Help MVP Blogs

MS Help Team Blogs
Great blogs but these guys have now moved away from MSDN/help to other departments.

Windows 10

posted Oct 1, 2014, 11:49 AM by Robert Chandler   [ updated Oct 1, 2014, 2:26 PM ]

I won't say I told you so but... It's official -- The Windows start menu is back!!
So will the fixed Win8 desktop experience be available as a Windows 8.2 release?
No they will skip Windows 8.2 and Windows 9 and name the new OS ... ...drum roll.. "Windows 10" </rollsEyes>
What just to fix up the desktop experience they broke? .... Yes!

When will WinX be available? Looking at this slide, Enterprise customers (organizations) will have it by the end of the year (so next month or Dec). Consumers & Developers - first half of 2015.

Tech Preview

Knowing MS, Windows 10 is now locked down and halfway out the door. Any feedback from the tech preview won't effect the features list in this coming release.

Wrap up

Steve Ballmer (old CEO) made a mistake thinking he could ignore customer and herd users into a tablet centric Windows experience.
Microsoft may be late to the party but at least they got there.  To FINALLY acknowledge the discontentment of Win8 desktop users and return to customer centered design is a positive step forward. 

Microsoft are back on track.

Sad they seem to be walking away from Windows 8. They could have fixed it. I guess Windows 10 is the fix. It's just a label after all.
Rumours are that Windows 10 may be made free to Windows 7 & 8 users.  So that would be very good news for all the Windows 8 users relying on a 3rd party Start menu to fix the desktop experience. And good for the Win 7 users who won't  touch Win 8.

Looking back on Help in 2013

posted Jan 1, 2014, 12:33 AM by Robert Chandler   [ updated Jan 9, 2014, 3:01 AM ]
In the last 12 months Microsoft have closed their only remaining Online-Help related forum and notified Help MVPs that the 'Help MVP award' will be discontinued in 2014. Disappointing for the help community and MVPs.

So what's Microsoft doing here?

It's resource management. Despite being the clear market leader in desktops (you would think a billion desktop users would keep you busy enough), MS continue to move their focus towards the higher growth areas of mobile & tablet computing as desktop sales flatten out. Also human resources are getting more and more expensive.

Should I worry?

No. I'm just making some observations. Microsoft Help Technologies (HTML Help and VS Help) are very well maintained by MS and well supported by 3rd parties. This will no doubt continue for a long time to come. 

Community Reaction?

Surprisingly users have not really missed the MS Help forum and the MVPs are still out there assisting in the communities. These MS help technologies are very mature now and authors find what they need elsewhere on the web. VS Help integrators can always post to the general area of the MSDN forums as well as the MVP & ISV run forums.

So no more help development?

Microsoft for the moment at least are done with new help development. 

Last year saw the release of "MS Help Viewer 2.0" help engine shipping with both VS 2012 and Windows 8. Microsoft are not publicizing this release much since it is only for VS help and Windows 8 OS help integrators. 

The good old days when MS built bridges between help tech, ISVs and community are gone (although never say never). We have long hoped for a UNICODE successor to HTML Help (still ANSI) but it never eventuated. This was not from a lack of trying as Microsoft teams looked seriously at releasing various Visual Studio help systems to developers for general use.  But most were.. Overly complex; Requiring too much support/resources; Designed for the VS ecosystem rather than standalone apps.

So Windows 8 has a new Help System? And an API?

Before you get too excited... Yes Windows 8 system help engine is the same as VS 2012 (but DLLs renamed and relocated). The help engine API is well documented but the Windows 8 viewer UI is overly simplistic and undocumented. Also the help engine is not allowed to be installed on older versions of Windows.  

However, the help engine API (now COM) is very good and you could write your own Help Viewer UI if motivated enough. Or if VS 2012 is installed use their viewer. Last year I was contracted by Microsoft to write some API C# examples for the new help engine including a basic viewer. See

A Reflection

So (IMHO) Microsoft's desktop resources/focus will continue to shrink even though they have more Windows desktop customers than ever before. 

