Microsoft Help

by on March 11, 2012 at 11:11 am in Web/Tech | Permalink

From my computer:

Why can’t I get Help from this program?

The Help for this program was created in Windows Help format, which depends on a feature that isn’t included in this version of Windows. However, you can download a program that will allow you to view Help created in the Windows Help format.

For more information, go to the Microsoft Help and Support website.

Is it any wonder that some people hate Microsoft?

Doc Merlin March 11, 2012 at 11:13 am

Don’t use windows. Get a mac, millions of yuppies and hipsters can’t be wrong.

DK March 11, 2012 at 11:53 am

Actually, when it comes to backward compatibility, Windows is doing infinitely better than Apple.

Stormy Dragon March 11, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Yes, this message means his application is still using a WinHelp format Help file, which was phased out in favor of Compiled HTML Help in 1997. Try to get an application written for Mac OS System 7 running on a modern Mac at all, much less use the online help.

The real question here is why users expect Microsoft to support 20 year old software, especially since they’re not paying Microsoft to do so.

Ken Rhodes March 11, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Hey, c’mon Stormy, be reasonable. 1997 was only fifteen years ago!

DK March 11, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Because in 99% of the cases, the stupid fiddling with formats serves no useful purpose. So if the software house decides to make things incompatible, it’d better provide a workaround solution if it wants to retain all the customers who never wanted new stupid formats to begin with. One of my favorite programs (in its scientific field, a leading package) has the same input format as it had in 1968! Despite being actively developed to this day. It also runs on every operating system with market share of >3%.

Dan Weber March 11, 2012 at 9:26 pm

When you sign up for Apple, you sign up for a painful upgrade path going forward.

When you sign up for Microsoft, you sign up for a bunch of bloat right now because they have backwards compatibility.

Every few years I run into some people who bought into Apple’s way of thinking recently, and are stunned that it’s a bitch to upgrade. There is absolutely nothing new here. Even going from 3.2 to 3.3 back in 1980, the path was clear. While they may provide some upgrade tools, absolutely nothing in the new implementation was designed to make it easier to work with old stuff.

Dean March 11, 2012 at 11:26 pm

It was a bitch to upgrade to OSX, ever since then it’s been perfectly smooth. That was 12 years ago.

I guess there was a bit of a hiccup around the Intel switchover, but not a whole lot.

Daniel S March 12, 2012 at 12:26 pm

I’m reminded of this quote about Microsoft’s commitment to backward compatibility.

“Jon Ross, who wrote the original version of SimCity for Windows 3.x, told me that he accidentally left a bug in SimCity where he read memory that he had just freed. Yep. It worked fine on Windows 3.x, because the memory never went anywhere. Here’s the amazing part: On beta versions of Windows 95, SimCity wasn’t working in testing. Microsoft tracked down the bug and added specific code to Windows 95 that looks for SimCity. If it finds SimCity running, it runs the memory allocator in a special mode that doesn’t free memory right away. That’s the kind of obsession with backward compatibility that made people willing to upgrade to Windows 95.”

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000054.html

axa March 12, 2012 at 2:13 pm

switch to linux! millions of nerds can’t be wrong =)

katie March 11, 2012 at 11:20 am

This is something I can tell you about, since I used to work as a technical writer (and specialized in writing and implementing online help systems).

Yeah, it’s really annoying.

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/917607

Krigl March 12, 2012 at 3:45 am

System Tip This article applies to a different operating system than the one you are using. Article content that may not be relevant to you is disabled.

Heh, Bill knows what’s good for me…

Engineer March 11, 2012 at 11:25 am

It’s an unavoidable result of trying to maintain backwards compatibility with aging platforms.

Apple can avoid it only if they can force people to toss their Iphones and Ipads every few years.

FYI March 11, 2012 at 11:32 am

Exactly. Actually, one might argue that MS would have a much better consumer perception had they chosen to simply stop supporting previous versions of Windows with newer ones. That would also make them much less wealthy but people don’t seem very concerned with that.

quanticle March 11, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Consumer perception? Maybe. Business perception? No way.

