Desktop help in 2019 - still stuck in 2001?

Tags: #<Tag:0x00007f60c377be08> #<Tag:0x00007f60c377b930>


I was asked today what new (perhaps “new” belongs in quotes) technology desktop apps are using for help. The follow up comment was “I prefer not to go back to 25 year old technology” (meaning CHM).

I’m not aware that Clarion natively supports anything but .HLP and .CHM.

MSFT started HTML Help 2, but never shipped it and cancelled it in 2003. Looking at the newest Help & Manual gives me the impression that the desktop help world hasn’t changed since before Help & Manual came out (thanks Earl), other than adding H&M support for Apple iBooks, Kindle and EWriter.

I’ve not looked into any of this in years. Is there something better/new? From what I’ve found so far, the desktop help status quo appears to be HTML Help 1.33 from 2001.


When you press F1 in VS 2017, you get this

SoftwareKey’s documentation is pretty nice I am not sure what they used for that, but it might be Madcap Flare. At least they include a madcap javascript on the page Not cheap:


I’ve been toying with the idea of using a wiki for help somehow.
I’m just not sure how to go about that. More to the point which wiki or roll your own.
docuwiki looks interesting but…


Links to web content right?

I reckon something like this discourse framework would be brilliant. You can mark topics as “wiki” or close comments if needed and then you are also integrated with forum functionality should you want that. It depends quite a bit on your market though. It’s fully API driven so you could pull content in directly into your app if you needed.

Additionally, I can imagine some scenarios where external web links would just be not an option. In those cases though, do people read docs/help or do they rely on “training” from the corporate overlords?


I really like the Gitbook or readthedocs way …
For example, or


I do too, but the content of my question relates to end users:)


Looks like H&M for the 21st century. Nice.


BTW, readthedocs is open source.


Hi Mark,

I have a large equine veterinary application (CW 6.3.9058) that I began in 2003. I keep it current, mostly based on questions and/or suggestions. I still provide documentation but not via HELP. I have help buttons that do nothing and no one has ever asked about that.

I had written a full users guide, about 500 pages, for the precursor DOS version of this application. I don’t believe anyone read that guide. Users go directly to the telephone or e-mail with questions.

Beginning with the windows version (2003) I took a different approach and wrote papers on different aspects of the software. I provide them as PDFs with lots of screen prints, about 115 so far, many megabytes. I actually enjoy creating this documentation. I’ve asked a few users if they’ve looked at the papers. A few say they have.

Recently, for the fun of it, I built a mechanism, accessible from within the software, to select and directly read any of these PDFs. I try to title them clearly. I am curious how that will be used.

You guys know the old canard (?) “RTFM”. Sometimes I think that, but NEVER say it, though I try to remind them of the papers. More usefully, I find the questions informative how my users think or use the program. As much as I try to wear many hats, when I write this stuff, I’m amazed what users think to do or how they approach things. “Why didn’t I think of that?” “I never thought anyone would ever do that.” People are funny and often very clever.

I continually learn something new and useful with the questions that I get asked. My app has gotten better because of it. I’ve had a lot of fun interacting with them. Many of them are friends that I have never met.

Best regards to all,
Doug Selzler