It seems to me it comes down to a problem of leadership and vision. Bill Gates had "it". Microsoft today have higher desktop sales and market share than ever before despite the flattening of sales. Yet Microsoft seem unconfident in direction and giving industry leadership. Is Silverlight & WPF still a good investment for developers? Microsoft say yes of course, yet there are indicators that say the opposite such as running after HTML5 bleeding edge and worrying about Apple's direction despite Apple Mac OSX having less than 3% of the desktop market. 

How can a company so big and successful lack such confidence in their own people and tech. Constant reshuffles within the organization frustrate the top developers to either leave Microsoft or moved to other areas to stagnate. The guys at the very top set a poor example that  is emulated throughout the company structure. 

A few years back we visited the main Microsoft campus. It seemed all they could talk about was the Apple iPad success and how to fit MS into this space. Even when not talking about it they were indirectly talking about it. Well, they came up with Windows 8 tablet subsystem. Despite owning the bulk of the desktop market their heads are elsewhere in another game. I think Apple CEO summed it up nicely when he said... "Unlike Microsoft, Apple are not confused. We have desktop products and mobile products." -- Maybe he's right, maybe wrong. But Microsoft don't seem to have the heart anymore for making machines that help others. It just seems like business. They are good at throwing large amounts of money at the problem (remember the MS Surface adverts that said nothing but 'click'). 

Today modern corporations focus on infinite growth (which is a myth). Making profit for profit sake rather than for the advancement of society and the betterment of mankind. In the last 5-10 years the concept of "Job security" has almost disappear. As I talk to my friends employed by Microsoft it is no different there. At least in Bill Gates day leaders were reminded of Bill's humanitarian visions. I know these are tough times for many but Microsoft still have an enormous market share of desktop computing with enough sales to ensure every ones jobs at MS and to build products for the worlds needs. 

Corporations need to start looking at success in terms of helping to build society rather than in terms of endless growth and share prices. Maybe the new Microsoft CEO will set a better direction for Microsoft in 2014.

Happy New Year

Even though Microsoft seem to be confused about who they are, and who their customers are, we can continue to create quality documentation. The MS help technologies are sound and well supported by 3rd party vendors. Be confident in your abilities to serve your customers. Ignore the man behind the blue curtain.

Wishing you happy authoring and all the very best in 2014!



I came across this Video today. There is a growing awareness that change is needed. A return to valuing people more than big money.
I think this fits into what I was saying above. See what you think.


posted Aug 23, 2013, 4:20 AM by Robert Chandler   [ updated Jan 2, 2014, 6:45 PM ]

Life after being a Help MVP by Rob Chandler
or "The Help Experience" -- Hey I was using that!

For myself it all started with an interest in WinHelp (Win 3.0), then HTML Help (Win95), then a host of VS & Windows help systems.  Building information systems and taming large amounts of documentation using TOC/Index/Search navigation aids. Online and Offline help. Empowering users with organized information.

It has been a privilege to serve as a Help MVP. Loved every minute of it. The developers at Microsoft as well as the other MVPs are top people and my life is better from having known them.   :-)

Now a small rant...

Today Microsoft are investing heavily in the mobile & tablet markets as PC sales flatten out and mobile sales increase exponentially. But there are still over a billion existing desktop users out there. So why are Microsoft so over eager to retire existing desktop technologies and force desktop users into non-desktop paradigms (ie. Windows 8)? Granted they need to invest in new markets but let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater. As a happy desktop user I don't want to be forced somewhere else. I just want stability. Keep improving what I have! Like other companies do.

Microsoft invent wonderful technology platforms but many don't last. Customers invest heavily in them only to find later MS leaping off at a tangent. It's too costly. Microsoft execs says it's the constant state of change in the world. I just don't buy that.  Abuse customers too much and they will leave you. Case-in-point I'm doing more Apple developement now. Not that OSX/iOS is better than Windows OS, but I feel they are more dependable and stable long term. Applications you build today should run in 5 years time. With Microsoft I can't say that.. Probably not.

Despite what we hear about Apple catching up the figures tell us that Microsoft still dominate the desktop market. So why so eager to dump the desktop experience? We are talking a huge existing market of over a billion active desktops. But in the help area alone we have seen all MS help forums discontinued and the Help MVPs given notice (forced retirement for all in 2014).  I know everything has its time, and all good things must end,  but is Microsoft being too hasty in retiring these desktop technologies given the enormous numbers still dependant on them?  Even Apple say there are several viable streams -- desktop / tablet / mobile.

