TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Help On The Way Volume Number: 17 (2001)
Issue Number: 4
Column Tag: Mac OS X

Help On The Way!

By Andrew C. Stone

A guide for the perplexed on adding Apple Help to your OS X application

A really well-designed application shouldn't require a help system, but no application is truly ready to ship unless it has comprehensive, online, at the user's fingertips, Help. Furthermore, a cardinal rule about Help is "the programmer should not write the Help." Ideally, the Help authors are normal human beings who can write simple concepts in plain sentences, not coders who think recursively in an obfuscated manner! Step One: get someone else to write the Help!

We have a saying here at Stone Design regarding help: "if it's hard to explain, then it's wrong." The process of creating Help can provide excellent feedback on the user interface and core "mental model" of your software's architecture. Too often, Help is left for last, and then it's too late to incorporate solutions to the problems uncovered by having to explain how to do a task.

This article will explain how to add help to your OS X application, both comprehensive, searchable Help through the use of the Apple-provided companion application "Help Viewer," and the simple User Interface "Tool Tip" help that pops up a small window when you leave your mouse over a control for a few seconds. A third, intermediate form of Help is context sensitive menus and associating longer rich text files with interface components, but we'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Tool Tip: Don't forget your umbrella when it rains

The simplest form of Help is Tool Tips - and since users are often confounded by interface controls, you should always provide these. Interface Builder, a powerful user interface building application which now supports both Carbon and Cocoa development environments, makes adding Tool Tips easy.


Help Tips pop up when you leave your mouse over a control

  1. Open your nib files in Interface Builder
  2. Select a control
  3. Bring up the Info panel: Tools -> Show Info
  4. Select "Help" from the popup button to load the Help pane
  5. Enter your Help tip
  6. IMPORTANT: Type <RETURN> to make sure the Help tip sticks!


You add help tips directly in Interface Builder

Sometimes you may have to have a larger amount of text to adequately explain a certain control-here's a tip for you: to make multiple line help tips, insert an <OPTION-RETURN> between lines. In fact, this same technique is useful in any application where you have a standard textfield and you want to add a <RETURN> or a <TAB> to the contents of the field. Normally, textfields are set to "end editing" when the user types a <RETURN> or a <TAB>. The workaround is to hold down the Option key while you are typing the <RETURN> or <TAB>.


You can make multiple line help tips with <Option-RETURN>

If you read the documentation on setToolTip:, you can see that it's a method implemented by NSView and all of its subclasses. This is fine until you go to provide Help for cells in an NSMatrix-Interface Builder only allows you to set one tip per view. Yet NSMatrix declares a method - (void)setToolTip:(NSString *)toolTipString forCell:(NSCell *)cell, so obviously it's possible to add a tool tip to each of the cells. Hopefully, the hardworking IB team will add an easy way to add tips to cells, but meanwhile, you can do this programmatically. For example, if you have a dynamically loaded tool palette matrix, where each cell represents a Class to instantiate when its selected, you could do something like this:

   unsigned i,c;
   unsigned rows = [toolMatrix numberOfRows];
   unsigned cols = [toolMatrix numberOfColumns];
   for (r = 0; r < rows; r++) {
       for (c = 0; c < cols; c++) {
       NSButtonCell *cell = [toolMatrix cellAtRow:r column:c];
       Class theClass = [cell representedObject];
       if (theClass) [toolMatrix setToolTip:NSStringFromClass(theClass) forCell:cell];
       }
   }

If your class names are not meant for human consumption, like SKTImage, then each of your tool classes could return a method, + (NSString*)humanReadableName, and you'd replace NSStringFromClass(theClass) with [theClass humanReadableName] above.

Comprehensive Help and Apple Help Viewer

Whether your application is a full blown desktop publishing package or a simple utility, you should always include searchable help. And the folks at Apple have tried to make that easy by providing Help Viewer-a stand alone application that gets called to load your "Help Book." Making a Help Book has a number of steps and a few gotchas, so let's go over the process step by step. This is meant as an introduction and quick start. Full documentation on the subject is available from Apple at http://developer.apple.com/techpubs/macosx/Carbon/HumanInterfaceToolbox/AppleHelp/Apple_Help/index.html.


