Sarah Maddox reported from the WritersUA conference that Microsoft’s April Reagan gave a frank presentation on the planning and design that has gone into version 3 of Microsoft Help.
She was quoted as saying the feedback on the Help 2 (used in Windows Vista) was poor. For example, “This is the worst help system I have ever seen”.
At a previous WritersUA conference, Joe Welinske reported Microsoft implemented a couple of changes when it developed the online Help for Vista. The biggest changes were (a) they developed a new Help viewer and (b) they used technical journalists instead technical authors to write the Help topics. They chose journalists because they wanted Help topics to be closer to knowledge-base articles. I’m not aware of any other major changes.
I wonder if the change in writing style was the main cause of such negative feedback towards Vista’s Help. Users often just want to do things, and they can be best helped by short, clear chunks of text focused on getting the job done.
It will interesting to see if Microsoft changes its approach to writing, as well as the Help viewer itself, in future releases of Windows.