Few people pay much attention to help files. Like the proverbial (and now nearly extinct) Printed Software Manual, most users only crack open the Help menu when in extremis. The preferred method is to blunder though dialogs and settings on a hunt for magic buttons. It takes a serious stumbling block to convince today’s user to sit down for a document that often reads like it was written by Orac.
I’m something of a connoisseur of help systems (readers of this blog may recall an earlier post on the topic), so I thought I’d take a moment to highlight some changes in the way Help content is presented in Acrobat 8.
First, Adobe has seemingly abandoned the practice of deploying Acrobat help in PDF form. Acrobat 8 does NOT install ACROHELP.PDF, the traditional conveyance for Acrobat’s Help, at all.
This is, frankly, a welcome development. ACROHELP had become a bit ridiculous, itself a bloated demonstration of why a PDF is NOT always the right format for all content and all contexts, even when the content in question is the official Acrobat documentation itself.
In Acrobat 7, Adobe had resorted to dressing up the ACROHELP file with a specialized (and fairly unappetizing) PDF viewer. With Acrobat 8, Adobe went with functionality over sentiment, delivering an Acrobat help system rather than a “make do” PDF file.
In the new “Complete Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional Help” powered by the Adobe Help Viewer version 1.0, help contents are presented in a crisp, clear navigation system. Breadcrumbs at the top of the page tell you where you are. Pages often include related subjects as expansions of the page, far superior to endless, droning content. This all encourages exploration, and thus, learning.
I find the copy improved overall compared with Acrobat 7’s help – perhaps by association with the slicked-up interface.
The Help system has facilitated several entry-points since Acrobat 6. In Acrobat 8, the “How to” method has been cleaned up, and now appears in the Navigation Panel to the left of the page, as it should. The stand-out new feature of Help, however, has to be the all-new “Getting Started” interface, which does a good job of introducing a variety of higher-end functions to office-workers.
Still a PDF around here somewhere
A PDF version of the Help file remains, but it’s located on the installation disc, and is not installed by default. This file is now properly paginated, to better serve those users who prefer their documentation printed. Thus, it is now possible to say, with feeling; “Oh, go look it up on page 323 in the Acrobat Help file, sonny-boy”.
With the new Getting Started interface, the new Help offers something new to bridge the gap between user understanding and application terminology. Acrobat needs a lot more help along these lines, but the direction is encouraging. There’s more to do – especially when it comes to recognizing and facilitating user intent – but the changes to Help in Acrobat 8 are praiseworthy.
by Duff Johnson