You get Sherlock searching capabilities in Help Viewer

1. Write your help in HTML

First, you'll need to create the web pages that represent your help in HTML V3.2 - later features may not be supported in Help Viewer. Of course here at Stone Design, we use Create® because it allows us to create content in a page layout/web authoring system, and then it automatically generates the interconnected web pages. This allows us to add more content later and not worry about the HTML. However you make your pages, make them in a folder named "APPNAME Help", where APPNAME is the actual name of your application. Something that bit me was that all of our applications used the name "Help" for the Help directory, and this ended up confusing Help Viewer.

2. Indicate the start page

Once you have your HTML in a folder, you need to add the following META TAG to the <HEAD> area of the html page that you wish to be shown first:

<META NAME="AppleTitle" CONTENT="MyApp Online Help">

Tip: you should add Description and Keywords meta tags if you want more info to appear in Help Viewer's search results.

Gotcha: don't leave spaces on either side of the "=" or the meta tag won't parse correctly. I copied/pasted from Apple's Help info site which includes extra spaces in the meta tag and then wondered why things didn't work!

3. Add the Help to your Project Builder Project

  1. Select the Resources folder in the Groups & Files pane on the left
  2. Choose Project->Add Files...
  3. Navigate to your Help files and select the root folder
  4. A new sheet comes down: select "Create Folder References for any added folders", click Add
    This means the Help is added as an opaque blob - whatever is in that folder gets copied to the app
  5. Project -> Show Info
  6. From "Localization and Platforms" popup, select "Make Localized"
    This will copy your help into your Project's English.lproj, if that is your development language.

4. Add the Key-Value pairs to alert the system that Help is available

There are two important keys for Help Viewer to work: a localized one (CFBundleHelpBookName) and a global one (CFBundleHelpBookFolder). The global key indicates the name of the Help folder, and the localized key indicates the title of the Help Book as it should appear in Help Viewer. The global key is added to the project by selecting the target, and in the "Applications Settings" tab of theTarget pane, choose "Expert". Click "New Sibling", and type CFBundleHelpBookFolder in the field on the left. Leave "String" selected as the type and enter the name of the folder containing Help in the field on the right.


You add global keys via Application Settings

Localized keys (keys meant to be in the language of the end user) are added to a file named InfoPlist.strings. Create this file and add it to your project, localized, if it doesn't yet exist. This file typically contains strings like the get info string, Add the CFBundleHelpBookName and the title you want to be shown on the right hand side. This name MUST MATCH the CONTENT field of <META NAME="AppleTitle" CONTENT="MyApp Online Help"> that you added to the start html page in step 2.

{
 CFBundleGetInfoString = "Stone Design's PhotoToWeb®. Copyright © 1990-2001, Stone Design 
 Corp. Visit www.stone.com";
 CFBundleHelpBookName = "PhotoToWeb Online Help";
}

5. Hook up a menu item to First Responder's method, "showHelp:"

Open your main application nib file in Interface Builder. Double-click the menu icon to bring up your app's main menu. Check to see that Help -> APPNAME Help is connected to the First Responder icon, and that the action "showHelp:" is selected.


Connect the Help menu item to First Reponder's showHelp: action

6. Build the idx index file which gives Help Viewer the Sherlock searching capabilities

So far, easy, right? This is the last step, but it has a number of substeps to it! At the time OS X shipped, there was only a Mac OS 9-based Carbon tool to make these indices: 'Apple Help Indexing Tool' (on most of the dev CDs, eg:

'/Volumes/Developer Tools/CarbonLib SDK/CarbonLib_1.2.5_SDK/Carbon Help Viewer/Apple Help Indexing Tool').
  1. Build your application with the Help directory so that Help is in its "final" relative location
    (In a Cocoa app, that's APPNAME.app/Contents/Resources/English.lproj/APPNAME Help)
  2. In Finder, select your built application
  3. Hold down the Control key so that the context menu pops up
  4. Select "Show Package Contents" to allow peering into your application
  5. traverse into your application package until you select the HELP folder
  6. Set the creator and type of all HTML files to creator: 'hbwr' type: 'TEXT'

    A current gotcha of the indexer tool is that all of the html needs to have its creator and type set. Apple provides a command line tool to do this: /Developer/Tools/SetFile. For example, a way to set all the html in a folder correctly would be to type in a terminal:

    cd <HELP FOLDER>
    foreach i ( *html )
    
    This gives you back a prompt:
    foreach ->
    
    Type:
    foreach -> /Developer/Tools/SetFile -c 'hbwr' -t 'TEXT' $i
    foreach -> end
    

    The foreach command lets you create commands that get executed on each valid file, in this case, all files ending in html in the current directory.