We have to remember that the consumer market is *not* the market that Microsoft is targeting. They’re targeting the business market, where legacy applications can live for 10 to 15 years before they’re finally retired and upgraded. That’s the reason that Mac’s aren’t favored by corporate IT departments – not only do they have inferior remote configuration tools, but their OS also includes non-backwards compatible changes on a regular basis, which just adds that much more to the support load.

Adrian Ratnapala March 11, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Yep, it actually looks like they stayed with old-school helpfiles for too long. So in other words Microsoft *should* have created this problem for people ages ago, when it would have caused havoc. I really do believe that.

What I *can* criticize is the maddening inanity of their error messages. If you can get help, it doesn’t help very much because it seems to assume that everything is going smoothly. But if that were the case, you wouldn’t be reading the help.

Andrew' March 11, 2012 at 11:27 am

As I’ve griped before, I’ll have forgotten to plug in my laptop and all of a sudden my computer will shut down. In other contexts they can toss up a popup window with but one option: “Do you really want to copy that file like you said you wanted to? OK?” but they can’t put a batter warning in there?

Doc Merlin March 11, 2012 at 11:39 am

Apple has a warning!

Tom March 11, 2012 at 12:31 pm

So does windows. I’ve repeatedly been warned to plug in as I only have 15 min left, and then 5.

Daniel Francis March 11, 2012 at 11:34 am

Error, no keyboard detected. Press any key to continue.

Adrian Ratnapala March 11, 2012 at 12:11 pm

This is not a microsoft one, it’s probably your Bios. It usually happens to me when I forget to plug a keyboard in, so it actually makes a lot of sense.

Daniel Francis March 11, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Not my BIOS, and the statement is kind of nonsensical. And probably something you won’t see on a Mac :P

Some Guy March 11, 2012 at 10:25 pm

That’s because mac’s are missing an important step: bios. It makes it a royal pain to run more than two OSes on one computer. They have a replacement, but it’s not nearly as flexible.

Willitts March 11, 2012 at 12:58 pm

I don’t see an “any” key on my keyboard. Help?

Why come the Esc key doesn’t help you escape from anything anymore?

What does the Ctrl key control?

David Wright March 11, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Some commenters, and perhaps Alex too, seem to be under the impression that the quoted error message is impossible and circular in the same way that this famous one is. In fact, the error message tells you precisely what to do. Using bing or google, search for “Microsoft Help and Support”. (In IE, you can highlight the text and use the accelerator.) The top result (http://support.microsoft.com/) is the relevant portal. In the search bar on the portal, enter “windows help format”. Again, the top result (http://support.microsoft.com/kb/917607) is precisely what you want. The page describes the issue in detail and has direct download links to the program (WinHlp32.exe) that allows you to view the ancient help file. So what’s the problem?

Hell, Microsoft probably went to some trouble to get you such a helpful error message. What’s going on under the covers here is likely that your program tried to launch it’s help file, which has an extension unknown to the operating system. The default operating system message, on any OS I know, is going to be something like “unknown extension”, maybe with a dialog of some sort asking you to pick a program. But someone at Microsoft, when they finally decided to stop default-installing a reader for a help format that hasn’t been around for 15 years, to think “hey, let’s be nice and give specific instructions on how to get the reader to anyone who needs it!” A lot of good in did them with Alex.

Hasdrubal March 12, 2012 at 2:28 pm

You think this error message is daft until you’ve been digging in the guts of a machine and forget to plug the keyboard in. The BIOS that simply goes on its merry way and leaves you pounding on the keyboard for 5 minutes before you realize the keyboard is unplugged, or the BIOS that simply stops when it sees there’s no keyboard are the ones that are annoying. Simply plug the keyboard in, press a key, and you’re good to go.

Perhaps the programmer who assumed you understand the implied “… so plug it in, you moron” and didn’t explicitly include it in the message can be faulted for false optimism.

mw March 11, 2012 at 11:37 am

‘Is it any wonder that some people hate Microsoft?’

Not at all–those people simply prefer being told what they can and cannot do, having their hands bound and held, and falling in line with the herd, in exchange for simplicity and protection from problems (as long as they can look real trendy in the process). I imagine it’s much the same feeling that leads people to happily surrender to the manacles of socialism.

