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Getting Help

Mac OS X offers application developers a special help system, called Apple Help, that the application developer can use to offer onscreen guidance to users. Apple uses the system in nearly all of their applications, as do many third-party developers. Apple Help is a fairly straightforward approach to online documentation, based on the same tools and metaphors as a web browser, with which many people are familiar.

Nearly all Mac applications have a Help menu, where you’ll find the Help command. In the Help menu for the Safari application you’ll find the command Safari Help—select that and you’ll see a window that looks like Figure 3.5.

Figure 3.5

Figure 3.5 Here’s a sample Help interface.

As I mentioned, the Help Browser isn’t unlike a web browser. In the main part of the window, you’ll see hyperlinks—blue text—that you can click to move to a new help page. For instance, in Safari Help there’s a link to the Index page, which can then be used to find different help articles directly. Or, for a more circuitous route, I might start with the link to "Internet browsing at its best," which leads to a discussion of some of Safari’s unique features along with links to more articles that discuss those features in depth.

Another way that the Apple Help browser is similar to a web browser is that it has Forward and Back buttons at the top of the interface that can be used to move back and forth between articles. If you’re reading something and think "this isn’t what I need; I’d prefer to return to the previous page" then click the Back button and that’s what will happen. If you then subsequently decide "actually, I do need to read that article that I just came back from" then you can click the Forward button to return to it.

The Help Browser also has a Home button (again, like a web browser) that you can use to return to the main page for the current help system—if I’ve dug deep into the Safari help articles and want to find my way back to its main page, I can just click the Home button.

It turns out that the Home button is actually a menu, too. Click and hold the Home button for a moment and you’ll see a menu appear that includes a number of different help systems that have been installed on your Mac—these are help systems for other applications. Select one of those help systems and you’ll be taken to its home page, where you can learn more about that new application. (You can also use the Library menu to switch between the different applications’ help systems.)

The last interface that makes the Help Browser like a web browser (particularly the latest round of web browsers) is that it includes a search box right at the top of the window. There you can enter keywords or a full question about something that you need help on and, when you press Return, the results appear in the Help Browser window (see Figure 3.6).

Figure 3.6

Figure 3.6 You can search the help system by keyword to learn more about a particular topic.

As you can see in Figure 3.6, the list of results includes a relevance ranking, which may help you get a sense of whether or not the resulting article will answer your question or appears to be on topic. When you find one that looks promising, you can either double-click it or highlight it and select the Show button. You can then read the article. If it doesn’t answer your question, click the Back button at the top of the window and try a different article.

The Help Browser offers you the option of searching the current help system by default (the Safari Help system, for instance) or you can search all help systems at once. To do that, click the smaller magnifying glass in the search entry box and choose to Search All Help.

It’s worth nothing that the Help System will also search online articles at Apple’s support website, but you can turn this off if you find that the attempts to access the Internet are slowing your Mac down. Choose Help Viewer, Include Product Support Searches to remove the check mark, thus deselecting it and keeping Help from accessing the Internet.

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