TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Apr 02 Cover Story

Volume Number: 18 (2002)
Issue Number: 04
Column Tag: User Experience

Apple Help and AppleScript Studio

by Gordon R. Meyer

Providing Help Systems for AppleScript Studio-based Applications

Apple Help and Aqua

AppleScript Studio is an exciting prospect for Scripters - we are no longer limited to creating the usual droplets or faceless utilities commonly associated with scripting language development.

But power and opportunity come at a price. AppleScript Studio development also "raises the bar" on expectations for how your application looks and behaves. Like any other application on Mac OS X, following the Aqua Human Interface Guidelines will ensure your new application provides an excellent user experience. This article focuses on one aspect of Aqua - providing onscreen user assistance with Apple Help.

Virtually every application needs a help system, and using Apple Help is an easy and fundamental step in adopting Aqua. To get started all you need is a set of HTML help files and this article. Aside from the time spent writing the help content, you can implement a working help system in minutes.

What is Apple Help?

Apple provides the Help Viewer application for displaying your help content. The Help Viewer is optimized for providing onscreen help. It displays HTML 3.2, any QuickTime media you care to use, and it can run AppleScript automations to assist users in accomplishing complex or common tasks. (Because AppleScript Studio-based applications are already scriptable by default, there is a lot of opportunity to enhance your help with useful automations. Something to consider after you've gotten your first-cut at Help implemented.)

The Help Viewer also provides a built-in search engine that quickly gives relevancy ranked search results for your help, and all the help installed on the user's computer. Shortly, you'll learn how to ensure your help content is searchable.

When your application adopts Apple Help, it will be automatically listed in the Help Center. The Help Center allows users to view and search an application's help without having to open the application. It's a great way to find out which applications can handle a special task that you have in mind.

There are more Apple Help features such as automatically building "table of contents" files or the ability to mix locally-stored and Internet-based content. For information about them, see Providing User Assistance with Apple Help. If you prefer to watch and listen instead of reading, the WWDC 2001 streaming video of the Apple Help session also introduces all the features and capabilities.

What type of information should you include in your help? Making good onscreen help is a whole article by itself, but the "Help" chapter in Aqua Human Interface Guidelines has some discussion, as does the WWDC 2001 session. If you would like some guidance consider using these resources.

For the purposes of this article, don't worry about all the bells and whistles, just get your content into HTML 3.2 format. You can repurpose existing files from your Web site, or use whatever HTML authoring tool you normally use and create the help from scratch.

Preparing Your Help Files

After you've written your help, you need to make one minor addition to identify the "start page" (or "home page) for your help book and provide the title of your help system for the Help Center.

You do both by adding one META tag to the start page for your book. This is typically the table of contents page, or the splash page, or whatever page you want users to see when the Help Viewer opens. If you're re-using content from your Web site, it might be the index.html file, for example.

Listing 1: AppleTitle example

<meta name=”AppleTitle” content=”MyAppName Help”>

The content of the AppleTitle tag is the name of your help book. This is the name that gets listed in the Help Center, and it's how Apple Help identifies which book to open from your application's help menu. The Aqua HI Guidelines recommend that you use the form "MyAppName Help".

Making your help searchable

The search engine in Help Viewer is fast. It can search hundreds of pages of help in just seconds, returning a list of the most relevant topics in your help book. To accomplish this it uses a pre-generated index file. To make your help searchable, which is strongly recommended for the best user experience, you use the Apple Help Indexing Tool. Please don't forget this important step, users get frustrated if they can't locate information by searching. (Indexing is also required if you're using some of the advanced features, such as Anchor Lookup, as described in the Apple Help documentation.)

The Apple Help Indexing Tool is installed in /Developer/Applications/. To use it, simply drop your folder of help files onto the tool. The Indexing Tools quickly scans all the pages and creates the search index file in the correct location.

drag-and-drop to enable searching

That's all there is to it. You can get fancier if you'd like, by adding keywords or changing the way some topics are indexed, but for most uses all you have to do is use the default Indexing Tools settings and drag-and-drop your help folder.

Add Your Help to Your Project

By adding the META tag and creating a search index you have finished everything you need to do to your help content. Next, you add the help files to your application's package and tell Cocoa you have a help system.

Importing into Project Builder

In Mac OS X help files are stored in an application's bundle. This keeps everything tidy - help always travels with the application when it's installed or moved on disk - and with Mac OS X's multi-lingual support it permits you to have localized help along with the application itself.

Select the Resources folder in Project Builder, and then choose Add Files from the Project menu. Select the main folder of your help content and turn on the option to create folder references, and then click the Add button.

Select this option when importing your help folder.

Your help folder is now listed in the Resources list.

Help files added to a project.

