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

Postbox 5.0.9 - Powerful and flexible em...
Postbox is a new email application that helps you organize your work life and get stuff done. It has all the elegance and simplicity of Apple Mail, but with more power and flexibility to manage even... Read more
VueScan 9.5.61 - Scanner software with a...
VueScan is a scanning program that works with most high-quality flatbed and film scanners to produce scans that have excellent color fidelity and color balance. VueScan is easy to use, and has... Read more
DiskCatalogMaker 6.5.16 - Catalog your d...
DiskCatalogMaker is a simple disk management tool which catalogs disks. Simple, light-weight, and fast. Finder-like intuitive look and feel. Super-fast search algorithm. Can compress catalog data... Read more
TrailRunner 3.8.827 - Route planning for...
TrailRunner is the perfect companion for runners, bikers, hikers, and all people wandering under the sky. Plan routes on a geographical map. Import GPS or workout recordings and journalize your... Read more
Civilization VI 1.0.1 - Next iteration o...
Sid Meier’s Civilization VI is the next entry in the popular Civilization franchise. Originally created by legendary game designer Sid Meier, Civilization is a strategy game in which you attempt to... Read more
Chromium 55.0.2883.75 - Fast and stable...
Chromium is an open-source browser project that aims to build a safer, faster, and more stable way for all Internet users to experience the web. Version 55.0.2883.75: Security fixes: High CVE-2016... Read more
Google Chrome 55.0.2883.75 - Modern and...
Google Chrome is a Web browser by Google, created to be a modern platform for Web pages and applications. It utilizes very fast loading of Web pages and has a V8 engine, which is a custom built... Read more
VirtualBox 5.1.10 - x86 virtualization s...
VirtualBox is a family of powerful x86 virtualization products for enterprise as well as home use. Not only is VirtualBox an extremely feature rich, high performance product for enterprise customers... Read more
Pixa 1.1.9 - Quickly and easily organize...
Pixa is an image-organizing application. The new app functions well, is easy to use, and helps people organize their images quickly and easily on their computers. For those who prefer not to use the... Read more
VirtualBox 5.1.10 - x86 virtualization s...
VirtualBox is a family of powerful x86 virtualization products for enterprise as well as home use. Not only is VirtualBox an extremely feature rich, high performance product for enterprise customers... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Amateur Surgeon 4 Guide: Become the worl...
It's time to wield your trusty pizza cutter again, as Amateur Surgeon has returned with a whole fresh set of challenges (and some old, familiar ones, too). Starting anew isn't easy, especially when all you have at your disposal is a lighter, the... | Read more »
Le Parker: Sous Chef Extraordinaire (Ga...
Le Parker: Sous Chef Extraordinaire 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Telltale Games really is working on a Gu...
Telltale Games' next episodic adventure is indeed Guardians of the Galaxy. A document tied to the voice actors strike suggested that the project was in the work, but now we have direct confirmation following an announcement at the Game Awards that... | Read more »
Amateur Surgeon returns to iOS and Andro...
Amateur Surgeon and its two sequels disappeared from the App Store some time and it was sad days for all. But now, just in time for the holidays, the Adult Swim favorite makes its joyous return in the shape of Amateur Surgeon 4, a remake with... | Read more »
The best board games on mobile
Sometimes you need to ditch all of the high speed, high action games in favor of something a little more traditional. If you don't feel like parting ways from your mobile device, though, there are still plenty of ways to get that old-school fix.... | Read more »
The best Facebook Messenger Instant Game...
Facebook's new Instant Games is now here, meaning you can play games with your friends directly via Facebook. It's a fun new way to connect with friends, of course, but it's also proving to be a solid gaming experience in its own right, with a... | Read more »
You can now play game's on Facebook...
Facebook launched its new Instant Games platform in an exciting new attempt to engage its user base. As a result, you can now play a number of different games directly through Facebook Messenger. All of these games run with HTML5, meaning you play... | Read more »
Apollo Justice Ace Attorney (Games)
Apollo Justice Ace Attorney 1.00.00 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 1.00.00 (iTunes) Description: Court Is Back In Session Star as rookie defense attorney, Apollo Justice, as he visits crime scenes,... | Read more »
KORG iWAVESTATION (Music)
KORG iWAVESTATION 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Music Price: $19.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: A revolutionary new world of sound.The Wave Sequence Synthesizer for iPad - KORG iWAVESTATION | Read more »
Don't Grind Guide: Tips for becomin...
Don’t Grind is a surprising, derpy little one touch game with fun hand-drawn graphics. The goal is simple -- get the high score without being chopped to bits. That can be tough when you’re not used to the game, and that’s compounded by the fact... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Holiday sale: Apple MacBook Airs available fo...
B&H Photo has 13″ MacBook Airs on sale for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air (MMGF2LL/A): $899 $100 off MSRP - 13″ 1.6GHz/... Read more
13-inch Silver Touch Bar MacBook Pro in stock...
Amazon has the new 2016 13″ 2.9GHz/256GB Silver Touch Bar MacBook Pro (MLVP2LL/A) in stock today and on sale for $1749 including free shipping. That’s $50 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price... Read more
Parallels Toolbox 1.3 for Mac Offers 25 Singl...
Parallels has launched Parallels Toolbox 1.3 for Mac, an upgrade that adds five new utilities to the stand-alone application which was released in August and is available exclusively online at http... Read more
OWC Mercury Elite Pro Dual mini Ultra-Portabl...
OWC has introduced the new OWC Mercury Elite Pro Dual mini, a powerful yet ultra-portable dual-drive RAID solution. The new Mercury Elite Pro Dual mini packs phenomenal performance into a small... Read more
Clearance 13-inch Retina MacBook Pros availab...
B&H Photo has clearance 2015 13″ Retina Apple MacBook Pros available for up to $200 off original MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 13″ 2.7GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro: $... Read more
Roundup of 2016 13-inch 2.0GHz MacBook Pro sa...
B&H has the non-Touch Bar 13″ MacBook Pros in stock today for $50-$100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 2.0GHz MacBook Pro Space Gray (MLL42LL/A): $1449 $... Read more
New 13-inch 2.0GHz Space Gray MacBook Pro in...
Adorama has the new 13″ 2.0GHz Space Gray MacBook Pro (non-Touch Bar, MLL42LL/A) in stock for $1499 including a free 3-year AppleCare Protection Plan. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges sales tax... Read more
Finnair Adopts iOS Enterprise iPad Apps from...
Finnair and IBM have announced a first-of-its-kind agreement to utilize iOS enterprise apps from IBM to support the airline’s overall digital transformation. Finnair is focused on Asia-Europe traffic... Read more
Tech21 Launches Evo Go iPhone 7 Case Availabl...
Tech21 has announced the launch of the Evo Go case for Apple iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, exclusively at T-Mobile. Available online and at participating T-Mobile stores nationwide, Evo Go cases start... Read more
Apple Turns (RED) with More Ways to Join the...
In recognition of World AIDS Day, Apple is offering more ways than ever for customers to join (RED) in its mission to create an AIDS-free generation. Apple is the worlds largest corporate contributor... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions- Kansas...
Job Description:SalesSpecialist - Retail Customer Service and SalesTransform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions- Chicago...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Hardware Design Validation Engineer - *Apple...
The Apple Watch team is looking for a Hardware Design Validation Engineer. This person will be part of the Apple Watch hardware team with responsibilities for Read more
SW Engineer *Apple* TV Frameworks - Apple I...
The Apple TV team is looking for a software...create features that reflect the look and feel of Apple TV. Description: Were looking for someone who is Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions- Greenwi...
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.