Software user guides have traditionally provided assistance when the user requested help. Context-sensitivity enabled help systems to predict the most appropriate topic to present. For Windows applications, the move from Microsoft WinHelp to the new Microsoft HTML Help format allows user instructions to be presented in the same window as the application. This offers technical authors some extraordinary opportunities to provide intelligent, predictive, interactive help without the user having to request it. In this paper, we will explore one of the first such interactive help systems (for the Archivist e-mail archiving software), and see where the technology is moving.
This paper presents three methods of user assistance: role models (simple demonstrations), guides (structured walk-throughs), and coaches (active assistants). After a brief introduction, potential uses, available development tools, and additional information sources are discussed for each method.