Browse Prior Art Database

Help Information As an Instance Variable for an Object

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000119894D
Original Publication Date: 1991-Mar-01
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Apr-02
Document File: 4 page(s) / 175K

Publishing Venue

IBM

Related People

Roberts, DJ: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

IBM's Common User Access (CUA) interface standard requires that integrated "Help" is provided for all applications. This integrated Help must be available at the panel as well as the field/control level. Thus the user can obtain assistance on all aspects of usage from the global level down to the most detailed option.

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This is the abbreviated version, containing approximately 34% of the total text.

Help Information As an Instance Variable for an Object

      IBM's Common User Access (CUA) interface standard
requires that integrated "Help" is provided for all applications.
This integrated Help must be available at the panel as well as the
field/control level.  Thus the user can obtain assistance on all
aspects of usage from the global level down to the most detailed
option.

      Typically, the Help information is established in a separate
file for each application.  For every item within each panel of an
application, information is supplied. These panel items include
anything the user can interact with, such as the panel itself, entry
fields, headings, scroll bars, menu choices and icons.

      Each item of Help information is related back to the
application panels using the names of the items within the panels.
Therefore, when the user requests Help on an item, the system gets
the internal name of the item and looks up the appropriate Help
information.  This is generally displayed in a separate window.  As
the Help information is essentially held in a hierarchy (field within
panel within application), the user is provided with the ability to
navigate through the Help information, moving up and down the
hierarchy described in Published Patent Application PCT/GB 88/0584.

      This design for Help has provided reasonable support for the
user.  However there are a set of problems that exist:
1.   In many applications, a given field may be replicated within a
panel.  Rather than duplicate the Help information for each instance
of the field, it is common practice to have second and subsequent
instances reference a single copy of the Help information. This works
quite well in practice. However during maintenance errors can easily
occur unless the information developer carefully checks all cross
references.  The chance of error increases significantly if the
common information is shared across panels or even applications.
2.   Using shared text provides more consistency, reduces the volume
of Help and potentially reduces effort.  However, sharing Help across
applications is rare.  This is partly because separate people usually
develop the Help information for each application as well as to
minimize the number and complexity of cross-references.  Thus sharing
of Help is a compromise and far from ideal.
3.   While there is a problem with sharing Help information for
fields in a panel, the problem is much more severe for controls (e.g.
scroll bars, window frames, prompted entry fields, etc.).  These
controls are used so generally that common Help information really
should be used and only in rare situations should specific
information be provided.  However, no special mechanisms are employed
to address this situation beyond the normal cross-referencing
technique.

      4.   All Help information is associated with the panel items.
This is not very logical in reality.  Although the user always
requests...