Announcing Microsoft Help Viewer 2.0 Developer Preview

UPDATE: This post describes features introduced in the Microsoft Help Viewer 2.0 Developer Preview. Additional features were delivered in Help Viewer 2.0 Beta and in Help Viewer 2.0 RTM.

The Microsoft Help Viewer 2.0 Developer Preview is now available as part of the Visual Studio 11 Developer Preview. Get the bits at:

Here’s a quick tour of some of the key changes we’ve made from release 1.1 to 2.0 of the Help Viewer.

Setup and Configuration

The first thing you’ll notice is that we’ve removed the “Install Documentation” button from the Visual Studio Setup Finish Page. Too many developers (and Microsoft executives) were missing the “big blue button” during Visual Studio setup. Instead, you’ll be offered the chance to download local help content at Visual Studio first run or when you first set your Help Preference to “Use Local Help.” (Online Help is still the Visual Studio default.)

In addition, you can now set your Help Preference directly from the Visual Studio Help menu.


Content Management

The capabilities of the Help Library Manager have been incorporated into the newly added Help Viewer “Manage” tab. The standalone Help Library Manager is gone. One of the key new features is the ability to relocate your local content store.


If a download is interrupted (for any reason) and restarted by the user at a later time, the Help Viewer won’t re-download any content that has already been transferred. This can save you a lot of time and is especially useful on poor Internet connections. An estimated download size is now displayed before you kick off a transfer to help you better manage bandwidth costs.

Content is downloaded in the background using the Background Intelligent Transfer Service (BITS). You can continue to use the Help Viewer, close the Help Viewer application or even reboot your system once a download has been initiated. When the transfer is complete, the help system automatically updates all help system artifacts (table of contents, search index, keyword index, etc.) without requiring a restart of the Help Viewer.

One other change you’ll see in the viewer is that we’ve added support for dockable windows (something I’ll discuss more in a future post).

Search Filters

The search box now provides search filters. Two filters are supported in the CTP – Title and Code. If you enter “title:foo” in the search box, your search results will be limited to topics that contain the string “foo” in the topic title. If you enter “code:bar”, you’ll get search results limited to topics with the string “bar” in a code example. You can use multiple filters per query and they can be used in combination, for example: “topic:datetime code:datetime code:tryparseexact”.


The Code filter also has a set of sub-filters that enable language-specific searches:

Long Name Short Name
csharp c#
cpp c++
fsharp f#
javascript <none>
visualbasic vb

If you want to look for topics that contain the string “foo” in a C# code example, you can search on “code:c#:foo” or “code:csharp:foo”. For example:


New Help Runtime

I’ve saved the best for last. If you look closely, you’ll see that we no longer install the Help Library Agent! The new help runtime has a COM API and the same lifecycle as the Help Viewer. It won’t clutter up your taskbar and it provides improved performance and memory footprint.

But there’s more. Windows 8 incorporates the Visual Studio 11 help runtime API. The Windows 8 “Windows Help and Support” viewer uses the same local help API for content retrieval and the same file and content formats as Visual Studio 11. Because Visual Studio has a need to support down-level operating systems, the help API ships as two different binaries. In Windows 8 it ships as Windows.Help.Runtime.dll and in Visual Studio 11 it ships as Microsoft.VisualStudio.Help.Runtime.dll. The same source code is used to build both DLLs.

In Closing

We spent a lot of time during this release incorporating the runtime into Windows so we didn’t get all of our Help Viewer features done in time for the Developer Preview. In particular, the work we’ve done to incorporate additional filtering features into the Help Viewer won’t be ready until our Beta release.

Please let us know what you think about the Help Viewer 2.0 Developer Preview. As always, you can:

  1. Leave a comment at the bottom of this blog post
  2. Send us an email at
  3. Share your thoughts on the Developer Documentation and Help System Forum

(Continue reading about features in the Microsoft Help Viewer 2.0 Beta release.)

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