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AP Help - Development Information

At the WritersUA Conference (March 20-23, 2005), Shane McRoberts from Microsoft announced several changes to Longhorn Help. One change is that Longhorn Help will be split into Assistance Platform Client 1.0 (for Microsoft and OEM Help) and Assistance Platform Client 2.0 (for application Help).

The Microsoft Assistance Markup Language (MAML) schemas are undergoing revision, will be updated and be available from the Microsoft Help Technologies Start Page when Windows Vista Beta 1 releases (now in Microsoft BDD 2007 - see news: 2007-01-17).

The first distribution of Assistance Platform (AP) Client 1.0 bits will be in Microsoft Windows Vista ("Longhorn"), but for that release AP will be the help engine for the operating system only. This version wont be available to help authors.

So this will not be a general purpose Help engine that third parties can use to provide their own help for their own applications. This was a very difficult decision for Microsoft. The main reason is that Microsoft had clear feedback from the last Professional Developers Conference (PDC) and from WritersUA in 2004 that in order to adopt a new Help engine, software companies and help authors need it to run on more versions of Windows than just Vista.

The rearchitecture this required ate into the schedule for Vista Help such that Microsoft had to limit extensibility for this first release. But the Help Team is set up in good position to better meet the needs for future use. This will allow to focus the efforts on extensibility of the platform so that when it is released as a general purpose Help engine it will work on additional Windows platforms including Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server.

It is important to the Help Team to release a general purpose Help engine as soon as possible. The help team plan to encapsulate AP help and allow customers to install it on Windows XP and 2003 platforms (but probably not Windows 2000). More features will be added (Assistance Platform (AP) Client 2.0) and an SDK will become available so that help authors and software vendors can create AP help. MS say this will happen shortly after Windows Vista release (although shortly could mean anything). The estimated time of arrival - late 2007 - really unknown!

As you can see its not time for action quite yet. And there are no demo bits to play with - maybe nothing till 2007.


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