Peter. Before we do a follow-up to
our earlier July interview I would like to preface this edition with a
response to false statement about HTML Help that I posted to
Techwriter-L (edited for grammar, not content)
Microsoft is trying to position its Help
development as needing its browser components, which are part of
Internet Explorer. It's clearly a backhanded tactic to validate the
claim that IE is part of the actual operating system.
The help display engine has always been part of
the operating system since Microsoft started GUI-based OSs. It is the
only way to guarantee a usable help system for the OS itself. Windows
98 uses HTML Help as its basic help engine, though WinHelp currently
still handles all popups.
The layout engine that is tied to hh.exe (HTML Help's runtime) is
Shdocvw.dll, the layout engine for IE. Besides the economy of scale you
get by using only one layout engine for both, the real issues for help
authoring concerns revolve around basic functionality such as
compression, indexing, TOC, related topics, and the like, that general
browsers are not equipped to handle. Even if you did program something
that could do this stuff in something like Java, (but why on Windows?)
it would be slooowwww (see Sun's JavaHelp which they are still working
on two years later)
But WinHelp systems can and do run on a Mac, and with assistance, on Unix boxes.
The assistance is a native executable (mostly
non MS) that reads the hlp format. You cannot run unmodified 32 bit
help on other platforms. Bristol supplies a Unix help browser and MS,
for use with their apps, supplied one for Apple, though several third
parties used to supply their own Mac help browser. However, they all
require you to tweak the standard help file and only offer a subset of
32 bit WinHelp. Anyone could do the same approach for HTML Help.
Within a year or two we should see the growth of
a truly platform- and language-independent user assistance technology.
That's what to really plan for.
Would you like to elaborate what you see coming?
By platform independent do you mean Windows, Mac, and Unix or do you
mean browser independent? Since Netscape refuses to support ActiveX, it
will not support compiled HTML Help, the Microsoft platform standard.
I disagree with your assessment that HTML Help is a hacked system. It
is exactly the opposite. HTML Help is based on a common approach with
IE, which leverages collateral development, and has been targeted from
the beginning to be fully integrated into its related technologies.
Rather than being a hack, it is has been developed using a spiral
development, structured approach. I have known Ralph Walden, the
architect, since the early days of 32 bit WinHelp and I can assure you
that while the decision to shift the whole company to an HTML emphasis
came from "Bill" and was an adjustment to the sudden and unexpected
emergence of the web, Ralph was happy to embrace the idea since it
opened up significant possibilities for the future of help design.
Remember that HTML Help was originally targeted as the help system for
the next version of Microsoft Windows (Windows 98). It has been
delivered. It is not required to run anywhere else to meet its design
requirements, which are consistent with all previous versions of help.
It has never been touted as a cross platform information solution but
only as the help and information system for Windows and Windows-based
applications. Since the release of version 1.2 the OS no longer sees it
as a browser. This means that it need not interfere in any way with
Netscape or Opera or any other browser. All of its settings are
Well said. It would have been hard
to justify continued investment in the WinHelp compiler and viewer
given the greater richness and industry standard support available
through browser technology. Not only does it make sense from an
engineering standpoint to take advantage of the browser and the ongoing
investment it's receiving, browser technology delivers a superior
solution to users, and provides a richer environment for help authors.
Thank you. Since our last interview,
a number of things have changed. Shane McRoberts was hired as program
manager; HTML Help version 1.2 has been released; the installation and
registration problems of the browser components are about to be fixed;
and you are launching several new initiatives to increase the support
of HTML Help.
Let's start with the status of help authors getting an installable set of browser components that actually works.
We now have a redistribution license
on the Microsoft web site, which is designed specifically for people
who want to redistribute the Internet Explorer [IE] components, the
underlying engine and functionality, rather than redistributing a
browser.[Note:We have put together a procedure for the IEAK license registration and download to assist you.]
