Info on wizards and such

Subject: Info on wizards and such
From: Sara Schoenberg <sschoenb -at- SCTCORP -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 15 Jul 1996 09:07:49 EDT

Hello all,

Last week I posted an information-seeking message about adding information to
applications by way of things like wizards and such. I've received some helpful
responses and even more requests to post my findings to the list. So, what
follows is my original posting, and the series of responses I got back.

If anyone else decides to add two cents of their own, we might best continue
the thread right here. Thanks to everyone who responded.

Original message:

My company is looking into ways to add value to our applications by
building more "helping" information into an application Perhaps some of you can
offer some insight into the technical "hows" of incorporating wizards and similar
types of help information into applications.

Most of us have seen the kinds of wizards Microsoft has created, and Turbo Tax
does something similar with its Interview(er?) feature. Have any of you had
experience or involvement in creating such things? How is it done? For example,
is this something hard-coded into the application or not, and do any tools exist
that have been designed for this purpose, or which you've been able to
successfully adapt for for such use?

Any information on how and what it takes to create this kind of information would
be greatly appreciated. You can respond directly to me at:

sschoenb -at- sctcorp -dot- com



And the responses to date:
(Note: I have the addresses of the respondants, but didn't want to post them with
their messages without asking. I know this can become awkward if you want to
write to any of these folks directly, so if any of you are reading this, you might let
me know, or post something to the list about providing your e-mail address.)

I am developing several wizards for our application using Visual Basic. I am
a technical writer with some programming experience, and I'm learning mor
all the time! You need to have some programming experience to develop these
things; they're much more sophisticated than WinHelp.

: ) Khris

Hi, Sara - You can download a training card sample at\\pub\winhelp
Look for and
You might also be interested in a Win 3.1 example using a custom DLL:


I just got finished (with the code portion) of creating a super-wizard
application that actually looks a lot like TurboTax in that is has a whol
bunch of pages that are displayed sequentially when the user clicks the
navigation buttons (forward, next, skip etc.) It also supports an interview
portion that builds forms like TT and reviews the forms for completion (also
like TT).

When I started researching techniques for doing this I found that there is
no easy way since most of the wizards out there actually have each and every
page coded as a window that is then attached as a child of the main shell
window. I also evaluated WinWord Wizards and they are more kludgy than
anything with layered dialog controls (another common method). These simple
methods would probably work if you were limited to just a handful of
screens. In my app though, I expected closer to 1000 (each form element on
12 forms, including instructions and assistance pages).

So what I opted to do was to write a scripting language (which is actuall
more of a text markup language) in VB. So then, to create a page for
display, you write a script and pass it to the interpreter which draws it on
a picture box. The script looks something like this:

[TITLE This is the page header][A 50,50]Absolute jump[N 2]Carriage return

Of course, it also supports a huge number of other tags which you need for
element position, fonts, colors, graphics and UI controls (buttons, edit
boxes etc.) I attach the list of supported tags. In addition, it must
support 'action' statements (like [MSG] for message boxes) and user defined
tags. A key element is support of a variable pool so that UI elements can
save/load variables for use by the program.

In its pure form, the interpreter can read stored pages and display them.
However, pages get pretty complicated when you start defining interactive
elements based on user input so instead of defining 1000 pages, I basically
wrote an interface to an Access database that contains definitions of forms
and form elements. Then, when a user selects a form, the system runs through
the database table building a sequence of pages which it then stores in
another table. The interpreter then displays the dynamically built pages.
It's a lot easier to do it this way since otherwise you might have a lot of
maintenance on the previously written pages if you change the way one of the
tags works.

The system is very quick. It actually takes no perceivable delay to destroy
the existing page (you must do this to unload UI controls and save their
contents), locate the next page based on the users input and interpret it.

The interpreter also comes in handle for a number of useful tasks since it
can be used for generating code at runtime and can be used for displaying
text in a nice format on a picture box surface without using multiple controls.

In VB 4, you can get the text formatting features by using the RichText
control but there is no way of getting UI controls into it.

Hope this helps.


Dear Sara:

What platform or platforms are you writing for? That is the first
question. The tricks you can do in Windows 95 become trickier to
pull off in Window NT or Windows 3.1x. If you are thinking OS2 or
Macintosh or certain flavors of UNIX, then everything is different.

I would recommend you go to your local technical (or university)
bookseller and arm yourself with a copy of Designing Windows 95 Help
by Deaton and Zubak (Que). It will cost you 50 bucks but will be
worth it. Mary Deaton is a frequent contributor to WINHLP-L.

Bill Sullivan
San Diego, California

Hope this helps you, too!


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