Add Help to the Property List

Choose Edit Active Target from the Project menu. Then click the Application Settings tab to display the settings for your build.

In the Basic Information section, specify a bundle identifier. See Inside Mac OS X: System Overview for more detail, but in brief you specify a unique identifier for your application using Java-style naming.

Enter a bundle identifier

Click the Expert button in the top right corner of the settings pane. This allows you to edit the Property List directly.

Click the New Sibling button, then edit the new entry so the key is CFBundleHelpBookName and the value is a string that matches the contents of the AppleTitle tag that you put in your HTML.

Add another new sibling called CFBundleHelpBookFolder with the value being the name of your help folder that you previously imported. In our example both key values are the same because the folder where we store our help files is named the same as our book. That's not a requirement, but it is conventional.

Specifying the help book and folder names

Edit The Help Menu

You're in the home stretch now. The last task is to rename the default Help menu that is automatically created for your application. You don't have to do anything to make the menu work; Cocoa provides the functionality automatically because of the changes you made to your property list.

In Project Builder, double-click your interface definition file (MainMenu.nib, unless you've changed it) to open it in Interface Builder.

In the menu layout, change the Help item to match the name of your help book. The Aqua guidelines recommend the form "MyAppName Help". Note that you automatically get the correct keyboard shortcut, courtesy of Cocoa.

Edit the Help menu item.

That's it, you're done! Build your app and try it out. When you select your new Help menu the Help Viewer will launch and open to your book. If it doesn't work make sure that the property list values match up with the appropriate AppleTitle and help folder names. Also check that you remembered to enter a bundle identifier for your application.

Your AppleScript Studio-based application is now one step closer to providing a great Aqua user experience and useful help for your customers. And, along the way, you've learned how to implement a help system for any Cocoa application.


Aqua Human Interface Guidelines
Help Chapter

Providing User Assistance with Apple Help

Apple Help Reference

Apple Help WWDC session 125, Mac OS Track
Streaming video from Apple Developer Connection (Membership required. Log in, then choose View ADC TV)

Inside Mac OS X: System Overview

Gordon Meyer ( works on Apple Help and related instructional products.


Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Suitcase Fusion 6 17.3.0 - Font manageme...
Suitcase Fusion 6 is the creative professional's font manager. Every professional font manager should deliver the basics: spectacular previews, powerful search tools, and efficient font organization... Read more
Nisus Writer Pro 2.1.2 - Multilingual wo...
Nisus Writer Pro is a powerful multilingual word processor, similar to its entry level products, but brings new features such as table of contents, indexing, bookmarks, widow and orphan control,... Read more
calibre 2.40.0 - Complete e-book library...
Calibre is a complete e-book library manager. Organize your collection, convert your books to multiple formats, and sync with all of your devices. Let Calibre be your multi-tasking digital librarian... Read more
Vivaldi - An advanced browser...
Vivaldi is a browser for our friends. In 1994, two programmers started working on a web browser. Our idea was to make a really fast browser, capable of running on limited hardware, keeping in mind... Read more
OmniPlan 3.0 - Robust project management...
With OmniPlan, you can create logical, manageable project plans with Gantt charts, schedules, summaries, milestones, and critical paths. Break down the tasks needed to make your project a success,... Read more
Yummy FTP 1.11 - FTP/SFTP/FTPS client fo...
Yummy FTP is an FTP + SFTP + FTPS file transfer client which focuses on speed, reliability and productivity. Whether you need to transfer a few files or a few thousand, schedule automatic backups, or... Read more
Tweetbot 2.1 - Popular Twitter client. (...
Tweetbot is a full-featured OS X Twitter client with a lot of personality. Whether it's the meticulously-crafted interface, sounds and animation, or features like multiple timelines and column views... Read more
MacPilot 8.0 - Enable over 1,200 hidden...
MacPilot gives you the power of UNIX and the simplicity of Macintosh, which means a phenomenal amount of untapped power in your hands! Use MacPilot to unlock over 1,200 features, and access them all... Read more
Typinator 6.7 - Speedy and reliable text...
Typinator turbo-charges your typing productivity. Type a little. Typinator does the rest. We've all faced projects that require repetitive typing tasks. With Typinator, you can store commonly used... Read more
Adobe Lightroom 6.2 - Import, develop, a...
Adobe Lightroom is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $9.99/month bundled with Photoshop CC as part of the photography package. Lightroom 6 is also available for purchase as a... Read more

