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Using Access Help

The Access Help system uses HTML help—the Microsoft online help standard introduced by Office 2000. HTML help uses compiled HTML document (.chm) files to replace traditional Windows help files (.hlp) and the familiar Help windows. Version 1.0 of HTML help in Office 2000, like version 1.0 of most Microsoft products, wasn’t ready for prime time. Access 2003’s online help system offers a few changes to the two previous versions, but still doesn’t reach the level of usefulness of Access 97 and earlier online help systems.

The Help Menu

Access’s Help menu provides an alternative to using context-sensitive help. Table 3.10 lists the Help menu choices.

Table 3.10. Access’s Help Menu Commands
Choice or ButtonFunction
Microsoft Access HelpOpens the Microsoft Access Help task pane page (same as pressing F1 or clicking the Microsoft Access Help button on the toolbar) if the Office Assistant isn’t enabled.
Show/Hide the Office AssistantToggles use of the Office Assistant. By default, the Office Assistant is hidden.
Office on Microsoft.comLaunches Internet Explorer (IE) and opens the Office Online home page.
Microsoft Access Developer ResourcesLaunches IE and opens the Microsoft Access home page on the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Web site.
Contact UsLaunches IE and opens the Contact Us page of the Office Online Web site. The page has technical support and other links, such as to bug report and suggestion forms.
Sample DatabasesDisplays submenu choices for opening the Northwind Sample Database and the Northwind Sample Access data project.
Check for UpdatesLaunches IE and opens the Office Updates page of the Microsoft Web site.
Detect and RepairOpens the Detect and Repair dialog that attempts to repair a damaged Office 2003 installation. This choice does not detect damaged .mdb or .adp files and repair them.
Activate ProductStarts the Activation Wizard if you haven’t activated Office 2003. Otherwise, a message box states that the product is already activated.
Customer Feedback OptionsOpens the Service Options dialog that lets you specify options for Microsoft’s Customer Experience Program Options, automatic delivery of Microsoft Office Online content, and Shared Workspace settings for Windows SharePoint Services.
About Microsoft AccessDisplays the copyright notice for Microsoft Access, and the name and organization that you entered during setup. The About dialog has an OK button and the following three command buttons.
System Info buttonOpens the System Information window that displays information about your computer system, such as how much memory you’ve installed, processor and BIOS data, amount of remaining disk space, and a list of running applications (see Figure 3.15). Windows 2000’s System Information snap-in for the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) displays installation information for Office 2003 components.
Tech Support buttonOpens a help topic with links to sources of Microsoft Technical Support for Office 2003 members.
Disabled Items buttonOpens the Disable Items dialog, which lists files that prevent Office 2003 from functioning correctly, if any exist.

Figure 3.15. The System Information window, shown here running under Windows XP Professional, displays information on your hardware, system settings, and the applications you’ve opened.

→ For more information on using the Office Online and Office Update site with Access, see “Downloading Templates from the Microsoft Office Update Site,” p. 76.


If you have a serious problem with Access 2003 or other Office 2003 applications, a Microsoft Technical Support representative might request that you send a System Info (MSInfo, .nfo) file for inspection. To create a .nfo file in Windows XP, choose File, Save and supply a filename. In Windows 2000, you can create an .nfo file by opening the System Information snap-in, clicking Action, choosing Save as Information File, and providing a filename.

The .nfo file contains a substantial amount of information about your PC and the programs you’ve installed, which is needed to troubleshoot major problems, but .nfo files don’t included confidential personal or corporate information, such as passwords.

The Access 2003 Help Task Pane and Window

Access 2003 and other Office 2003 members share a common online help system that differs markedly from earlier releases. Access 2003 replaces Access 200x’s Help window with a combination of the Help task pane page and a sliding Window that opens to display an HTML help topic page. The traditional index lookup for help topics and the Answer Wizard is gone. What’s left is the Type a Question for Help text box at the upper right of Access 2003’s window; its equivalent, the Search text box of the Microsoft Access Help task pane page; and the Help page’s Table of Contents link for the local help files.


Unfortunately, the Office team performed a similar operation on the VBA Editor’s help system, which—in previous Access versions—provided more and better assistance than the current incarnation.

Another new Access 2003 “feature”—links to Access- or Office-related content on the Microsoft.com Web site—makes the assumption that all Access users have an always-on Internet connection. When you type a question in the Help or Search text box, you’re sent to the Microsoft Web site, not the local online help files. For example, typing Export Table to Excel in the text box and pressing Enter returns a set of 30 topic choices from Microsoft.com (see Figure 3.16).

Figure 3.16. Office 2003’s help engine usually returns a set of links to possibly-related topics on the Microsoft Web site. In this case, the list displays all topics containing the word “export” and doesn’t restrict the list to topics containing “Excel.”

Clicking a likely link in the task pane’s Search Results page displays the topic page by downloading it from the Office Online Web site (see Figure 3.17). Depending on the speed of your Internet connection and Microsoft’s Web site at the moment, it might take several seconds for the topic to appear.

Figure 3.17. Clicking a link in the Search Results page downloads the help topic and displays it in a window. In most cases, the topic explains what you can do but not how to do it.


To use the local help files, which usually return fewer unrelated entries than the Office Online search, open the Search drop-down list at the bottom of the task pane, and select Offline Help (refer to Figure 3.16). “Export to Excel” returns only 20 offline help links.

You’re more likely to have better luck clicking the Table of Contents link of the task pane’s Microsoft Access Help page to display an expandable list of topics in the Table of Contents task pane. Expand one of the topics to display subtopics, and then click the subtopic to display an HTML page in the sliding (tiled) window (see Figure 3.18).

Figure 3.18. Nodes of the task pane’s Table of Contents page expand to display links to help topics. Like most other topics, this example lacks specific instruction to perform the tasks.


If you prefer to use Access 200x-style help windows, navigate to \Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office11\1033 folder (for the U.S. English version) or the folder with the number for your locale. Add desktop shortcuts to the .chm files you use commonly, such as Acmain11.chm—the main Access 2003 help file—and Vbaac11.chm—the Microsoft Access Visual Basic Reference.

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