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

Sound Studio 4.8.6 - Robust audio record...
Sound Studio lets you easily record and professionally edit audio on your Mac. Easily rip vinyls and digitize cassette tapes, or record lectures and voice memos. Prepare for live shows with live... Read more
Capo 3.5.1 - Slow down and learn to play...
Capo lets you slow down your favorite songs so you can hear the notes and learn how they are played. With Capo, you can quickly tab out your songs atop a highly-detailed OpenCL-powered spectrogram... Read more
Google Earth 7.1.8.3036 - View and contr...
Google Earth gives you a wealth of imagery and geographic information. Explore destinations like Maui and Paris, or browse content from Wikipedia, National Geographic, and more. Google Earth combines... Read more
QuickBooks 16.1.11.1556 R12 - Financial...
QuickBooks helps you manage your business easily and efficiently. Organize your finances all in one place, track money going in and out of your business, and spot areas where you can save. Built for... Read more
Google Earth 7.1.8.3036 - View and contr...
Google Earth gives you a wealth of imagery and geographic information. Explore destinations like Maui and Paris, or browse content from Wikipedia, National Geographic, and more. Google Earth combines... Read more
QuickBooks 16.1.11.1556 R12 - Financial...
QuickBooks helps you manage your business easily and efficiently. Organize your finances all in one place, track money going in and out of your business, and spot areas where you can save. Built for... Read more
FileZilla 3.24.0 - Fast and reliable FTP...
FileZilla (ported from Windows) is a fast and reliable FTP client and server with lots of useful features and an intuitive interface. Version 3.24.0: New The context menu for remote file search... Read more
Bookends 12.7.8 - Reference management a...
Bookends is a full-featured bibliography/reference and information-management system for students and professionals. Bookends uses the cloud to sync reference libraries on all the Macs you use.... Read more
Duplicate Annihilator 5.8.3 - Find and d...
Duplicate Annihilator takes on the time-consuming task of comparing the images in your iPhoto library using effective algorithms to make sure that no duplicate escapes. Duplicate Annihilator detects... Read more
BusyContacts 1.1.6 - Fast, efficient con...
BusyContacts is a contact manager for OS X that makes creating, finding, and managing contacts faster and more efficient. It brings to contact management the same power, flexibility, and sharing... Read more

Super Mario Run dashes onto Android in M...
Super Mario Run was one of the biggest mobile launches in 2016 before it was met with a lukewarm response by many. While the game itself plays a treat, it's pretty hard to swallow the steep price for the full game. With that said, Android users... | Read more »
WarFriends Beginner's Guide: How to...
Chillingo's new game, WarFriends, is finally available world wide, and so far it's a refreshing change from common mobile game trends. The game's a mix of tower defense, third person shooter, and collectible card game. There's a lot to unpack here... | Read more »
Super Gridland (Entertainment)
Super Gridland 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Entertainment Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Match. Build. Survive. "exquisitely tuned" - Rock Paper Shotgun No in-app purches, and no ads! | Read more »
Red's Kingdom (Games)
Red's Kingdom 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Mad King Mac has kidnapped your father and stolen your golden nut! Solve puzzles and battle goons as you explore and battle your... | Read more »
Turbo League Guide: How to tame the cont...
| Read more »
Fire Emblem: Heroes coming to Google Pla...
Nintendo gave us our first look at Fire Emblem: Heroes, the upcoming mobile Fire Emblem game the company hinted at last year. Revealed at the Fire Emblem Direct event held today, the game will condense the series' tactical RPG combat into bite-... | Read more »
ReSlice (Music)
ReSlice 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Music Price: $9.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Audio Slice Machine Slice your audio samples with ReSlice and create flexible musical atoms which can be triggered by MIDI notes or... | Read more »
Stickman Surfer rides in with the tide t...
Stickson is back and this time he's taken up yet another extreme sport - surfing. Stickman Surfer is out this Thursday on both iOS and Android, so if you've been following the other Stickman adventures, you might be interested in picking this one... | Read more »
Z-Exemplar (Games)
Z-Exemplar 1.4 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.4 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
5 dastardly difficult roguelikes like th...
Edmund McMillen's popular roguelike creation The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth has finally crawled onto mobile devices. It's a grotesque dual-stick shooter that tosses you into an endless, procedurally generated basement as you, the pitiable Isaac,... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

12-inch 1.2GHz Space Gray Retina MacBook on s...
Amazon has the 2016 12″ 1.2GHz/512GB Space Gray Retina MacBook (Apple model #MLH82LL/A) on sale for $1299.99 including free shipping. Their price is $300 off MSRP. Read more
Twelve South Releases RelaxedLeather Cases fo...
Inspired by the laid-back luxury of burnished leather boots and crafted in rich tones of taupe, herb and marsala, RelaxedLeather cases deliver smart, easy protection for the iPhone 7. Each genuine... Read more
Week’s Best Deal: New 2016 13-inch 2.0GHz Mac...
Amazon has the new 2016 13″ 2.0GHz non-Touch Bar MacBook Pros on sale for a limited time for $225 off MSRP including free shipping: - 13″ 2.0GHz MacBook Pro, Space Gray (MLL42LL/A): $1274.99 $225 off... Read more
Back in stock: Apple refurbished Mac minis fr...
Apple has Certified Refurbished Mac minis available starting at $419. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each mini, and shipping is free: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $419 $80 off MSRP - 2.6GHz Mac... Read more
Apple Ranked ‘Most Intimate Brand’
The top ranked ‘”intimate” brands continued to outperform the S&P and Fortune 500 indices in revenue and profit over the past 10 years, according to MBLM’s Brand Intimacy 2017 Report, the largest... Read more
B-Eng introduces SSD Health Check for Mac OS
Fehraltorf, Switzerland based independant Swiss company- B-Eng has announced the release and immediate availability of SSD Health Check 1.0, the company’s new hard drive utility for Mac OS X. As the... Read more
Apple’s Education discount saves up to $300 o...
Purchase a new Mac or iPad using Apple’s Education Store and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free: -... Read more
4-core 3.7GHz Mac Pro on sale for $2290, save...
Guitar Center has the 3.7GHz 4-core Mac Pro (MD253LL/A) on sale for $2289.97 including free shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Their price is a $710 savings over standard MSRP for... Read more
128GB Apple iPad Air 2, refurbished, availabl...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 128GB iPad Air 2s WiFis available for $419 including free shipping. That’s an $80 savings over standard MSRP for this model. A standard Apple one-year warranty is... Read more
13-inch 2.7GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for...
B&H Photo has the 2015 13″ 2.7GHz/128GB Retina Apple MacBook Pro on sale for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 13″ 2.7GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro (MF839LL/A): $... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* macOS Systems Integration Administra...
…most exceptional support available in the industry. SCI is seeking an Junior Apple macOS systems integration administrator that will be responsible for providing Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions- Deer Pa...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Technician - nfrastructure (United S...
Let’s Work Together Apple Technician This position is based in Portland, ME Life at nfrastructure At nfrastructure, we understand that our success results from our Read more
*Apple* Mobile Master - Best Buy (United Sta...
**467692BR** **Job Title:** Apple Mobile Master **Location Number:** 000602-Columbia MO-Store **Job Description:** **What does a Best Buy Apple Mobile Master Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.