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History of Microsoft Online Help

News and current infornationen you'll find now at:




WinHelp is to be deprecated
WinHelp and HTML Help (.chm) files support: Windows Vista introduces a new help model called Windows Help. All applications need to update their help documentation to the new model for Windows Vista versions. Older formats will continue to be supported for legacy applications through a downloadable WinHelp component, which will not be in Windows Vista by default [see important news from 2006-04-11 and 2006-05-25!].
More ..


Microsoft have finally told the MVPs plainly that they are actively planing to deprecate WinHelp. It's looking likely that the WinHelp engine wont ship with the Vista OS. MS want to assure customers that whatever decision is made WinHelp will run under Vista. It will probably be available as a download. For more of this story see MSHelpWiki Information.


The Help Integration Wizard for Visual Studio 2005 is now available!


Office Help (AP-based)
Last week a new AP-based version of Office Online went live. 100% of assistance queries, TOC, and feedback are now handled by AP. You can check it out by using Office Online help from the menu "?" in Office 2003 or by searching at (Click to "Assistance" and look for e.g. Word 2003).


Windows Vista Beta 1
Windows Vista (+AP Help 1.0) Beta 1 official release date.


Today Microsoft Corp. announced the official name of its next-generation Windows® client operating system Windows Vista, formerly code-named “Longhorn.” Beta 1, targeted at developers and IT professionals, will be available by August 3, 2005.

2005-07-17 Sitemap and Index are now web-based (ActiveX is gone).


According to news sources, Microsoft has send out invites to a selected group of testers for testing an early preview of next Windows OS Longhorn (Build 5203).


Security Update for HTML Help released today. For further information see Microsoft Security Bulletin MS05-026 and Microsoft Knowledge Base Article 896358.


The MAML schema is undergoing revision and will be available from the Microsoft Help Technologies Start Page when Longhorn Beta 1 releases (now in Microsoft BDD 2007 - see: 2007-01-17).


The first distribution of Assistance Platform (AP) Client bits will be in Microsoft (MS) Windows codename "Longhorn", but for that release AP will be the help engine for the operating system only.

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 MS. The main reason is that MS 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 Longhorn.

The rearchitecture this required ate into the schedule for Longhorn.Help such that MS 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. While it is not Microsoft policy to comment on unannounced products, it is important to the Help Team to release a general purpose Help engine as soon as possible.


Assistance Platform Team Blog was added to the Help community. The team previously known as the Microsoft Help team is part of the Assistance Platform (AP) team.


The MAML (Microsoft Assistance Markup Language) schemas are being updated and will be posted on MSDN within the next couple of months.

Note that based on feedback we received about "Longhorn" Help, we have changed our plans. We heard very clearly that people need a Help engine that works on more than just Windows code name "Longhorn". Help for Windows "Longhorn" will be provided by our new engine, the Assistance Platform Client 1.0, but it will not be a general purpose Help engine--it will provide Help for Windows only. This will allow us to focus our 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.

Shane McRoberts
Lead PM, Assistance Platform


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 AP Client 1.0 (for Microsoft and OEM Help) and AP Client 2 (for application Help).


Microsoft Security update stops access of HTML Help functionality on Web sites. HH ActiveX Table of Contents (TOC) and Index no longer work on a web site. More detail.

2004-09-18 MAML Glossary Example with XSL transformation


Microsoft today announced it will target broad availability of the Windows® client operating system code-named "Longhorn" in 2006. The new Windows storage subsystem, code-named "WinFS" will delivered after the "Longhorn" release.
Microsoft also announced that the Windows "WinFX" developer technologies, including the new presentation subsystem code-named "Avalon" and the new communication subsystem code-named "Indigo", will be made available for Microsoft® Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 in 2006.

2004-08-20 now with menu bar and picture injections from Lower Saxony (Germany)


Microsoft released information: Windows 'Longhorn' (Build 4074) - WinHEC 2004
M7.2 Milestone 7.2


MS have released a Wizard (Beta) which creates MS Help 2 registration info for Help 2 MSI installations. This has always been a complex and confusing area so users should be very pleased. The Wizard can be found here. Remember if you don't like using MSI to register, there is a non-MSI registration solution called H2Reg.


Microsoft released information: Windows ‘Longhorn’ Help (Build 4051) - PDC 2003
M6 Milestone 6


Microsoft seeks the best ones for Longhorn Help

Come Join the team responsible for the next generation help system used by Windows, Office, Visual Studio, and most other Microsoft and third party applications!