While some vendors, such as an Internet service provider, might want to
customize the look of IE so that it might display the home page of the
service and have a default set of Favorites related to the ISP
services, that is not at all what help authors want. They just want to
be able to install the browser engine so they can take advantage of the
full capabilities of HTML Help and IE.
This browser engine license is called Microsoft Internet Explorer
Operating System Components license. To use this process requires a
series of steps that includes registering on the site. The URL for this
There were numerous problems with
the original attempt at providing help authors with a truly silent
install, that didn't attempt to modify the user's existing environment,
but only supply the necessary components to run HTML Help.
We hope that the current approach
addresses the need of help authors for a truly silent install. With the
earlier approach we found that there were three artifacts that impinged
on the intended silent installation of the IE 4.0 components. The first
was the Channel Bar, obviously a blatant in your face intrusion; the
second was the invitation to take the Guided Tour of Internet Explorer;
the third was putting the Internet Explorer icon on the desktop, with
the related side effect of making IE the default browser.
Since then we have worked with the setup team to figure out ways to
eliminate all of those problems. Essentially what is involved is to
make changes to the registry. This is something that an organization's
programming staff can easily do since its straightforward stuff for
them. However, it is not something an author would usually be able to
It's worth noting that all these setup issues have been addressed, and
some significant enhancements added to setup for IE 5.0, which will be
releases in Q1'99.
This means that anyone trying just
to distribute information would have to get a programmer involved to
help them make the necessary registry changes if they wanted to include
a silent install of IE.
Yes. That brings us back to the
original idea of HHRun, which we had talked about early on. The
intention of the HHRun tool was to install Internet Explorer's runtime
components and all of the HTML Help components.
However, as we examined the scenario of creating a help project,
creating an installation, and now that installation needing to
manipulate the registry to suppress the artifacts of the installation,
we realized that rather than Microsoft putting this type of package
together, it would provide a better experience for the author and their
customers if the authoring tools vendors handled this. That way they
could incorporate the necessary components in the process of building
the help project and its setup program, and handle any issues specific
to your project.
There has been substantial interest among the tool vendors in providing
this type of solution for some time but we were unsuccessful in getting
them the information they needed until recently. So now I am confident
that we will see from tool vendors the capability to build a simple
installation solution around your help project. So an author could
build the installation package as part of building their help system,
without having to turn to a programmer.
Where would this leave people who
are not using one of the major help authoring tool vendors? I would
expect the makers of Doc To Help, ForeHelp, HDK, and RoboHELP to move
in this direction, but not everyone producing HTML uses these vendors.
There are a large number of people using tools like HomeSite and
FrontPage to produce HTML Help source files. What are they going to do?
If you are writing an HTML Help
system for a software package you will need to go to whoever is
building the installation package and provide them with the setup
instructions and registry entries for the silent installation. That
means someone in your organization has to register on the IEAK site for
the MSIEOS components license. If you are writing a standalone help
system for a employee handbook, you may be stuck. I seem to recall
shareware registry manipulation tools that might be useful, but don't
have a specific procedure I can provide.
It would be helpful if this whole
process is adequately explained for those who have to roll their own
installation. Since, if it is not, where will people go for solutions?
I can't see the HTML Help MVPs bridging that gap.
That concern leads us into a related
topic covering some of what has been happening at the Info Online
Conference in Chicago. One of the things we have been hearing from
conference attendees is that while Shane McRoberts and I tell them
about all the wonderful things they can do with HTML Help, we don't
have very good samples to give them.
One of the things we are looking to do is to work consultants in the
HTML Help space to provide case studies, "how to" articles, and
examples of HTML Help projects and functionality that we will post on
the HTML Help web site.
So you want to broaden the current
web site from just introducing the technology to giving a well rounded
presentation of its use?
Exactly. There are many people who
have invested a great deal of time and effort in learning different
skills related to HTML Help, such as HTML coding and scripting, that is
useful in help and information systems. We want to give these folks an
opportunity to share their expertise and be recognized for their
efforts. This would be particularly useful for people whose business is
doing consulting work. They need to get their information out to the
people who need their assistance.
