New local help viewer available in Visual Studio 2010 SP1

The new local help viewer I’ve been blogging about is now available with Visual Studio 2010 Service Pack 1. MSDN subscribers may download SP1 immediately with general availability on Thursday. Microsoft Help Viewer 1.1 is a dedicated client application that lets you:

  • Navigate the table of contents in a fully expandable tree control
  • Look up topics via keyword index and sync to the table of contents
  • Save favorites
  • View history
  • Use shortcut keys for quick access to features (cheatsheet here)
  • Launch the Help Library Manager from within the viewer


The local viewer requires that your help preference is set to local mode.  Visual Studio continues to provide help in your default browser if your help preference is set to online.

Here are the steps you’ll need to take to set up the SP1 local viewer.

Step 1: Install Visual Studio 2010 SP1

Download Visual Studio 2010 SP1 and follow the installation instructions.

SP1 will upgrade previous versions of the Microsoft Help Viewer to version 1.1 and it will uninstall the Help Viewer Power Tool (if present).  It will not, however, replace any third-party help applications you may have installed.

Step 2: Configure the local Help Viewer

  1. Launch Visual Studio 2010 and select “Manage Help Settings” from the Help menu.
  2. In Help Library Manager, select “Choose online or local help” and set your preferred help experience to “I want to use local help.”
  3. If you have not already downloaded help content, select “Install content from online” in Help Library Manager and choose the content you want locally available.

If you’re currently using a third-party viewer and you wish to switch to the SP1 local viewer, you have several options.  In the specific case of H3Viewer, you can change the default viewer in the Options menu.  Another option is to uninstall the third-party viewer using the Control Panel.  You can do this before or after installing SP1.  Once the third-party viewer is successfully uninstalled, the SP1 viewer automatically becomes the help experience for Visual Studio 2010.

A more advanced option is to remove the registry setting that configures the third-party viewer as the default help viewer.  To do this, you’ll:

  1. Launch Regedit with administrative privileges and browse to: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Help\v1.0
  2. If the HelpViewerProgID entry exists, right-click it and delete it

Please remember to backup your registry (or create a System Restore point) before performing this operation.

Providing feedback on this viewer

A key goal of this release is to restore productivity for developers who were skilled at using the Document Explorer while providing a user interface that is more approachable for new customers of Visual Studio.  How did we do?

There are a number of ways you can provide feedback on the local viewer:

Finally, to learn about other changes in SP1, check out Jason Zander’s SP1 announcement post.

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  1. Richard
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Is there some reason I can’t pin the “Visual Studio 2010 Documentation” link to the start menu in Windows 7?

    “Launch Regedit with administrative privileges …”
    Is there any other way to do it? If you run regedit, it always runs elevated.

    • Jeff Braaten
      Posted March 10, 2011 at 12:03 am | Permalink

      It turns out that “documentation” is a non-pin word so Windows 7 does not support pinning “Visual Studio 2010 Documentation” to the start menu. Here is the full list of non-pin words.

      In Windows Vista and Windows 7, regedit.exe always runs elevated and that gives the required administrative privileges. In down-level systems, administrative privileges should be explicitly specified to be able to successfully run regedit.exe and make the required changes.

  2. Richard
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Also, it looks like someone missed the TextOptions.TextFormattingMode=”Display” setting on some of the windows. For example, see the viewer options window – the text is quite blurry.

    • Jeff Braaten
      Posted March 14, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

      You are correct. This bug will be addressed in the next servicing release or the next product release, whichever comes first.

  3. Aaron Sherber
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Is it true that the new help viewer does not have a shortcut key to jump to the search box on top of the Index pane? (Not the search box in the upper right corner.) That seems like an unfortunate oversight.

    • Jeff Braaten
      Posted March 14, 2011 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

      The short answer is that either (ALT + I) or (ALT + I, Tab) will let you jump to the Index text box on top of the Index pane.

