Beginning with Office 2003, Help is online. When you access Help, Office automatically searches the Help files on your local system and on Microsoft's Web site. (Of course, you need an active Internet connection for this feature to work.) The online search will find the latest and greatest in helpful information and sample files. On the other hand, if you're still using a slow dial-up connection, the wait is sure to be annoying. There's one more thing you might not like. The online connection links to marketing files, albeit tools that apply to your question, but it's marketing just the same. I don't really mind the marketing; I just ignore those links.
If the wait for help annoys you, disable the online connection. In the Help Task Pane, click the Online Content Settings link at the bottom (in the See Also section). Simply uncheck the Search Online Content When Connected option in the Online Content section.
Regardless of settings, you can limit your search to your system or online:
- If you disable the online search, click the Connect to Microsoft Office Online link in the Help Task Pane. Doing so will launch your browser and take you directly to Microsoft's Office Help site where you can search online, bypassing the Help task pane.
- To limit a search to your local system, with online search enabled, select Search Results from the task pane's drop-down list (in the title bar) and choose Search Results. In the Search area at the bottom, choose Offline Help from the drop-down control.
The feature is flexible enough to cater to your online druthers without penalizing you for your choice. Just the same, I feel a rant coming on: The real problem with Office Help is that it displays too many links and the one you need is usually near the bottom of the list. For example, the topic Offline Help returns a list of seemingly unrelated results (see above). Take a good look at the first link — it's a marketing site!
Personally, I avoid using Office Help if possible. It's more frustrating than helpful. If I can't find a useful link among the first few links, I go to a search engine and enter a few appropriate keywords. By limiting the search to Microsoft.com, I often find what I need faster than by using Office Help. It shouldn't be that way, but it is.
Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.