Re: Active Subset option for HTML Help Viewer

Subject: Re: Active Subset option for HTML Help Viewer
From: David Castro <thetechwriter -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 5 Apr 2001 10:36:44 -0700 (PDT)

> Hi. My question concerns the HTML help viewer that appears in typical
> Microsoft applications. In some applications, such as MS Developer's Studio,
> the help viewer has a combo box (dropdown list) labeled "active subset" that
> lets you limit index displays and the scope of searches to a specific
> portion of the overall help system. This would be great feature for the help
> system we are developing at my company, which produces an aerospace software
> suite consisting of several modules. I would like the user to be able to
> limit index displays and searches to a specific module if desired.

Oh, boy. I think I'm probably edging toward the title of "zealot," here, but I
can tell you that what you want to do is possible with JavaServer Pages, if
your online help is served from your web server. (If it resides on the
customers' computers, though, there's no need for you to continue reading.)

I used JavaServer Pages to create online help for an Application Service
Provider at my previous employer. One of the features I included was the
ability to filter content based on the answers to questions on a profiles page.
On the profiles page, I would find out what department the reader was in (this
software was for medical scheduling), what hospital they worked for, what their
primary language was (so that we could provide glossary terms in many
languages, but only display them in the primary language of the reader), and so
on. I then created a tag library that enabled us to put a JSP tag (similar to
an HTML tag) around content to indicate that the content was only for a
particular department, or was in a particular language, or was only for a
specific hospital, and so on. You could just as easily do this for the
different modules that your application includes.

You can modify the WebHelp index file by putting JSP tags around entries. If an
entry only applies to one module, you'd put the tag around it that indicates as
such. If the person viewing the help has indicated that that module is one that
she uses, then the index entry is displayed; if she doesn't, it is not

Of course, you can use this for more than just index entries. We used it on
individual paragraphs, or even particular words. Some hospitals used one word,
while another hospital used a different word for the same thing. We could
customize down to the individual letter, if we needed to!

I have written a short overview of how technical writers could use JSP in their
Web-based documentation:

-David Castro
email -at- davidcastro -dot- com

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