500 Hour Test of Tomorrow's Windows "Vista"


It's well known that the help files are one of the last areas finalized during development of an operating system. Thus, whatever help is present in a beta release probably won't match up to the actual help system implemented in the released software. This is true for a variety of good reasons, but primarily occurs because of the inevitability of software changes during the beta test period. Finalizing help files would mean they'd have to be synchronized with the software each time any small change or update was made. In fact, even when Windows Vista attains Release Candidate status, many elements in its Help subsystem still won't have been translated into the complete set of foreign languages for which the commercial release will be available.

Placeholders for specific, as-yet-incomplete help topics are common, as we have experienced with other Windows beta versions.

It is for this reason that we concentrate our review of the help subsystem entirely on the functions it delivers. When compared to the Windows XP Help and Support Center, the new Vista Help thankfully runs faster. HTML files are still the core of Help, but the system now permits the inclusion of dynamic content. It's also possible to launch scripts and applications from Help files, as in the XP version.

Many users don't have an always-on connection to the Internet, so Windows Help asks if it should be updated using information from the Internet any time it's launched. If this request is denied, the Help subsystem accesses only local content.

Should online help download content from the Internet? This question spares some users long waits when they have slow Internet connections.

Especially easy for newbies: a revamped Help and Support Center
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