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Providing user help documentation -- what is the standard in 2024?

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QuinnMartin:
In the old days of Windows you would press F1 in any application and get useful help documentation.  For whatever reason, this functionality was scrapped around 2005-2010.  I've never understood why this is, as the old context-sensitive help was implemented in the vast majority of programs and was something I used all the time.  I thought it was a great design feature in Windows.  But nowadays, F1 doesn't seem to do anything in most apps or I get broken functionality so I don't even bother hitting the F1 key and just Google for help.  But that's just me, I know.

So my question is: What is the *preferred* standard for user help in 2024 by users of small to medium size Windows/Linux applications.  What do users expect?  I would prefer to design around that.

Lately for one of my apps I have just been providing a PDF user manual.  I don't feel this is a great system because a PDF is not context-sensitive at all, it's basically a big ebook.  Not too many people will pick up a PDF and begin studying it, much less go through it to solve a minor problem.  But personally I find it very easy to edit, I just fire up InDesign and start editing, and it's super easy to generate the PDF.

I thought about implementing my own simple F1 help system.  Commercial solutions like Help+Manual are way too pricey for small time developers and I don't know if there are any viable alternatives.  I'm sure a very simple help system based around a TRichEdit would work fine.  But if no one uses F1 much these days I can stick with PDF.

I guess another option is to put context-sensitive help on the website and have F1 trigger a browser call to bring up the desired page.  To me it's kind of hamfisted as it switches focus away from the app and opens the browser, but from a business standpoint I can appreciate that it creates some constant, continuing interaction with the website.  Is this a generally accepted method?

Thoughts?

JanRoza:
I mostly create my help in html files, so pressing F1 or the help button in my programs will show the help info via the browser. Works fine in Windows and Linux.

MarkMLl:

--- Quote from: JanRoza on June 04, 2024, 11:35:22 am ---I mostly create my help in html files, so pressing F1 or the help button in my programs will show the help info via the browser. Works fine in Windows and Linux.

--- End quote ---

The problem there is that unless you embed your own browser, you will hit problems if the browser chosen by the app clashes in some way with the user's expectations.

For example, if the user already has Firefox running an attempt to start a second copy will fail, particularly if it is set to always start via a a dialog(ue) asking what profile should be selected.

You're less likely to see that if you instead use e.g. PDF, but OTOH it's nowhere near as good as HTML at jumping to a specific section of a page.

MarkMLl

Thaddy:
I use fpdoc to write both the user documentation and the technical documentation.
Once setup to your liking it is very easy to use.
You have the benefit of choosing different formats, including pdf and html.

JanRoza:
@MarkMLI

--- Quote ---For example, if the user already has Firefox running an attempt to start a second copy will fail
--- End quote ---

On my Linux Mint pc the help info just opens a new tab in Firefox, so no problem on this side that I'm aware of.

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