Software

Microsoft Outlook 2007 Help is the most unhelpful help around

TechRepublic member Peter Sanders vents about his recent experience with Microsoft Outlook 2007's Help feature. Do you think that application help is less helpful than it used to be?
This post was written by TechRepublic member Peter Sanders.

Ok, so I'm a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to help files. I still like the WinHelp format. Short, sharp, FAST, and to the point. No pretentious fancy links and skins – just documented help.

I remember the days when you could actually find help quickly, because it used to be on your PC and not way out there in the ether. All you had to do was click on the question mark in the toolbar [?] and point to an item – and nine times out of ten, you found the answer or information that you needed.

My recent experience with the help feature in Microsoft Office 2007 wasn't as successful. I needed to create a distribution list, but I couldn't remember how. Hmmm… menu click, menu click, menu click… Since that didn't work, I decided to look it up in the help file by clicking Help | Microsoft Office Outlook Help.

The Help dialog box is already emblazoned with numerous help topics. I tried the two most logical choices: "E-mail accounts and profiles" and "Contacts." That was pointless. Next, I entered "distribution list" in the text box and clicked Search. When it returned 100 entries, I thought, "Wow! There must be a lot of help on distribution list!"

However, when I examined the first 25 help items, not one of the entries made any reference to distribution. What I did see was information about lists, such as "Manage the Product and Service Items List in Business Contact Manager." Sure, that little snippet of information might come in handy some day, but it wasn't quite what I was looking for.

I tried the next 25 items, confident that help wasn't that far away. And then I navigated through the remainder of the search results… still no luck.

Maybe if I just searched for "distribution," I would find the information I needed – and I was hopeful when it returned only 35 help entries. Nope. One of the "distribution" help entries was "Introduction to RSS." Well, it did have a single use of the word "distribution," so I guess it qualified.

So, what does Microsoft call its Outlook distribution lists? You would think that, if they are indeed called "distribution lists," any reference to such lists would need to use the word "distribution" and therefore, just like the inclusion of the word in the RSS topic, it should appear in the help entries when you search for "distribution."

As my last resort – which probably should have been my first choice – I used Google. I entered "outlook distribution list," and every single one of the first 10 hits had "outlook distribution list" in the URL. Coincidentally, the second and third search hits were located on the office.microsoft.com/en-us Web site. However, I also found the answer I needed in the first search hit at About.com.

I don't doubt that HTML/chm help files, properly created, have their place, but for simple online readable help information, WinHelp was (and is) hard to beat. Microsoft Outlook 2007's Help feature, which produced a vast array of unrelated and unnecessary topics that I had to manually wade through, is the most unhelpful help I've found to date.

What is your experience with application help information? Do you think that application help is less helpful than it used to be? Is the Internet your first choice for finding answers to application and program use?

About

Sonja Thompson has worked for TechRepublic since October of 1999. She is currently a Senior Editor and the host of the Smartphones and Tablets blogs.

9 comments
aksalaymeh
aksalaymeh

you are right,it is useless,furthermore all MS helps are not straight forward even I wrote to them about this essue, but thanks to you and others non MS informations that most of us depending on your experience THANKS

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

I can't remember ever being particularly pleased with it. And here it's gotten worse over the years. In no small part why I hang around here!

Slayer_
Slayer_

The good old hlp files were much better, all opened the same, had the same familiar interface, had the ability to build search indexes or just use the provided ones, almost always found your answer. Even the office assistants used to be better, I had no trouble finding help in office 97, bit more trouble in 2000, in 2003 and 2007 they are useless.

Sonja Thompson
Sonja Thompson

According to TR member Peter Sanders, "for simple online readable help information, WinHelp was (and is) hard to beat. Microsoft Outlook 2007's Help feature, which produced a vast array of unrelated and unnecessary topics that I had to manually wade through, is the most unhelpful help I've found to date." What is your experience with application help information? Do you think that application help is less helpful than it used to be? Is the Internet your first choice for finding answers to application and program use?

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Bling for the Vast Improvement from M$ here Boxy. Seems that it's a better Search Engine that doesn't give you what you need or want. :0 Col 0:-)

jck
jck

across the board has gone to pot over the years. I remember when things were actually easy to find in Knowledge Base. Now there are so many cross-referenced, weighted terms in knowledgebase that you can search for "VBA Access 2003" and get an article on Excel for Office 97. That's why I Google now instead of Knowledgebase.

mauidoug
mauidoug

Help in MS Office reached its pinnacle in Office XP. The decline started in Office 2003 and became abysmal in Office 2007. I have also noticed what Sonja Thompson pointed out in this article. Thanks for pointing out that a Google search is much more productive. A real lack of continuity is creeping into MS Office. Searching in MS Office Help using terminology used in the program doesn't return useful results. Features that have worked well in many past versions of Office no longer work at all even through they are still in the program. i.e. Mailing labels in Access 2007. The trim () function that is placed in the design view by the label Wizard doesn't work in Access 2007. It worked like a charm in the older versions.

CENSO
CENSO

Great argument - I couldn't agree more. But having also had this same exact problem (but not severe enough for me to do some research on) I was anxiously awaiting for the author to divulge what the solution was to her rant. Talk about a cliff hanger ...

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