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New Help System For Our Software Products

Dr. Rüdiger Paschotta

I am happy to announce that the interactive help system for our software products RP Fiber Power, RP Resonator and RP Coating has been substantially improved. Here, I explain the background and how our customers will profit.

For many years, we used a help system based on Microsoft HTML Help. Although this is in principle a nice feature, there have been various deficits, which we could not overcome. The core problem was that Microsoft did not seriously develop that free product and eventually abandoned it, although many software products still rely on it. Another problem for us was that generating this help system was relatively tedious.

For these reasons, we recently decided to go for a simpler solution which frees us from such dependencies. We now deploy a large set of HTML files (stored in a Help folder within the program folder), which can simply be displayed with the web browser. Every Windows PC should have some modern browser installed, and it doesn't matter whether that is Firefox, Chrome, Edge or something else; even the old Internet Explorer would do. The screenshot below shows how it looks in Chrome:

interactive help system of RP Fiber Power

You see the table of contents on the left side, with which you quickly get to the required content.

Various points of interest:

  • As we are working with local files, this help system again does not require an internet connection. The browser can always rapidly load these pages.
  • On each page, you may use browser features such as searching for keywords.
  • Some help texts contain links to encyclopedia articles; if you follow one of them, you stay in the same environment (browser).
  • Browsers offer to open multiple tabs, which is quite convenient: you can leave multiple help pages open and easily switch between them without further searches. It is also benefiting the following feature:
  • We are now using MathJax for displaying equations. These come out very nicely, as you can see above.
  • At the bottom of the left side, you find a button for the keyword index, which you can see here:
keyword index of the help system

-/ That keyword index has become very large, as the keywords have been carefully entered. This is important, as it helps you find the required content; often that works with multiple keywords. - If you use the convenient F2 key after placing the cursor on some keyword in a script, the software will search the keyword index for that keyword. If it finds just one match, it opens that help page straight away. If it is more than one, it will display a form where you can see the found target pages and select which ones you want to open. If you select more than one, you just get one new browser tab for each one.

So the new system is clearly very helpful for our users. At the same, it is substantially more convenient for us to maintain, which indirectly benefiting the users once more: we tend to better optimize the explanations when it is easier to do (e.g. to insert equations), and easier to check how it will come out.

I can tell you that it was a lot of work to look through all help pages of the mentioned programs and apply various improvements here and there, but this process substantially improved the content in addition to the explained benefits concerning the handling. We are now happy to see the nice results and let our customers profit – not only new customers, since any previous customers can get a free update to get this new help system, in addition to various other refinements mainly of the user interface – just tell us, and we send you the updated installation package.

This article is a posting of the RP Photonics Software News, authored by Dr. Rüdiger Paschotta. You may link to this page, because its location is permanent.

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