LemmusLemmus March 11, 2012 at 11:51 am

Using Microsoft products makes you look “trendy”?

Brian C March 11, 2012 at 2:53 pm

No LemmusLemmus, the entire sentence is obviously referring to Apple.

LemmusLemmus March 11, 2012 at 3:21 pm

I guess you’re right.

Willitts March 11, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Sounds a lot more like Apple fanboyz.

Brian C March 11, 2012 at 2:54 pm

That’s because that’s exactly what he or she was describing.

quanticle March 11, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Really? As a Windows user, I have far more control over my computer than, say, an Apple user. Of course, I could exert even more control by booting into Linux, but Windows is far from the worst OS out there from a user-control perspective.

Brian C March 11, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Ugh, why is everyone misreading that? mw is obviously describing Apple above, NOT Microsoft. Come on, “simplicity and protection from problems” and “trendy” etc. Without commenting on whether I think he’s right or not, he’s saying some people who prefer the Apple approach of tight control and simplicity (and trendiness!) would obviously hate the Microsoft approach.

Stormy Dragon March 11, 2012 at 3:06 pm

I knew what you meant, but as usual, sarcasm often fails to come across properly in written communication.

Sauce March 13, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Forget about terms like trendy. I find that one of the perks of Apple products of “being tied up and being told what to do” is precisely that. Sure I might be part of the herd but I’m not tech savy and don’t have time to find out what options I have available, choose which one if the best and then hope I made the right decision. Apple for better or for worse offers a standard.

The way I see it the apple/Windows dilema is similar to reading a blog in economics. You have Tyler or Alex filter information for you. You can agree or disagree with what they write or links they recommend but they offer a path and many times that path saves you a lot of time and energy to get to information that is relevant for your needs.

Are there better ways of doing things? Sure, but are you willing to put in the time and effort?

Slocum March 11, 2012 at 11:40 am

Basically, it’s an older program using an old help format. Still pretty dumb that they didn’t include the viewer for the old format by default instead of making people go download it. I have to assume Microsoft did that to force developers to finally switch to the new format (by pulling support for the old one). Annoying, but on the other hand, the level of backward compatibility for Windows is much stronger than Apple’s — I have a few Windows programs from the 90′s and early 00′s that I still use because I like them better than current alternatives (or because they still do the job and there’s no point in upgrading, or because they support old hardware, or whatever). With the Mac, Apple only switched from Power PC to Intel in 2006, and last year they announced they were dropping support for PowerPC Mac programs:

http://www.macrumors.com/2011/02/27/mac-os-x-lion-drops-powerpc-emulation-adds-quicktime-pro-features-much-more/

So any Mac app from before 2006 will not run on the newest Mac OS. If I were a Mac user, I’d be MUCH angrier about that than having to download a viewer for the old help format.

Dan Weber March 11, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Old help file formats have security problems. Actively fixing problems in the old formats costs them resources, resources they shouldn’t be spending because no one should still be using a format from before the days of Windows 98.

Ian David Moss March 11, 2012 at 11:52 am

Actually, I was just reflecting that Microsoft is probably the big software company that I trust the most in 2012, in large part because they’re the only one that isn’t trying (or, as the example in the post suggests, is too incompetent) to learn and sell everything about me.

Dan Weber March 11, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Yeah, Microsoft remains on my List Of Evil, but mostly just for legacy purposes. I worry much more about Apple, Facebook, and Google these days.

Neal March 11, 2012 at 11:55 am

I’m not having any issues with Linux Just sayin’.

Engineer March 11, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Noone has any issues with Linux, because if something goes wrong you just reboot with a different set of kernel options. If all else fails, you can debug the kernel or application code yourself.

Can’t fathom why people prefer MS or Apple platforms.

derek March 11, 2012 at 12:33 pm

I haven’t had to do those things for years. In fact my tablet and phone work very very well.

The problem I run into are applications that I need to run that are only available on Windows. Apple users have the same issue.