The challenge: Would you like to drive the architecture and development of a version one project that is an essential part of the end user experience for the next version of Windows and other applications? Are you passionate about leveraging cutting edge technologies? Does making millions of Windows users happier and more productive get your adrenaline going?

The project: The system we are developing is leaps and bounds better than any other such system anywhere! It will make users more productive, efficient, and effective in using their computers. We're looking for an experienced and passionate Architect to help drive and design this effort. Candidate should be a thinker who can expand the help system to take advantage of information found on the web.

Responsibilities: Microsoft is currently looking for strong technical contributors to join the team responsible for making this system a reality. You will be responsible for contributing to the design of product features, architecture, ensuring quality and consistency of code, and working closely with your Program Manager and Quality Assurance counterparts.

Candidates must have extensive experience developing C++ or C# code.
A minimum of 5 years of demonstrated work experience in software development and a BS degree in Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, or a related field. Excellent communication skills, strong problem solving skills, as well as the ability to work well with other teams, are required. For those that have leadership skills, we have tremendous potential for you to utilize those skills.
Preference will be given to candidates with knowledge in a significant number of the following areas: C++, COM, ATL; IIS, ASP, XML; SQL Server, .NET Enterprise Servers; .NET Framework, C#, Web Services, security, performance, reliability and scalability.

Company: Microsoft Corporation

Job Status: Full time regular position

Job Location: Redmond, WA

Salary and benefits: Salary is dependent upon experience. Microsoft provides a competitive compensation structure including performance bonus, stock options, matching 401(k), benefits, health club membership
and full relocation.

Your mission should you choose to accept it: If this opportunity interests you or someone you know, please send a softcopy of your resume or inquires to Zoe Goldring at We look forward to hearing from you soon!


WinWriters News

There is a note (snip see below) by Chuck Martin at Winwriters about how Microsoft takes its Help Technology in a new direction.

On the heels of Microsoft's announcement on the subject, Microsoft HTML Help MVP Cheryl Lockett-Zubak detailed the company's new direction for its Help technology in her Microsoft Help Update session at the 2003 WinWriters Online Help Conference. The bottom line comprises 3 key facts:

  • HTML Help, in its final version, 1.4, will remain the primary public Help platform for the foreseeable future.
  • Help 2.0 is no longer planned for public release, but will remain the user assistance technology for Visual Studio and .NET.
  • A new technology, still in the planning stages and about which details are still sketchy, is targeted to coincide with the next major OS release.

With Microsoft keeping the technology side of its Help technology development under wraps, Help developers would be well served to familiarize themselves with DocBook to get a feeling for Microsoft's technology direction.

MVP Cheryl Lockett-Zubak listed five suggestions:

  • Continue to use HTML Help 1.x and browser-based help (as you've been doing)

  • If you're developing Help for VS .NET or Visual Studio applications, download VSHIK (Microsoft) and FAR (Helpware)

  • Investigate and invest in structured content development

  • Check out DocBook

  • Keep your eyes on Longhorn


Microsoft News

The Microsoft® Help team has decided not to release Microsoft Help 2 as a general Help platform!

This is primarily in response to customer feedback that the most important thing is providing a standard Help experience on everybody's machine. With that in mind, we are focusing our work efforts on providing a great Help experience in the next client release of Windows (codename "Longhorn") rather than on releasing an interim solution that is not integrated with the operating system.

While Microsoft develops future Help technologies, we encourage Help authors to continue using HTML Help 1.x. Visual Studio® .NET has great support for integrating HTML Help 1.x content into the applications you build.

There are also many 3rd party tools available that provide a rich authoring experience for HTML Help 1.x content (for some examples, see [not a Microsoft site]).

The Help 2 engine will continue to be provided with several of Microsoft's developer-related products, including Visual Studio .NET, MSDN® Library, Microsoft .NET Framework SDK, and Microsoft Office Developer. Component developers and others who need to integrate their Help content into the Help system in Visual Studio .NET can do so using the

There are also 3rd party tools that provide support for Help 2, including FAR HTML ( [not a Microsoft site]) and ComponentOne® Doc-To-Help® ( [not a Microsoft site]).

Shane McRoberts Lead Program Manager, Microsoft Help

LongHorn Help will be completely different. With the significant changes to Windows expected it maybe that LH Help wont run under other windows versions. Maybe the team will start LH help using H2 Help code as the basis. Maybe they will completely rewrite LH Help. Who knows.


