – to provide a locus for entertaining, discussing, and opining on any issues pertaining to Help technologies past, present and future. Hopefully, this will be more than just my meandering thoughts… I’d love for this blog to become a place where great ideas for the next broadly public Microsoft Help system are published (by you gentle readers, and me) and come to fruition. To that end, I welcome suggestions on topics you would like to see addressed.

What next?

I will be posting some updates on the status of Help Viewer 1.0 in recent VS 2010 builds, Known Issues, etc. Those types of updates will come pretty regularly at least from here through VS 2010 RTM. However, I hope to continue those types of updates past RTM as well.

As new issues may surface and workarounds become available I will be posting on these as well.

Now what?!

Nothing – just checking if you got this far. 😉

Comments (3)

  1. David Knopf says:

    I am delighted to see you have started a blog, Paul, and look forward to reading future installments!

  2. Paul Johnson says:

    I’m glad you’re putting your knowledge ‘out there’!

    I’m really looking forward to seeing what gems of wisdom you have to share. I need to learn about the new help system! 🙂

  3. Mark says:

    Are you the idiot at Microsoft who decided to completely break Visual Studio with the most backward, retarded help system ever. Talk about taking steps backwards.

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