  7. Drop the folder onto the icon of Apple Help Indexing Tool to launch Classic and the indexing tool
  8. If the file parses correctly, you'll see 0 warnings and 0 errors, and the APPNAME Help idx file will appear at the top level of your help folder.


    You must create the index "in situ" so that the links will work

  9. Copy the idx file into your Development source directory's English.lproj/APPNAME Help folder. If you forget this step, then Help Viewer won't work!

7. Build your application for deployment and test help-Help should "just work." Help Viewer should launch and display your start page. You should be able to make queries and get back clickable links to the relevant help pages.

If it doesn't work you should check on the following points of minutiae:

  • Did the indexer parse your file correctly? If not, check for unmatched tags.
  • Did the Key-Value pairs get added correctly? You can open Info.plist inside the application Contents folder and see if the global key CFBundleHelpBookFolder is there, and that it exactly matches the name of the folder containing your help files (I recommend APPNAME Help). Does the English.lproj/InfoPlist.strings file contain CFBundleHelpBookName key value pair?
  • Is the CFBundleHelpBookName value the same as your META TAG for "Apple Title" from step 2 above?

Now, all you have to do is repeat for each language your program supports! When you do localize your application to other languages, besides just translating the .strings and .nib files, remember to have the HTML translated and then build a new index for each language supported.

Conclusion

Developers hope to create intuitive and easy to use interfaces, but users tend to get lost more easily than we expect. In order to avoid tedious tech support calls, it is ideal to provide several levels of Help in your Mac OS X application. Leveraging on Apple's built in Help Viewer technology, you can provide deep searchable help using standard HTML and even include quicktime videos, sounds, and images.


Andrew Stone is chief crystal gazer at Stone Design, http://www.stone.com, and has been coding in Cocoa as an independent software developer for over 13 years.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Adobe Creative Cloud 2.2.0.129 - Access...
Adobe Creative Cloud costs $49.99/month (or less if you're a previous Creative Suite customer). Creative Suite 6 is still available for purchase (without a monthly plan) if you prefer. Introducing... Read more
Tower 2.2.3 - Version control with Git m...
Tower is a powerful Git client for OS X that makes using Git easy and more efficient. Users benefit from its elegant and comprehensive interface and a feature set that lets them enjoy the full power... Read more
Apple Java 2015-001 - For OS X 10.7, 10....
Apple Java for OS X 2015-001 installs the legacy Java 6 runtime for OS X 10.11 El Capitan, OS X 10.10 Yosemite, OS X 10.9 Mavericks, OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, and OS X 10.7 Lion. This package is... Read more
Adobe Muse CC 2015 2015.0.1 - Design and...
Muse CC 2015 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $14.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous Muse customer). Muse CS6 is still available for purchase (without a... Read more
Adobe Illustrator CC 2015 19.1.0 - Profe...
Illustrator CC 2015 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous Illustrator customer). Illustrator CS6 is still available for... Read more
Corel Painter 14.1.0.1105 - Digital art...
Corel Painter helps you create astonishing art in a variety of media. Paint with vivid oil paints, fluid water colors, and earthy charcoals. Corel Painter flawlessly recreates the tones and textures... Read more
Pacifist 3.5.4 - Install individual file...
Pacifist opens up .pkg installer packages, .dmg disk images, .zip, .tar. tar.gz, .tar.bz2, .pax, and .xar archives and more, and lets you extract or install individual files out of them. This is... Read more
Merlin Project 3.1.0.40305 - Project man...
Merlin Project is for those of you who are responsible for complex projects. Simple lists of tasks won't suffice. Good planning raises questions about the dependencies of activities on each other,... Read more
DM1 2.0 - Advanced drum machine. (Commer...
DM1 is an advanced Drum Machine. It turns your computer into a fun and creative beat making machine. Easy and fast to use, loaded with 86 superb electronic drum kits and beautiful hyper-realistic... Read more
Posterino 3.2.1 - Create posters, collag...
Posterino offers enhanced customization and flexibility including a variety of new, stylish templates featuring grids of identical or odd-sized image boxes. You can customize the size and shape of... Read more

