Common Desktop Environment: Help System Author's and Programmer's Guide

Help User Interface

This section is an overview of the graphical interface provided by the Help System. For a detailed description of Help features and capabilities, refer to the CDE User's Guide; or, to view the corresponding online help, you can open the desktop Front Panel Help Viewer (see "To Display the Browser Volume"). Then choose Common Desktop Environment and Desktop Help System.

While using an application, a user can request help by pressing the Help key or by selecting the application's Help menu. In addition, applications integrating the Help System can be installed so that their respective help modules are accessible from the desktop Help Viewer. This enables a user to browse help information supplied by different applications without having to run each application.

Help Windows

When a user requests help, the Help System displays a help window. There are two types of help windows: general help and quick help. A general help window has a menu bar, topic tree, and a topic display area. The topic tree lists help topics that a user can choose. The lower portion of the window--the topic display area--displays the selected topic.

A quick help window is a streamlined help window. It has only a topic display area and one or more dialog buttons. Quick help windows are often used for short, self-contained information such as a definition.

Figure 1-2 General help and quick help window



Help topics often contain hyperlinks that "jump" to related help information. Both text and graphics can be used as hyperlinks. Figure 1-3shows formatting styles used to identify hyperlinks.

Solid or dashed underscores identify words or phrases that are hyperlinks. The solid underscore, or standard hyperlink, is most common. When the hyperlink is selected, the related topic is displayed. An author designates whether the hyperlink topic is displayed in the current help window or a new window. The dashed underscore represents a definition link. When selected, the related topic is displayed in a quick help window. A gray, open-corner box (dashed or solid line) designates a graphic hyperlink.

Figure 1-3 Formats for graphic and text hyperlinks


Help Navigation

The topic tree shown in Figure 1-4 is an outline of topics in the current help volume. The first topic at the top of the list is the home topic, or beginning of the help volume. An arrow (=>) points to the current topic and shows the user's location in the help volume.

Figure 1-4 Topic tree in a general help dialog box


To display a help topic, a user selects a title in the topic tree or a hyperlink within the topic display area. The user can browse the outline of topics by scrolling the list and then select any topic. Navigation commands enable the user to return to previous topics or to the beginning of the help volume.

Help Navigation Buttons

The general help dialog includes three dialog buttons: Backtrack, History, and Index. These features are also available as menu selections.

When using the Help Viewer from the desktop Front Panel, the general help dialog includes an additional dialog button called Top Level. After exploring different help volumes, a user can select this button to return to the top-level of the desktop browser help volume.

Help Menus

A general help dialog menu bar has five menus: File, Edit, Search, Navigate, and Help. The Search and Navigate menus contain commands for the index and navigation buttons described previously. In addition, the Navigate menu has a Home Topic command that returns to the beginning of the help volume. The remaining menus provide these features:

Help Index

A help volume has an index of important words and phrases that the user can search to find help topics on a subject. A user can browse or search the index of the current volume, selected volumes, or all help volumes available on the system. Regular expressions such as * (asterisk) and ? (question mark) can be used to search for topics. To view the corresponding help topic, the user selects the index entry.

Figure 1-5 Index search dialog box


Because the help index can be large even for a single volume, index entries can be expanded or contracted. A prefix notation, either a + (plus) or - (minus) sign, is used to show whether an index entry is expanded or contracted. A minus sign indicates that all of the entries are displayed, whereas a plus sign indicates that the entry can be expanded to show additional index entries.

In Figure 1-6, the -36 prefix means there are 36 index entries displayed. The +3 notation identifies contracted entries. Selecting a contracted entry causes the list to expand, and the + sign changes to a - sign. The last index entry shown in the figure has been expanded in this manner.

Figure 1-6 Index entry prefix notation


Printing from Help

The user can print an individual help topic, a table of contents and index, or the entire help volume. Printed output is text-only. Printing options, such as paper size, number of copies, and destination printer, can also be set in the Print dialog box.

Figure 1-7 Print dialog box