      Our intent was that ALT + I activates the Index pane and sets the focus to the Index text box. Unfortunately, there are three cases (bugs) in which ALT + I activates the Index pane but does not set focus to the Index text box:
      1 – If the Index navigation pane is active but your focus is outside of the navigation panes (e.g. the topic pane, the Search text box in the toolbar, etc.)
      2 – If the focus is currently on one of the navigation tab titles (Contents, Index, Favorites, or Results)
      3 – If your focus is already inside the Navigation pane (i.e. Index text box or index list item)

      In these cases you must Tab into the Index text box after pressing Alt + I.

      • Aaron Sherber
        Posted March 15, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for pointing out the need to hit Tab. It seems I kept hitting #3 in your bug list.

  4. Tom Drake
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    It seems that Help Viewer 1.1 always shows a table with the same thin border, no matter if I alter the border value either directly in the HTML (e.g., ) or by using CSS. I have a number of tables that display as borderless in a CHM but always show a border in Help Viewer 1.1.

  5. gigi
    Posted March 12, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    I knew that you were going to introduce the local help viewer, but I was thinking that you would also keep the browser-back one.

    Please keep them both, I much prefer the browser one. It’s much more ergonomic (browsers are more polished). For example, I can middle-click on a link to open it in a new tab. In the local view I need to access the local menu. Or hitting Esc doesn’t hide the Find box. No find match highlighting, no Ctrl+/Ctrl- page resizing, I could go all day listing usability issues compared with the browser.

    Wheel scrolling is broken – right click on the page to display context menu, the click on the page to dismiss it. After this, wheel scrolling doesn’t work anymore.

    Also, the Content/Index is displayed without pixel snapping (just like the Manage Help Settings app). Please add support for font pixel snapping. The text looks horrible, and BTW, the pane with the content is displayed with pixel hinting, so you use two different text rendering methods in the same app. Not cool, it’s tiring for the eyes to constantly switch from one rendering style to the other. I understand that you may feel this rendering mode to be superior, but Visual Studio decided to go with old-style text rendering. So please respect that.

    • Jeff Braaten
      Posted March 14, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

      We did keep the browser-based help experience, Gigi.

      If you set your help preference to “I want to use online help,” Help is displayed in your default browser, just as it was in Visual Studio 2010 RTM. Online help gives you access to your browser features, bookmarks, plug-ins, etc. with the additional benefit of having F1 integration with the Visual Studio IDE.

      If you set your help preference to “I want to use local help,” Help is displayed in the new local viewer. Local help provides a fast, productive experience that leverages the strengths of the hardware device it runs on. It is not a goal for the local help viewer to have feature parity with browsers.

      • gigi
        Posted March 15, 2011 at 12:20 am | Permalink

        It’s not the same thing. It will use online MSDN help, not the local installed version. I don’t always have Internet access when I work, this is why I would like to have back the older local help web-server.

  6. Posted March 22, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    How do I use the keyboard to navigate to the next topic? Alt-Right Arrow doesn’t seem to do that.

    I can’t believe MS would release a product that didn’t allow full use without a mouse!


    • Jeff Braaten
      Posted March 23, 2011 at 12:26 am | Permalink

      To view topics adjacent to the current topic in the Table of Contents, press Ctrl + T (Sync with ToC) to place focus on the topic title in the Contents pane. You can then use the up, down, left and right arrow keys to explore the Table of Contents.

      Alt + Left Arrow and Alt + Right Arrow move you back and forth in your browsing history just as they do in Internet Explorer.

  7. Herb Thompson
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    The “Install content from online” step does not work. “HelpLibManager” records the following in the event log.

    “An error occurred while fetching a list of availanle online content
    Microsoft.Help.CacheLib.CacheLibServiceApiException: A web server has reported an error (ProtocolError/ProxyAuthenticationRequired) for”

  8. Jeff L.
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    How do I switch back to web help? I’m using Visual Web Developer 2010 Express and switched to local help. I don’t like it. I want the web help back. But the only thing in my “Manage Help Options” screen is an input to set the content location. Nothing else. How do I get back???