Tom March 11, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Because kernel options and debugging anything are beyond 99% (I found another group of 1%ers) of users. While I use and like Linux, most users would pitch it in a week.

Linux is nice for the knowledgeable, MS is nice mix of ease and flexiblility, and Macs are for the clueless. All have their place (and price points that reflect it).

Stormy Dragon March 11, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Even for those of us it’s not beyond, it’s still a pain in the ass. I really don’t want to finish off a long day of fighting with all the computers at work so I can come home and spend my evening fighting with my computer.

Dale March 11, 2012 at 11:23 pm

I’ve been using Linux since 1994. Back then, yes there was a lot of hand-tweaking to make things work. Those days are history. Yes, there’s a bunch of stuff you want to set up when you’ve first installed a Linux system. These days, Linux just works.

Paul Gowder March 11, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Why exactly is it “clueless” to want something that works right the first time?

I use two OS’s: Linux and Mac OS. Because I can hack around if I have to, but who wants to bother?

(And let’s not forget that Mac OS is built on top of BSD, so if you really, really, really want to hack around with that, you can…)

Paul Gowder March 11, 2012 at 3:06 pm

(ugh, and one of those rogue apostrophes just showed up in my comment. shoot me, reading too much internet.)

Josh S March 11, 2012 at 7:19 pm

No one laughs at clueless noobs who expect their cars to start without having to self-repair them every weekend.

Michael Cain March 12, 2012 at 12:10 am

“…and Macs are for the clueless.”

Odd. I bought my Mac because (a) in the particular form factor, the Mini was cheaper than any comparable hardware from other vendors and (b) with very little effort, it’s UNIX. All my old Perl code runs. All my old C code compiles and runs with minimal effort. The left side of my desktop is a pile of Mac application windowss. The right side is recognizably a pile of xterms and UNIX to anyone who ever worked on a Sun workstation or later. Well, and sometimes the second desktop is a fullscreen virtual machine running Windows, because there are some applications (mostly for microcontroller development in my case) that are only available for Windows.

Clueless when you want it. And not when you don’t.

Danny March 11, 2012 at 3:00 pm

I switched to Linux in 2006 because of a slew of problems with spyware and malware that slowed my Windows computer to a crawl. I was not a techie at the time and knew nothing of programming or code. I have never had a problem with Linux that hadn’t already been solved and documented and was easily searchable using Google.

My only complaint with Linux is that Microsoft Office is not available. I know there are alternatives, but none as well crafted as Microsoft Office. It is indispensable, especially in my line of work. I would ditch Windows altogether if I didn’t need Office…unfortunately, Microsoft knows this.

Stormy Dragon March 11, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Personally, I find Open Office is in a number of ways superior to Word. If I can point out two in particular, Word has never really gotten an outlining mode that works well for anything beyond a simple numbered list. Open Office is also far better if use complicated style templates, which again tend to be rather clumsy in Word.

Danny March 11, 2012 at 3:20 pm

I disagree with the assessment, but at least with OO Writer you have a solid replacement candidate for Word. OO Calc, on the other hand, is complete garbage. Sure, it might suffice for some of the more simple uses of spreadsheets, but anything beyond that is a lost cause.

Michael Cain March 12, 2012 at 12:15 am

Word, yes. In an unfortunate number of disciplines, though, the Windows version of Excel is the assumed numeric computing platform. Including VBA and Solver, which nothing else has.

Many years ago, in graduate school, I spent much of one school year working on code that would eventually became Solver (long after I had left). The fundamental algorithms still have the same annoying problems they did then.

Dan Weber March 11, 2012 at 9:20 pm

Have you tried Crossover Office? It will cost you money.

mel March 11, 2012 at 12:05 pm

if you want to read the help, just download the program. that’s how computing works. i think the reason people “hate” microsoft is because they’re intimidated by its moderate expectation that they’ll understand and be responsible for their own computer. if it’s really a hassle for you, getting a mac would probably make you happier – they’re much more intuitive and user-friendly. but if you’re sticking with your pc, try to enjoy its more flexible and customizable nature. if it wants you to download something, just download it. you might have to read some technobabble error messages, or navigate the internet to find the file you need, but all those tasks are good for your brain. (of course watch out for sketchy downloads, but learning to recognize those is good for you too) computers are awesome!