Think of the millions of developers in the world now. Just as a builder depends on tools of the trade that don't change, so too the developers need consistency. If Microsoft can't bring that consistency, improving existing infrastructure year over year, then customers will walk. MS platforms have become too costly. Million dollar software projects break in the next release of Windows. I work on these large projects. I see the time and money wasted. 

Good software won't rust or decay, won't break down. But is dependant on a firm consistent foundation. 


Help Viewer 2.0 Ships

posted Aug 14, 2013, 11:08 AM by Robert Chandler   [ updated Jan 6, 2014, 7:39 PM ]

A new Help System HV 2.0 ships with both VS 2012 and Windows 8. 
  • Sept 2012 - Help Viewer 2 ships with Visual Studio 2012 (VS11) RTM
  • Oct  2012 - Help Viewer 2 ships with Windows 8 RTM
HV 1.0 (VS 2010 help) and HV 2.0 use the same .mshc help file format, but HV 2.0 has a new runtime.
The HV 1.0 Agent tray application is gone and replaced with a traditional COM API interface. 

The help runtime system VS11 (VS 2012) and WIndows 8 are identical (but the Windows DLLs are in a different location with different naming).
Also each system has it's own help file viewer (UI). The viewer with Windows 8 is very basic and undocumented (just Search). while the VS11 viewer is full featured (TOC/Index/Search/HelpManager). was contracted by Microsoft help team to write a set of HV 2.0 API code examples (in C#) along with documentation --

I think this is all heading in the right direction. 
Granted the help system isn't allowed to be installed on older versions of Windows, but it is robust and has an extensive easy to use COM API. With the API examples developers can easily create their own help UI and integrate help into their applications.


HH Workshop Download

posted Aug 12, 2012, 12:09 AM by Robert Chandler   [ updated Jan 2, 2014, 6:47 PM ]

The download links for the HTML Help Workshop files are temporarily broken.

Here are the permalinks to the workshop files.
If the MS high level links don't work, these probably will work:
Here are the usual indirect links:

I've attached the downloads to this page (below) if the links above don't work and you desperately need them.

Windows 8 Product Guide for Business

posted Mar 6, 2012, 4:25 AM by Robert Chandler

Windows 8 Consumer Preview Product Guide for Business -- PDFLists new features and reasons why business will like Window 8.

Help Viewer 2.0 Beta

posted Mar 6, 2012, 12:28 AM by Robert Chandler   [ updated Mar 6, 2012, 12:42 AM ]

Help Viewer 2.0 (the Help system for VS 11 and Windows 8) beta is now available via the Windows 8 / VS 11 Consumer Preview release. The Win 8 and VS 11 Beta are freely available from the MS website.

The VS 11 and  Win 8 help viewers are different but they share the same runtime files and Help API.
To learn more about the API and how to create your own Help Viewer I have created a site containing documentation and demos. The demos were created in partnership with the Microsoft MSDN team. Enjoy -- Rob.

Win 8 Help / VS 11 Help

posted Oct 22, 2011, 7:07 AM by Robert Chandler

The new Visual Studio 11 help "Help Viewer 2.0" runtime will be used for Windows 8 F1 help. This is good news for those of us who have been waiting for an open Unicode help system. Currently no release dates available on either product. For more information read these blogs...

Jeff Braaten [MSFT] has all the detail for you here…

Paul O’Rear [MSFT] also posted these notes…

Help Viewer 1.1

posted Apr 1, 2011, 6:58 PM by Robert Chandler

  • Sept-2010: "Help Viewer 1.0 SDK" released
    Dig deep into HV 1.0. Lots of useful documentation + some C# code.  Download Page
  • March-2011: Visual Studio SP1 is now available. It contains Help Viewer 1.1 in which the main change is a new standalone viewer. So help no longer displays in a browser. This release is fully compatible with the latest H3Viewer.exe.

VS 2010 RTM

posted Apr 6, 2010, 8:14 AM by Robert Chandler

VS 2010 RTM (and MS Help Viewer 1.0) ships 10am PDT, 12th April 2010.
Available initially on MSDN subscriptions.

mshcMigrate and H3Viewer will be updated for the finally release

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