Visual Studio 2010 comes with a brand new help system, based on a local help server rather than a database plus viewer as in the past. There is also an option to use Internet-based help for the most up to date content.
Sounds good, but developers are not happy. The problem: the new help appears to have no index of contents. You are meant to navigate by search, then perhaps navigate forward and back using the table of contents tree that appears on the left.
In the old one, you could use the index to find keywords quickly:
It turns out that many users prefer the old approach:
This is terrible. Productivity will go to zero without an index. Online help is junk, even on a fast connection — it can never be as fast as my local PC and when I am programming, I need instant answers.
says one commenter.
We realize the importance of delivering a keyword index, but we were unable to deliver it in our first release. In this V1.0 release of help system, we first implemented an improved search capability in order to deliver a more familiar, consistent online and offline experience. We then implemented a keyword index feature based on our search catalog. Unfortunately, the results did not meet our quality bar and we determined that this feature would require more work than the Beta 2 timeline allowed. We are looking at implementing it for at future release.
The odd thing is, there is a third-party viewer called H3Viewer which was apparently put together in a short time using Delphi and the new APIs. It turns out that Visual Studio’s Help is actually an early example of a new Windows Help System called Help 3, and is designed with a comprehensive API for developers. If you set the default help viewer in Visual Studio 2010 to H3Viewer, it works more like the old one, complete with index:
I can’t actually recommend H3Viewer in the current beta. It takes ages to read 440,000 index entries every time you start it up and view the index pane – a message notes that “a late fix in the RC release has slowed down the reading of index items dramatically”. In addition, it does not cope well if you set your help preference to online. Still, H3Viewer will likely improve.
Speaking personally, I don’t mind the idea of search-based help, provided that the search works really well. In practice, it is often easier to Google for what you want to know, bypassing the official help completely, though that may mean getting to the same place by another route. Nevertheless, a reliable online reference is important and it seems that a lot of developers do in fact use the local index.