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Chapter 4. Getting Help > Navigating the Help System

4.1. Navigating the Help System

To open the help system, choose Start→Help and Support, or press F1. The Help and Support window appears, as shown in Figure 4-1. From here, you can home in on the help screen you want using any of three methods: clicking your way from the Help home page, using the index, or using the Search command.

4.1.1. Help Home Page

The home page shown in Figure 4-1 contains three basic areas. In the left column: Frequently sought help topics, such as "Music, video, games, and photos" and "Printing and faxing." In the right column: buttons that take you to specialized interactive help systems and utility software. Finally, at the lower right, Microsoft treats you each day to a different "Did you know?" headline.

If one of the broad topics on the left side corresponds with your question, click any topic to see a list of subtopics. The subtopic list will lead you to another, more focussed list, which in turn leads you to an even narrower list. Eventually you'll arrive at a list that actually produces a help page.


If you seem to have misplaced your contact lenses, simply adjust the type size used by the Help Center. Click Options on the toolbar, and then click "Change Help and Support Center options" at the left side of the window. In the right pane, under "Font size used for Help content," you'll see the "Font size" buttons—Small, Medium, or Large.

Figure 4-1. When working in the Help and Support Center window, you can use the Back, Forward, Home, Favorites, and History buttons on the toolbar. They may look like the corresponding buttons in a Web browser, but these buttons refer only to your travels within the help system. The Favorites button here represents your favorite help pages—they're not the same favorites you see in Internet Explorer.

4.1.2. Search the Help Pages

By typing a phrase into the Search text box at the top of the main page and then clicking the green arrow (or pressing Enter), you instruct Windows XP to rifle through its 10,000 help pages to search for the phrase you typed.

Here are a few pointers:

  • When you enter multiple words, Windows XP assumes that you're looking for help screens that contain all of those words. For example, if you search for video settings, help screens that contain both the words "video" and "setting" (although not necessarily next to each other) will appear.

  • If you would rather search for an exact phrase ("video settings"), click the "Set search options" link underneath the Search text box. The search options page appears; at the bottom, you'll find a "Search for" drop-down menu. Choose "The exact phrase" and then repeat the search.


    This same drop-down menu offers choices like "Any of the words," which means that if you type video settings, you'll find help pages that have either of those words. Choosing "The Boolean phrase" from this drop-down menu means that you intend to use the phrases or, and, or not in your search phrase for further specificity. For example, entering video not settings would yield all help pages concerning "video" that don't discuss "settings."

  • Windows displays only the first fifteen topics it finds in each of its help databases. If you'd rather see more or fewer "hits," you'll find an adjustment control on, once again, the "Set search options" page. (That page also lets you turn off the search highlight, the dark rectangle shown in Figure 4-2 that appears around your search phrase on the resulting help pages.)

Figure 4-2. Each document title in the list on the left is a link that opens up a help page on the right side of the menu. (The dark highlighting shows matches for your search phrase.) The results are divided into three different categories—Suggested Topics (fast but limited), Full-text Search Matches (slower but more complete), and Microsoft Knowledge Base (Internet-based). Click the appropriate category name.

After each search, the left-side list shows three different categories of help topics:

  • Suggested Topics reveals help pages whose keywords, invisibly assigned by Microsoft, match your search phrase. Of course, if you and Microsoft don't happen to use the same terminology, you won't find what you're seeking listed in this group.

  • Full-text Search Matches are help pages on which your search phrase actually appears in the help page text.

  • Microsoft Knowledge Base refers to the massive collection of technical articles on the Microsoft Web site. If you're not online, you can't read them.


When you're on a laptop at 39,000 feet, you probably don't have an Internet connection. In that case, you may prefer that Windows not attempt to search the Microsoft Knowledge Base on the Internet. Click "Set search options" just beneath the Search text box, and then turn off the Microsoft Knowledge Base checkbox.

4.1.3. Help Index

The success of the Search command boils down to your using the same terminology Microsoft does. Sometimes, you may have better luck unearthing a certain help article by clicking the Index button on the toolbar.

Doing so produces a massive list of almost every help topic in the Windows repertoire, sorted alphabetically (Figure 4-3). Double-click a topic's name to see its corresponding help page Help window's right pane.

If you type a few letters into the Search box, the Index scrolls to the closest match. But if that doesn't produce a matching entry, you can still scroll through the index manually.

Figure 4-3. As you type, Windows XP matches each character by highlighting successive index listings to correspond with the characters you've typed so far. Most of the entries in the index are indented—these are the links to actual help pages. Don't waste your time trying to double-click the category headings (the entries that aren't indented, but that have indented entries underneath them.) They don't do anything when double-clicked, since you're supposed to open one of the indented subentries.


Ordinarily, the Help window fills most of your screen, so it may cover up whichever steps you're trying to follow. However, clicking the Change View button (above the help text in the right pane) hides the list of topics and shrinks the help page so it fills a much smaller window. Click the button again to return to the two-pane view.

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