Mazes of Karradash (Games)
Mazes of Karradash 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: The city of Karradash is under attack: the monsters of the Shadow Realms are emerging from the depths.No adventurer is... | Read more »
Battle Golf is the Newest Game from the...
Wrassling was a pretty weird - and equally great - little wressling game. Now the developers, Folmer Kelly and Colin Lane, have turned their attention to a different sport: golfing. This is gonna be weird. [Read more] | Read more »
Qbert Rebooted has the App Store Going...
The weird little orange... whatever... is back, mostly thanks to that movie which shall remain nameless (you know the one). But anyway it's been "rebooted" and now you can play the fancy-looking Qbert Rebooted on iOS devices. [Read more] | Read more »
Giant Monsters Run Amok in The Sandbox...
So The Sandbox has just hit version number 1.99987 (seriously), and it's added a lot more stuff. Just like every other update, really. [Read more] | Read more »
Fish Pond Park (Games)
Fish Pond Park 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: Nurture an idyllic slice of tourist's heaven into the top nature spot of the nation, furnishing it with a variety of... | Read more »
Look after Baby Buddy on your Apple Watc...
Parigami Gold is the new premium version of the match three puzzler that includes Apple Watch support and all new content. You won't simply be sliding tiles around on your wrist, the Apple Watch companion app is an all new mini-game in itself. You'... | Read more »
Swallow all of your opponents as the big...
Eat all of the opposition and become the largest ball in Battle of Balls now available in the App Store and Google Play. Battle of Balls pits you against other opponents in real time and challenges you to eat more balls and grow larger than all of... | Read more »
PAC-MAN Championship Edition DX (Games)
PAC-MAN Championship Edition DX 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: It’s Your World. EAT IT! Get ready for more ghost chain gobbling and frantic action in PAC-MAN® CE-DX! The... | Read more »
incurve (Games)
incurve 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Get ready for 2 different gravities Goal is to hit as many white dots on your way up.When you're touching the screen, the dots have a... | Read more »
Crossy Road has its Own Merch Store Now....
Do you like Crossy Road? I mean do you really like Crossy Road? Well then you're in luck! Hipster Whale has opened up a Crossy Road store, so you can show off your fandom via official T-shirts. [Read more] | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple restocks refurbished Mac minis for up t...
The Apple Store has restocked Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 Mac minis, with models available starting at $419. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each mini, and shipping is free: - 1.4GHz... Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $899,...
Best Buy has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro available for $899.99 on their online store. Choose free shipping or free instant local store pickup (if available). Their price is $200 off MSRP. Price is... Read more
21-inch 2.9GHz iMac on sale for $1299, save $...
Best Buy has the 21″ 2.9GHz iMac on sale today for $1299.99 on their online store. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Their price is $200 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest... Read more
Free Image Sizer 1.3 for iOS Offers Photo Edi...
Xi’An, China based G-Power has announced the release of Image Sizer 1.3 for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, an important update to their free photo editing app. Image Sizer’s collection of easy to... Read more
Sale! 13″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air for $899,...
B&H Photo has the 13″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air on sale for $899 including free shipping plus NY tax only. Their price is $100 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model. Read more
13-inch Retina MacBook Pros on sale for $100...
Best Buy has 13-inch Retina MacBook Pros on sale for $100 off MSRP on their online store. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Prices are for online orders only, in-store... Read more
Will BMW’s i3 Electric Vehicle Be The Automo...
The German-language business journal Manager Magazin’s Michael Freitag reports that Apple and the German performance/luxury automaker Bayerishe Motoren Werke (BMW) are back at far-reaching... Read more
Sale! $250 off 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro, $2...
B&H Photo has lowered their price for the 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro to $1749, or $250 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only. They have the 27″ 3.3GHz 5K iMac on... Read more
Global Smartphone Market Posts 11.6% Year-Ove...
According to the latest preliminary data released from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, smartphone vendors shipped a total of 337.2 million units... Read more
15-inch and 13-inch Retina MacBook Pros on sa...
B&H Photo has 15″ & 13″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $180 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $1819 save $180 - 15″ 2.... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Customer Experience (ACE) Leader - A...
…management to deliver on business objectives Training partner store staff on Apple products, services, and merchandising guidelines Coaching partner store staff on Read more
Project Manager - *Apple* Pay Security - Ap...
**Job Summary** The Apple Pay Security team is seeking a highly organized, results-driven Project Manager to drive the development of Apple Pay Security. If you are Read more
*Apple* TV Product Design Internship (Spring...
…the mechanical design effort associated with creating world-class products with the Apple TV PD Group. Responsibilities will include working closely with manufacturing, Read more
*Apple* Watch SW Application Project Manager...
**Job Summary** The Apple Watch software team is looking for an Application Engineering Project Manager to work on new projects for Apple . The successful candidate Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.