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

<html>
<head>
<meta name=”AppleTitle” content=”MyAppName Help”>
   […]
</head>
<body>
   […]
</body>
</html>

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.

Bibliography

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 (gordon@apple.com) works on Apple Help and related instructional products.

 

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- 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
*Apple* Brand Ambassador (Macy's) - The...
…(T-ROC), is proud of its unprecedented relationship with our partner and client, APPLE ,in bringing amazing" APPLE ADVOCATES"to "non" Apple store locations. Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.