Re: HTML-Benefit? - Long

Subject: Re: HTML-Benefit? - Long
From: "William G. Meisheid" <wgm -at- SAGELINE -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 6 Nov 1998 16:31:13 -0500

>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 MS
started GUI-based OSs. It is the only way to guarantee the help system for the
OS itself.

Windows 98 uses HTML Help as its basic help engine, though popups are currently
still handled by WinHelp The layout engine that is tied to hh.exe 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 concerns resolve
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 Java, (but why on Windows?) it
would be slooowwww (see Sun's JavaHelp which they are still working on two years

>But WinHelp systems can and do run on a Mac, and with assistance, on Unix

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 MS, though
several third parties used to supply their own help browser, but they require
all you to tweak the standard helpfile and only offer a subset of 32 bit
WinHelp. The same approach could be done 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. Exactly the
opposite. It 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 archtitect) since the early days of 32 bit WinHelp and I can assure
you that while the decision to shift the whole company to HTML 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
help design.

Remember. 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
consistant 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 1.2 it will no
longer be seen by the OS 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

I hope that clarifies.

William Meisheid "Thoughts still and always in progress"
WUGNET/Help Authoring Forum Sysop & Microsoft MVP
Certified Baltimore/Washington area RoboHELP Training
Sageline Publishing 410.465.2040 Fax: 410.465.1812 wgm -at- sageline -dot- com

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