Partner Content Discoverability Options in Visual Studio 2010, Part I: Context Sensitive Help (F1)

If you haven't seen the announcement about the Visual Studio 2010 RC release - check out this page. The Visual Studio 2010 RC is immediately available to all comers.

As we’ve been working our way towards RTM we’ve had lots of invaluable feedback from our partners and our Help Authoring Tool vendors that have had keen eyes toward partner scenarios.


With Visual Studio 2010 and Help Viewer 1.0 we made a conscious decision to make Online the default for most Help related scenarios. In this scenario, we make the calls and experience as efficient as possible by pushing the query directly to our online query service and hosting the entire Help experience from MSDN Online.


Since partner content is not available in MSDN we needed to work out a means to make partner content discoverable, which by definition would be offline content (at this time) when the user’s default was set to Online.


The scenario can be summarized:

  1. an end-user installs a 3rd party component or add-in along with its help content, and

  2. the end-user's default for Help and F1 lookups is set to Online

  3. What happens when a user presses F1 when a partners control or add-in is in focus?

Since the entire Online Help experience is managed directly from MSDN Online, that experience inherently has no knowledge of a user's local machine state. The end-user would effectively never see or know that there was Help content available for the 3rd party component or add-in.


We clearly wish to enable partner content to be accessible in all contexts, and you all have helped us think through ways we could enable this.


As of this RC build, we will do a very quick query on local *vendor* content to determine whether there is a topic that matches the F1 keyword query. If there is a hit, then we will take the user directly to the local vendor content rather than looking on MSDN Online and giving a 404. 


We manage content from all vendors (including Microsoft) separately. This will potentially enable a number of useful Online content scenarios in the future, but the fortunate benefit *now* is that we are able to distinguish between Microsoft and non-Microsoft content. And therefore, enable a different behavior for partner content.


I plan to post a discussion on how we’re beginning to look at partner content discoverability scenarios moving forward from Visual Studio 2010. Look for this in the next few weeks.


Thanks again to all our partners and HAT vendors who have helped us to think this through!


Download the RC and let us know what you think!


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