Neal March 11, 2012 at 3:15 pm

“its moderate expectation that they’ll understand and be responsible for their own computer.”

If I wrote software expecting my users to understand and be responsible for their own computers, I wouldn’t even bother writing a GUI for it. The whole point of writing an OS with a GUI is so that the users don’t have to be responsible for knowing their computers’ guts.

Some Guy March 11, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Software is not a computer’s “guts”, Microsoft isn’t expecting them to write a program in binary to read the help file, they’re asking them to download a helper program. It’s really not that hard.

dead serious March 12, 2012 at 12:05 pm

If a user requires help to access your help, you’re doing it wrong.

Willitts March 11, 2012 at 1:05 pm

I haven’t had a computer software problem that couldnt be solved in ten minutes with a Google search. The number of solutions on the web, especially for common problems, is huge. I rarely use the Help feature in Office because it seldom provides useful help.

The entire world is your customer support line

athEIst March 11, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Hate Microsoft? Loathe and detest come closer. But why would Microsoft care? They’ve been declared a monopoly by more than one court. So they give a few million $s worth of obsolete junk to schools–problem solved.

MIchael Foody March 11, 2012 at 3:24 pm

I’m a pretty savy computer user, my job depends on being fairly expert in a windows environment. However in my personal life I use a mac. It’s much easier to keep running smoothly than a windows machine is. You don’t need to be clueless to prefer a less customizable more restricted operating system that requires less knowledge and less upkeep. If you use windows for any length of time getting some malware is common and completely restoring your computer to a pre-malware state often requires a few hours and extensive reconfiguring/backing up to get iron out the hiccups involved. Unless you have a specific program that you need to run (and there are a lot of candidates) that will not work on a mac the lack of stress involved is worth the premium and the fact that hardware is generally superior in form and function (pc trackpads feel cramped and less functional; keyboards seem fragile and inconsistent from key to key; displays seem to have a narrower veiwing angle, the whole computer seems flimsy). It might not be fair, but I appreciate a lot of the restrictions apple has put into place because it ultimately leads to superior outcomes as far as my experience as a user is concerned.

Some Guy March 11, 2012 at 10:39 pm

To be fair, that’s pretty biased.

“You don’t have to be clueless to enjoy a more restricted operating system”: No, you don’t, but a lot of people enjoy options. Personally, the concept of someone else having control over what my computer can do horrifies me.

The trackpad: Ok, I agree, but most people who talk about how mac’s are garbage aren’t bothering with track pads, mice are much more accurate, more ergonomic, and faster.

The Keyboard: It’s really not that great, it’s not bad, but the tactile feedback is sub par. Also, the same as above, a lot of the more serious pc users use external keyboards.

The screen: I’ve never had a viewing angle problem, and once again, advanced users often have non-built in screens, in which case it’s possible to get much higher quality screens then come with a mac, without paying any more (assuming you’re not also buying a screen with your computer)

no hassle: Sure, macs don’t break often, but when they do break, it’s a nightmare. My macbook has the screws falling out of the bottom, I went to an apple store and asked for screws, they told me I needed an appointment. I told them the store was an hour from my house and I wasn’t going to be near it again any time soon. They said they “didn’t have any screws”… That’s flat out wrong. Also, many advanced settings necessary for fixing advanced networking problems (when I don’t want to use dhcp) are extremely overcomplicated, some important options don’t even exist in the gui. So yeah, for the most part they work, but when they don’t work you’re screwed.

Malware: It’s simple, most malware doesn’t bother latching onto your files, when you have malware, copy and paste your documents and important programs onto an external drive, restore the computer to factory defaults (usually takes me about 15 minutes of work and an hour and a half of waiting), and copy and paste it back.

Son March 11, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Is it any wonder that some people hate Microsoft?

Ah, red meat for the Mac/Linux base. Hang-em high.

Still, without knowing the name of the program, version of the operating system, how you got the program, who installed it, whether it was installed correctly, whether other programs this software depends are current, and any number of other things, it seems, perhaps, a little premature to get this excited. Maybe it was uninstalled and reinstalled carelessly?