    • Jeff Braaten
      Posted April 1, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      Start Visual Studio and select “Manage Help Settings” from the Help menu. In Help Library Manager, select “Choose online or local help” and set your preferred help experience to “I want to use online help.”

      • Jeff L.
        Posted April 1, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for your help. Because I hadn’t accepted the location the first time I tried it, I did not have the option to “Choose online or local help”. But, after I chose a directory and came back to this screen, the option was available and I was able to get back to the online help. Thanks again.

  9. BV
    Posted April 15, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    The latest help viewer is certainly an improvement over the previous version, but there are still a few major issues:
    1. missing topics in the TOC
    i mostly do win32/c++ dev, so I installed all the latest content for “Visual Studio Fundamentals”, “Visual C++”, “Win32 and COM Development” locally.
    I use basic functions like createwindow and windows common controls (e.g listview) quite a lot. On, these topics are listed under Windows Development -> Windows Application UI Development, but in the latest helpviewer 1.1, i just cannot find it in the toc. Sure, i can search for ceatewindow, and get the particular page for this function, but when trying to sync it with the toc, nothing happens.

    2. sometimes content is ill-formatted. (this happens randomly)
    I havent worked out the conditions under which this happens, but it has occurred several times. My dev environment is as follows:
    Windows Server 2003 R2 with latest SPs
    Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate with SP1
    Windows SDK 7.1
    Basically the help page for any topic loses almost all formatting and is displayed like raw text.
    In this state, the cross topic links also become broken.
    After closing the helpviewer and help lib agent and restart it a few times, the issue generally goes away. In one situation, i found two instances of help lib agent running in the systray, which suggests a defect in the way help lib agent is started.

    • Tom Quinn
      Posted May 6, 2011 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

      +1. What happened to everything under the Windows Application UI Development topic in the TOC? That is one of the most important part of the Windows operating system. How could it possibly not be included in the TOC?

      • Paul O'Rear MSFT
        Posted May 25, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

        Hello Tom – we have had a few people report issues in this part of the TOC. I have worked with the content team that owns this area to address the issue, and they have indicated that this should be addressed in an update to the “Win32 and COM” book within around the next week or so.

        In order to install that update, you’d need to use the Help|Manage Help Settings menu item in the VS IDE and choose “Check for updates online”. If you have never used this before, there may be earlier updates that are already available for this content. You should go ahead and install those, and then try this again in a week or two to get the most current updates.

        I hope that helps –

        Paul O’Rear
        Library Experience

        • Tom Quinn
          Posted July 2, 2011 at 7:18 am | Permalink


          Thank you for the reply. I have just updated my Help Library using the “Check for updates online” item in Help Library Manager. It downloaded over a gig of new materials. I have also restarted Help Library Agent and Help Library Viewer after that has completed. Unfortunately, it appears that topics under “Windows Application UI Development” still cannot be found anywhere in the TOC. For example, clicking the “Sync ToC” button in the offline Help Library Viewer while reading the documentation for the CreateWindow function would only open up the root node in the TOC instead of something more specific. Could you please follow up on this?


          • Jeff Braaten
            Posted August 31, 2011 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

            An update to “Win32 and COM Development” that includes Windows Application UI Development topics is now available.

  10. Richard Collette
    Posted April 22, 2011 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Can we please have a setting that allows the viewer to launch web help automatically when the topic isn’t installed. I prefer to use online help for .NET framework but we also have local help installed for our own class libraries. It’s a pain in the neck to have to constantly click on the Online link.

    • Paul O'Rear MSFT
      Posted April 26, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      Hello Richard – it’s not very well known, but the Visual Studio 2010 help system actually has an F1 fallback mechanism that specifically supports your scenario. If you have integrated non-Microsoft Help content into your local help system, but have your help settings set to Online, we will actually do a check to see if there is a hit in local 3rd party content first rather than go online.

      We implemented that specifically because of challenges with supporting integration of 3rd party content when users have their preference set to Online.

      Please try that out and let us know how you make out.

      Paul O’Rear
      Library Experience

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