The MS H2 SDK is now available on the MS website.

It is available as the new VSHIK (Visual Studio .NET Help Integration Kit), since the purpose of this release is to allow developers and authors to plug their H2 based help content into the VS.NET help. At this stage only folk with VS.NET installed can install VSHIK 2.1.

Note that the MS Help 2.x runtime (help engine) installer (like hhupd.exe in HH 1.x), wont be available until sometime 2003. So for now, if you want to distribute MS H2 based help, your customers must install either: Visual Studio .NET, MSDN Library, .NET Framework SDK, and Microsoft Office Developer. All of which install the MS Help 2 runtime.

notes VSHIK 2.1 Download Page:

Warning: *** Uninstall any previous version first ***

The workshop probably won't be available until MS Help 2's first release,
scheduled for sometime in 2003.
Meanwhile, you can use FAR to create MS Help 2 files:



A slight clarification, what Microsoft will be releasing shortly is an SDK (actually called the Visual Studio Help Integration Kit, VSHIK) that enables component vendors to integrate help content for their components into Visual Studio .NET, using Help 2.

VSHIK will include a treasure trove of technical information about Help 2, but will not be generally useful to the help community because we will not have a standard viewer ready for release until "at least calendar year 2003". Until then, a user will need to have VS.NET or the .NET Framework SDK installed to view Help 2 content.

Peter Plamondon,


The following is an official posting just released today from Shane McRoberts of Microsoft regarding plans for Microsoft Help 2:
The Microsoft® Help team has decided to postpone the public release of Microsoft Help 2. This difficult decision is based on customer feedback that we should postpone the release until we can provide a complete solution. Although we had planned to release a beta version of Help 2 this past summer, it won't be available until at least calendar year 2003.

While Microsoft continues to move forward with Help 2 technology, we encourage Help authors to continue using HTML Help 1.x. The upcoming release of Visual Studio .NET has great support for integrating HTML Help 1.x content into the applications you build. There are also many 3rd party tools available that provide a rich authoring experience for HTML Help 1.x content.

The Help 2 engine will be provided with several developer-related products, including Visual Studio .NET, MSDN Library, .NET Framework SDK, and Microsoft Office Developer. We are also developing a Help Integration Kit to enable component developers and others to integrate their Help content into Visual Studio .NET's Help system. We will announce details of this kit when it is available.

Shane McRoberts
Lead Program Manager, Microsoft Help


Yesterday the ISV/MVPs got email from the Microsoft Help team, saying that Microsoft would make a public announcement "very soon" regarding their plans for Microsoft Help 2.


At the moment you would be best to stay in MS HH 1.x by developing Help. Then you are working in a stable environment. The hxConv.exe convert program actually does a very good job in moving you over to Help 2. Since HTMLHelp 1.x and Help 2 are both HTML based, there are not the same problems to convert from WinHelp to HTMLHelp.


MVP Rob Chandler gives first informationen about Help 2 at WinWriters Conference

Vortrag zum Preview Help 2


Pete Lees wrote in the HTMLHelp newsgroup

Microsoft Help 2 is the next step on from HTML Help 1.x. There is very little information around at the moment about it -- Microsoft is keeping it under wraps until the WinWriters conference -- but Help 2 is expected to provide greater support for XML and DHTML and to make embedded help easier to implement. I understand that although the new technology will be unveiled in March, it won't be available for use until Q3 or later.




Microsoft Help 2 is the much-awaited Microsoft online Help developement standard, expected to be released in 2001. It will be released with Visual Studio.NET.


First Meeting Microsoft's Most Valuable Professionals (MVP) Help 2


HTMLHelp 1.x is shipped with IE4 (see full history below). MS also use HTML Help to create Help collections for MSDN and MS VStudio 6 help. MS have never published the documentation for HH Collections.



Ralph Walden announced HTMLHelp.



WinHelp 4.0 is shipped with Windows 95 / Windows NT 3.51.

WinHelp refers to help files which are developed based on Rich Text Format (RTF) and are compiled with the Microsoft Help compiler (HCW).


WinHelp 1.0 is shipped with Windows 3.0.



QuickHelp - you remember?

Ralph Walden joined MS in 1987 and wrote a help system for Microsoft Disc Operating System (MS-DOS) called QuickHelp. Ralph was also primarily responsible for WinHelp and HTML Help 1.x. Ralph left MS early 1998.

see also: Windows History






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