This seems a bit overwrought for Marginal Revolution but is standard fare at Naked Capitalism. It might also make a better tweet.

I’m just sayin’ yo.

Neal March 11, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Mind, on Linux you don’t have to worry about “correct” installation. Just download the binaries, make sure that the required libraries are where they need to be, and away you go!

DK March 11, 2012 at 10:34 pm

I suppose that explains why on a mail list that I subscribe to, 50% of the Linux software-related questions/problems are about installation issues.

joshua March 11, 2012 at 6:34 pm

Ah, OS flame wars are a nice break from the political flame wars.

Anyway, that help message is good, but it isn’t as good as my favorite Microsoft message:

“To check for updates, you must first install an update for Windows Update”

MyName March 11, 2012 at 7:32 pm

What I think people have been missing in this thread is the constant need for all Windows computers from XP on to check in to the mothership. If I had read this message my first response would have been: “Why didn’t you download that when you were busy wasting my bandwidth downloading the million other updates!”

DK March 11, 2012 at 10:28 pm

Bullshit. There is no constant need. If you don’t want security updates, don’t use Windows update and don’t install them. Security updates are not for OS per se, they are for you. In any case, the two Linux computers (one RedHat, one Ubuntu) both want to download and install easily 10X more updates than my XP does. Not sure about Mac because I refuse to use OS where a window can only be resized from one corner (as opposed to any corner and any side).

David Wright March 11, 2012 at 7:51 pm

I work with Linux, MacOS, Windows and a few more obscure operating systems. They each have their plusses and minues. But for the particular issue Alex brings up here, Linux and MacOS have absolutely nothing to crow about. As other commenters point out, given the era Alex’s program likely comes from there is no way a Mac version could even run on a modern MacOS, much less provide help. And as far as I can tell there never has been any end-user-oriented help system for Linux in any form. (Man pages are great but hardly count as end-user-oriented.)

Doc Merlin March 11, 2012 at 11:00 pm

Actually, I run ancient mac programs on my mac all the time, and they work fine. Yes, 15 year old mac programs still run on mac.

David Wright March 12, 2012 at 12:59 am

Not accoding to my experience nor to reams of documentation available on the web. See, for example “Classic is supported on PowerPC-based Macs running versions of Mac OS X up to v10.4 Tiger, but is not supported on v10.5 Leopard and later, nor on Intel-based Macs running any version of Mac OS X” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classic_environment). I would appreciate any documentation you could point to which indicates the contrary, because there are some OS8/PPC games I would dearly love to play on my modern OS10/Intel mac.

DK March 12, 2012 at 11:47 am

No, it doesn’t. Or, if you prefer to include emulators, I’d claim that any virtually any Mac and Linux program runs very well under Windows.

Drewfus March 11, 2012 at 11:37 pm

This is a demand side problem, not a supply side problem.

Most interesting problems in economics have demand side explanations, but we prefer to frame these as supply side, because that’s were the money and power is, and where finger pointing works best.

ivan March 12, 2012 at 3:00 am

Just Imagine how it is like to buy a computer in Japan (while you are in grad school) with windows home edition in Japanese. Then paying 20,000 yen to upgrade to ultimate as it is the only way you could change the language to english, or spanish (my native language). And then finding out that SONY has blocked this computer from software upgrades, and if you do upgrade against their “advice”, drivers for the peripherals, video and sound card, will not work. You could buy a driver software ($40) that would restore the drivers after you upgrade, but it is overwritten by the bios and your computing experience on your new $2000 laptop would be hell for the next 2 years of schooling.
It turns out, as SONY discriminate prices between Japanese and American markets, they want to keep Japanese products strictly Japanese language, and enforces all possibilities you could think of to buy a cheaper Japanese product and then use it in English.
Buying my ipod was a painless experience, changing languages and getting Japanese Language apps on it. It even replaced my electronic dictionary ($300) and it costed me $200. When I got my iphone, all my apps moved with me painlessly and then into my ipad.
SONY, Microsoft. Are you listening?

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