Balloony Land offers a fresh twist on th...
Balloony Land by Palringo offers a fresh twist on the match three genre and is out now on iOS and Android. First-off, you'll be popping balloons instead of crushing candy and the balloons will float up and fill the empty spaces instead of dropping... | Read more »
Sago Mini Babies (Education)
Sago Mini Babies 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Education Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Introducing the Sago Mini babies. Boys and girls love caring for these adorable characters. Feed Robin her favorite mush... | Read more »
PAUSE - Relaxation at your fingertip (H...
PAUSE - Relaxation at your fingertip 1.1 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Healthcare & Fitness Price: $1.99, Version: 1.1 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Super Sharp (Games)
Super Sharp 1.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.1 (iTunes) Description: Your finger has never been so sharp! Cut with skill to complete the 120 ingenious physics levels of Super Sharp and become a cut... | Read more »
Assembly - Graphic design for everyone...
Assembly - Graphic design for everyone 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Photography Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Assembly is the easiest most powerful design tool on the App Store. Create anything you can... | Read more »
Dub Dash (Games)
Dub Dash 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: ARE YOU READY FOR THE ULTIMATE CHALLENGE? UNIQUE SYMBIOSIS OF MUSIC AND GRAPHICS | Read more »
Leave Me Alone (Games)
Leave Me Alone 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: 33% off launch sale!!! Somewhere between the 1980s and 1990s there exists a world that never was. A world of skatepunks,... | Read more »
YAMGUN (Games)
YAMGUN 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: The invasion has begun! Protect the walls of the citadel against waves of enemies! But watch out, you will soon run out of ammo...... | Read more »
Chesh (Games)
Chesh 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: It’s like chess, only not at all. ***40% off for a limited time to celebrate our launch!*** Chesh is a game of skill, strategy, luck,... | Read more »
Dust: An Elysian Tail (Games)
Dust: An Elysian Tail 1.051 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $5.99, Version: 1.051 (iTunes) Description: *Dust: An Elysian Tail is a visually rich experience and thus requires devices with 1GB RAM**Please note that... | Read more »

Price Scanner via

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, and... Read more
Save up to $350 with Apple refurbished iMacs
Apple has Certified Refurbished iMacs available for up to $350 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: - 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMac – $1949 $350 off MSRP - 27... Read more
Mac Pros on sale for up to $300 off MSRP
B&H Photo has Mac Pros on sale for up to $300 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax in NY only: - 3.7GHz 4-core Mac Pro: $2818.99, $181 off MSRP - 3.5GHz 6-core Mac Pro: $3699... Read more
5K iMacs on sale for up to $150 off MSRP, fre...
B&H Photo has the 27″ 3.3GHz 5K iMac on sale for $1899.99 including free shipping plus NY tax only. Their price is $100 off MSRP. They have the 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMac on sale for $2149, $150 off MSRP... Read more
Twelve South Redesigns BookArc For Today’s Sm...
Twelve South has announced a redesigned version of their very first product, BookArc for MacBook. Tailored specifically for the newest generation of MacBooks, BookArc holds the new, smaller Apple... Read more
Phone 6s Tips & Tricks – Tips Book For iP...
Poole, United Kingdom based Tap Guides Ltd. has announced the release and immediate availability of iPhone 6s Tips & Tricks, an in-depth eBook available in the iBookstore that’s priced just $2.99... Read more
Apple refurbished 2014 13-inch Retina MacBook...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2014 13″ Retina MacBook Pros available for up to $400 off original MSRP, starting at $979. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free... Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $994,...
Best Buy has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro available for $994.99 on their online store. Choose free shipping or free instant local store pickup (if available). Their price is $105 off MSRP. Price valid... Read more
Is The iPad Pro Really A Serious Laptop Repla...
Probably not, at least for productive professionals and other power users. Steve Jobs declared that we’d entered the “post-PC Era” with the advent of the original iPad in 2010, a phrase we don’t hear... Read more
Wednesday Deal: 13-inch Retina MacBook Pros f...
Adorama has 13″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $130 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges sales tax for NY & NJ residents only: - 13″ 2.7GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro: $1199.99 $... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Desktop Analyst - KDS Staffing (Unit...
…work with some of the brightest engineers. Job Description Title: Apple Desktop AnalystPosition Type: Full-time PermanentLocation: White Plains, NYHot Points:Depth of Read more
*Apple* Retail Online, Customer Experience R...
**Job Summary** Apple Retail's Online Store sells Apple products to customers around the world. In addition to selling Apple products with unique services such Read more
Frameworks Engineer, *Apple* Watch - Apple...
**Job Summary** Join the team that is shaping the future of software development for Apple Watch! As a software engineer on the Apple Watch Frameworks team you will Read more
Senior Manager, Global Direct Marketing *App...
**Job Summary** Apple Retail is looking for an experienced Direct Marketing Leader to join its Marketing team. This position will take a leadership role in creating Read more
*Apple* Online Store Expansion - Apple (Unit...
**Job Summary** The Online Apple Store is seeking a person to lead its expansion into new countries. Based in Cupertino, CA, this person will develop and maintain an Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.