We plan on setting up a resource area on the HTML Help web site that
contains these articles, samples, case studies of successful
deployments of HTML Help, along with products and corporate contact
information. This will make useful information available to everyone in
the authoring community, and consultants and organizations with the
necessary skills and background will get exposure. It is a win-win
situation for everybody.
We are also looking for a way to recognize the folks who have made the
intellectual investment necessary to train people in using HTML Help.
This would be more than a tool certification; it would focus expertise
in the underlying HTML Help technology.
We have set the stage for this with the ISV program announced here at
the Info Online Conference by Help University and Influent Technology
Group, in cooperation with Microsoft. While this initially focuses on
tool vendors supporting HTML Help, Help University and Influent have
done a number of really smart things. They are creating a CD-ROM for
their future conferences that will offer a wide range of materials
including trial versions of participating vendors' software. This CD
will be distributed to conference attendees. After the conference, it
will also be available from the Influent web site. This means that
anyone can get this information, not just those who attend the Info
Don't Help University and Influent also have some exceptional offerings for potential vendors?
Yes. In addition to giving discounts
for exhibiting at the Info Online conferences, they have very smartly
wrapped several Microsoft programs, such as the MSDN ISV program, into
a comprehensive vendor package. This will enable vendors to get hooked
up with Microsoft to get a variety of benefits. These include a wide
range co-marketing options that reduce the cost to put ad banners on
interesting web sites, get press releases out across the wire, and much
more. It also includes discounted attendance at Microsoft developer
conferences and events and a MSDN Universal license (a $2,499US value)
at no cost.
It sounds like this program will
enable smaller vendors and creators of shareware and freeware programs
supporting HTML Help to get the exposure and support they need to be
||Yes, it does. In addition, it gives us additional input
for our development efforts since these vendors will be tied into our
briefings about enhancements to HTML Help as well as getting early
looks at the technology, which gives us feedback both for QA and things
we should be doing with the product. If you want more information on
this HTML Help ISV initiative, I would suggest logging onto the Info
Online web site (http://www.io-conference.com) for more information.
The ISV initiative should encourage
small companies to think about developing tools and add-ins for HTML
Help. Let's shift for a moment back to the idea you expressed earlier
about expanding the Microsoft HTML Help web site. You talked about
recognizing people who have "made the intellectual investment necessary
to train people in using HTML Help." How do you see these people
We want to find a way to recognize
the trainers out there who have a demonstrated skill within the HTML
Help technology. While we don't have anything to announce on that front
yet, it is an area we definitely want to pursue.
It sounds like you are saying that
in addition to being able to train someone on a specific tool, the
status of most trainers today, you want to recognize those people who
can go beyond the tool itself and help people with underlying
technology of HTML Help.
The different tool vendors have
their own certification programs, which are intended to identify people
who know how to instruct people on using their tool. I think it's great
that the venders in the HTML Help area recognize the people who are the
qualified trainers on their tools. However, that may not reflect a deep
knowledge of the HTML Help technology itself. This makes it difficult
for companies who are not using one of the current HTML Help tools to
find someone qualified to instruct them on HTML Help. Additionally,
they cannot be sure that a person qualified in one of the tools can
deal with the in-depth HTML Help issues a company may face.
To address this need and to identify trainers and consultants that have
a depth of knowledge about HTML Help I think we need to do some type of
program that recognizes the people who built up that deeper knowledge
of HTML Help. We want to hear from trainers, consultants, and those who
need trainers and consultants on how best to implement this recognition.
One area of recognition that does
exist is the HTML Help MVPs. Would you like to say something about the
HTML Help MVP program and how people can nominate people for that
The MVP program at Microsoft has a
long history, going back to the first release of Microsoft Visual
Basic. At that time Microsoft recognized that certain people in the
online community would step forward and offer to share their expertise
with others. So, to recognize those special people who were already
sharing their expertise, and to encourage others to join in, the MVP
(Most Valued Professional) program was created. It is possible that the
help authoring community does not understand that this is an end user
That may be because the initial four were nominated internally by the HTML Help team.
