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.

 
AAPL
$519.01
Apple Inc.
+1.05
MSFT
$40.40
Microsoft Corpora
+0.65
GOOG
$556.54
Google Inc.
+20.10

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

PDFpenPro 6.2 - Advanced PDF toolkit for...
PDFpenPro allows users to edit PDF's easily. Add text, images and signatures. Fill out PDF forms. Merge or split PDF documents. Reorder and delete pages. Even correct text and edit graphics! Create... Read more
PDFpen 6.2 - Edit and annotate PDFs with...
PDFpen allows users to easily edit PDF's. Add text, images and signatures. Fill out PDF forms. Merge or split PDF documents. Reorder and delete pages. Even correct text and edit graphics! Features... Read more
Monolingual 1.5.9 - Remove unwanted OS X...
Monolingual is a program for removing unnecesary language resources from OS X, in order to reclaim several hundred megabytes of disk space. It requires a 64-bit capable Intel-based Mac and at least... Read more
Maya 2015 - Professional 3D modeling and...
Maya is an award-winning software and powerful, integrated 3D modeling, animation, visual effects, and rendering solution. Because Maya is based on an open architecture, all your work can be scripted... Read more
Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty 1.1.1.180...
Download the patch by launching the Starcraft II game and downloading it through the Battle.net connection within the app. Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty is a strategy game played in real-time. You... Read more
Sibelius 7.5.0 - Music notation solution...
Sibelius is the world's best-selling music notation software for Mac. It is as intuitive to use as a pen, yet so powerful that it does most things in less than the blink of an eye. The demo includes... Read more
Typinator 5.9 - 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
MYStuff Pro 2.0.16 - Create inventories...
MYStuff Pro is the most flexible way to create detail-rich inventories for your home or small business. Add items to MYStuff by dragging and dropping existing information, uploading new images, or... Read more
TurboTax 2013.r17.002 - Manage your 2013...
TurboTax guides you through your tax return step by step, does all the calculations, and checks your return for errors and overlooked deductions. It lets you file your return electronically to get... Read more
TrailRunner 3.8.769 - Route planning for...
Note: While the software is classified as freeware, it is actually donationware. Please consider making a donation to help support development. TrailRunner is the perfect companion for runners,... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Fourcast Review
Fourcast Review By Jennifer Allen on April 16th, 2014 Our Rating: :: VIDEO POTENTIALiPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad Fourcast is a great idea for combining video clips, but it does lack a number of... | Read more »
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is Avail...
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is Available on the U.S. App Store Right Now – Gogogogo! Posted by Rob Rich on April 16th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Grammar Pop HD Review
Grammar Pop HD Review By Jennifer Allen on April 16th, 2014 Our Rating: :: FUN LEARNINGiPad Only App - Designed for the iPad Learning the different parts of speech isn’t always fun, but Grammar Pop HD makes it much more... | Read more »
Groundskeeper2 Review
Groundskeeper2 Review By Nadia Oxford on April 16th, 2014 Our Rating: :: SLICE THOSE ALIEN SLIMEUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Putting aside some minor control issues, Groundskeeper2 is a fun and furious action/... | Read more »
Pinnacle Studio for iPhone (Photography...
Pinnacle Studio for iPhone 5.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Photography Price: $9.99, Version: 5.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Season 3 of Zombies, Run! Starts Right N...
Season 3 of Zombies, Run! | Read more »
Snupps Review
Snupps Review By Jennifer Allen on April 16th, 2014 Our Rating: :: USEFUL LISTINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Got a huge collection that you need to organize, or just want to share with others? Snupps has it covered... | Read more »
Toad Rider Goes Free for a Limited Time,...
Toad Rider Goes Free for a Limited Time, Starting This Week Posted by Tre Lawrence on April 16th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Knights of Pen & Paper is Free for a...
Knights of Pen & Paper is Free for a Limited Time – Don’t Wait for a Natural 20, Get it Now! Posted by Rob Rich on April 16th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
R.B.I. Baseball 14 Review
R.B.I. Baseball 14 Review By Blake Grundman on April 16th, 2014 Our Rating: :: RETRO REVIVEDUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad What was old is new again, as the MLB attempts to taking baseball gaming back to its retro... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Microsoft Blinks – Drops Microsoft Office 365...
Microsoft has dropped the annual subscription fee for Microsoft Office 365 Personal – which is needed in order to create and edit documents in Microsoft Office for iPad. However, Apple’s iOS and OS X... Read more
New AVG Vault Apps for iOS and Android Help K...
AVG Technologies N.V. an online security company for 177 million active users, has announced the launch of its latest mobile application, AVG Vault. The free app introduces an innovative user... Read more
Free Local Carrot iPhone App Helps Find Fresh...
I love fresh vegetables. I’m not a vegan, although I was for several years in the 1980s, but fresh vegetables and other whole foods are still my dietary mainstays as a matter of taste rather than... Read more
Apple refurbished iPad Airs available startin...
Apple is now offering Certified Refurbished iPad Airs for up to $140 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free. The following Airs are available today: -... Read more
21-inch 2.7GHz iMac on sale for $1179, save $...
B&H Photo has the 21″ 2.7GHz iMac on sale for $1179 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $120 off MSRP. Add an iMac to your shopping cart, and B&H will offer an... Read more
Download our app, iTracx, for iOS and Android
MacPrices is proud to offer readers a free iOS app (iPhones, iPads, & iPod touch) and Android app (Google Play and Amazon App Store) called iTracx, which allows you to glance at today’s lowest... Read more
Education discounts shave up to $300 off the...
Purchase a new Mac at The Apple Store for Education and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free, and all... Read more
Save $50 on Mac mini Server
B&H Photo has the 2012 Mac mini Server on sale for $949 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $50 off MSRP. Read more
PhatWare’s “Ultimate Writing App For iOS” Ren...
PhatWare Corp. has announced it has renamed its new WritePro word processing app for iPhone and iPad: WritePad Pro. The decision to change the app’s name to leverages the strong brand awareness and... Read more
Full Resolution Photo Editor Tint Mint 1.0 Re...
California based independent developer, Jeffrey Sun, creator of the iOS app Modern Editor, has released Tint Mint, a new photography app for editing enthusiasts. The app costs a dollar, and it packs... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Manager - Holyoke - Apple I...
Job Summary Keeping an Apple Store thriving requires a diverse set of leadership skills, and as a Manager, you’re a master of them all. In the store’s fast-paced, Read more
*Apple* Retail - Manager - Apple (United Sta...
Job SummaryKeeping an Apple Store thriving requires a diverse set of leadership skills, and as a Manager, you're a master of them all. In the store's fast-paced, dynamic Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
*Apple* Retail - Market Leader - Cincinnati...
…challenges of developing individuals, building teams, and affecting growth across Apple Stores. You demonstrate successful leadership ability - focusing on excellence Read more
*Apple* Retail - Manager - SoHo - Apple (Uni...
Job SummaryKeeping an Apple Store thriving requires a diverse set of leadership skills, and as a Manager, you're a master of them all. In the store's fast-paced, dynamic Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.