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Microsoft's Help Publishing Cycle

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This information is copied from Microsoft's Longhorn MSDN site and is included here to whet your appetite. For further (and latest) details, visit Jump across to a separate website on the internet

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The Help publishing cycle is based on the continuous publishing model, and consists of several distinct phases. The cycle begins with authoring and building, continues through the publication of new and updated documentation, and concludes with the incorporation of user feedback.

The Continuous Publishing Model


The continuous publishing model is a departure from previous online Help publishing processes. In the past when a product was shipped, the documentation was essentially finished until the next product update. There was always the potential for Web-based documentation to be more recent than online Help, and as a consequence the user experience was uneven. The continuous publishing model transforms documentation into a live entity, which can be updated whenever the need arises. Documentation updates are no longer tied to product release schedules, which means that updates can be made more frequently. In addition, the design of "Longhorn" Help makes smaller, more focused updates possible.

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Authoring Help

Help authors create content using Microsoft Assistance Markup Language (MAML), an XML-based language. MAML documents are structured semantically rather than presentationally, while formatting is applied at rendering time using style sheets. This enables authors to focus solely on the content, improving the quality of the documentation. MAML defines several content types, each forming the basis for a specific kind of topic. This prescriptive approach allows documentation models to be more tightly defined, which improves overall consistency. For more information about MAML, see Jump across to a separate website on the internet About Microsoft Assistance Markup Language (MAML), and Jump across to a separate website on the internet Help Content Types.

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Building a Help Project

Building is the process of compiling a .HELP file using the Jump across to a separate website on the internet Help Compiler (HelpCompiler.exe). The Help compiler creates compiled .HELP files from the various content and metadata files that make up the Help project. Unlike previous versions of Help, .HELP files are not compressed, allowing the smallest updates to be provided with minimal impact. The compiler performs round-trip decompilation, which means that the resulting files are identical to the project files that were originally compiled. Additionally, an individual file can be extracted from a .HELP file, eliminating the need for a full decompile if just one file is needed. For more information about the project files required to create a .HELP file, see Jump across to a separate website on the internet Longhorn Help Project Structure.

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Packaging Help

Packaging is the process of defining a Help collection. Some of the necessary packaging data, such as defining bundles for a .HELP file, takes place at authoring time. This data is then referenced by a session file, which is used to further organize and categorize Help topics at run time.

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Publishing Help

Publishing Help is the process of providing content updates to users. Provision of these updates is accomplished using a Help server, which makes new and updated Help content available upon request. Help updates utilize the Windows Update model, so that users are automatically notified when documentation updates become available. Users can then choose whether to download and install the update.

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Help Deployment and Promotion

Deployment is the process of installing Help on a user's computer. Promotion is the process of populating the Windows File System (WinFS) database with information about files on the user's computer. When the user installs .HELP files, the Component Management Interface (CMI) notifies the "Longhorn" Help Promotion Manager. Promotion Manager then calls the appropriate plug-ins to promote the metadata stored within the .HELP file. When .HELP files are uninstalled, CMI notifies the Promotion Manager of the event, Promotion Manager sends de-promotion requests to the appropriate plug-ins, and removes the metadata. This process also takes place when new content is installed, as the old metadata must be demoted before the new content can be promoted.

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Incorporating User Feedback

User feedback is collected on a continuous basis throughout the Help publishing cycle. In the final part of the cycle, customer feedback is used to improve the documentation. This input can come directly from feedback mechanisms within Help content, from Internet newsgroup communities, from technical support, and from direct interaction.

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See Also

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