In the early days of HTML Help, we
identified a group of four people, who, at the time, were making the
intellectual investment in HTML Help and were in a position to help
folks online. Since then, many additional people beyond those original
four have stepped up and are giving much needed assistance to the
authoring community. We would very much like to recognize the
individuals doing that.
However, rather than having us continue to select people to give
this recognition to, it is time for the authoring community to step up
and nominate their choices for people to be added to the HTML Help
MVPs. To accomplish that, I have created an email alias which is hhmvp(@)microsoft.com.
If you want to nominate someone or even yourself to be a MVP, send the
name and why you believe they should be recognized to that email
address (hhmvp(@)microsoft.com). We will announce the new slate of HTML
Help MVPs as determined by the help authoring community, at the
WinWriters conference in Seattle.
What do you see happening between the recent release of HTML Help 1.2 and the next industry gathering in February at WinWriters?
The next release of HTML Help will
probably be concurrent with the release of Windows 2000 (formerly
called Windows NT 5.0). This will be version 1.3 and will support the
multilingual technology that lets you install English Windows 2000
system on a system, but have the user interface for each program be in
whatever language you want.
That means you could have a dynamic
interface that allows the user to select the language of their choice,
both in the application and the help system.
Yes. The language interface for the
dialog boxes, menus, error messages, etc. will no longer tied to the
operating system but will be at the application level. There are
changes that need to be made to HTML Help to support this interface
This new technology will allow you to do two things independently.
First, you will be able to change all of the interface elements to also
match the chosen language. Secondly, you will be able to adjust the
help content to match the desired language using exclusive information
types. You have been able to change the content but now you will be
able to change the interface.
Since Windows 2000 won't be ready
for release by the WinWriters conference, what changes do you see
coming by the February time frame?
For WinWriters, we will be able to
assess the impact and usage of HTML Help 1.2. In addition we are
working with Joe Welinski of WinWriters to have a Microsoft track at
the conference that will have six Microsoft groups talk about the HTML
Help systems they have developed, the special challenges they faced,
and how they overcame them.
We also have a tradition over the last several years at WinWriters
of being a bit "off-the-wall". A couple years ago we had the "juggling
brains" beanbags. Last year, we had the alien squishy heads. So the
challenge is to come up with something as unique and interesting for
this year's event. Faith Green from Progressive Strategies is helping
me come up with something suitably whacky.
Back to technology in the February timeframe. We are not going to
have a new release in that time frame. The 1.3 release will later in
1999, with Windows 2000. This should give the authoring community a
chance to consolidate and dig into version 1.2, to try out the
features. The feature set should be fairly stable for quite some time.
The 1.3 release will add the multi-lingual interface, but will not
introduce a new feature set. So, this is a great time to reflect on the
fact that HTML Help will be shipping in all of Microsoft's operating
systems, development tools, BackOffice Suite and Office 2000. It will
be good time to come up to speed on dynamic HTML, scripting and how to
use them in HTML Help systems.
By way of closing, I would like to
reiterate the need for a clear and simplified method of distributing
the components necessary for HTML Help on Windows 95 and NT 4 operating
systems. Is there anything you would like to add?
Internet Explorer 5.0 will have the
silent installation characteristics that the vast majority of help
authors are seeking. Until then, we're providing information so with
assistance from a programmer, the IE 4.0 components can be installed
silently. It's interesting to look back on the last 10 years of
WinHelp, and almost 2 years of HTML Help. HTML Help builds on the
technical evolution of WinHelp and feedback on WinHelp from the help
community, to deliver a far richer, standards based environment for
delivering online assistance. It's been a wild ride getting to where we
are today, and for everyone who's invested in learning HTML Help,
provided feedback, and shipped their HTML Help-based systems - thanks
for helping us put this powerful technology in users' hands!
Thank you, Peter, for again making yourself available for an interview.