Now that my Whidbey May CTP help system is working, I thought I’d post some comments on the new help system.
· The help system has been made fully gradient fill-compliant. J But seriously, it looks pretty nice, visually. I do, however, feel like the title ribbon on the top of each topic takes up just a bit too much screen real estate.
· The Members topics for classes in the class library reference include shortcut links for the different member types – properties, methods, events, etc. This is a fantastic improvement that makes navigating through classes much more efficient. In fact, given the amount of available space, they could probably break the links down even more (public methods, protected methods, etc).
· Help topics have collapsible sections. Very cool.
· Switching between filters seems to be much faster than with previous versions. The long delay when switching filters is the main reason that I rarely use it with the current help system. On the other hand, the speed improvement might also be due to the fact that only a subset of the full MSDN library is present.
All of that is pretty good stuff. Now for the bad news. I have definite concerns about the new search system. If you haven’t seen it, it looks much like a web search engine. While the current version puts search on a tab in left-hand navigation pane, the Whidbey help displays as its own page in the content area. Search results are displayed on that same content page, using the same previous page/next page search results navigation scheme used by web search engines (with the default being a rather low setting of 20 hits per page, although fortunately it’s configurable). This is dramatically different from previous versions, where search results were displayed in a list view in the same pane as the index results.
Why does this trouble me? For two reasons. One is that I can no longer groups search results by location. This is a feature that I use CONSTANTLY when searching help to narrow down the search hits. Microsoft has violated the first law of software upgrades here – never take away existing functionality, because somewhere out there someone depends on it.
My second issue with the new search page has to do with how I transition to searching. Quite frequently (perhaps even usually), when I’m trying to find something I first check the index. Then, if I don’t find an obvious match, I progress to search. Currently that’s an easy transition to make, because searching looks and works just like the index. In Whidbey they work very differently, which makes the mental transition less smooth.
On the other hand, perhaps I’m just a grump that’s used to doing things one way, and doesn’t want to learn another. J