Customizing Windows Help and Support in Windows 7

During my TechEd sessions I noticed that hardly anyone succeeded to customize Windows Help and Support. I think this is the most logical place for users to start searching for support, it seems very hard for OEMs and Enterprises to enter their information in this section of the operating system.

If you brand you PC. Where would you add your information for users to find support?

I think the answer to this one is simple: In the built-in Help system.

Practice has proven that this hardly ever happens. Ever since I used Windows there has been a registry location to add OEM information in the OS. That information then appears with the system properties when requested.

Adding this information is simple. Just add the following values in the registry and you’re set:

HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\OEMInformation

  • Manufacturer (string)
  • Model (string)
  • SupportHours (string)
  • SupportPhone (string)
  • SupportURL (string)
  • Logo (string)

The Logo value points to the location of a bitmap with a maximum size of 120 x 120 pixels.

Customized System Properties Page

This customization currently is the only mandatory location for OEMs and system builders to brand their systems. Personally I think they don’t care, because no user will ever find the information anyway.

The only logical location for an ordinary user who needs help while using Windows to me is the Help and Support link located in the start menu. The default view in Windows 7 hardly shows any useful information, but allows a user to search for all sorts of information in the Windows Help database.

As the system administrator you can easily modify two pages in Windows Help that are know as the Windows Help Home page and the escalation page that can be reached by clicking “More information” in the bottom of the screen.

DefaultHelpHomeDefaultHelpEscalation

The mission to change Windows Help and Support may seem hard at first. And that is for a number of reasons:

  • Windows Help files are created in AML or Assistance Markup Language. This is a mixture of HTML and XML. Experience has proven you will hardly find anyone who masters this language. Even though I noticed that HP must have one, as they have a beautifully crafted Help customization in place on their OEM branded machines. Information about AML can be found in the Help Authoring Guide that comes with the Windows AIK and Windows OPK.
  • Windows Help files must be compiled before they can be implemented. The help compiler may be hard to find when you mostly work with 64 bit systems. This is because the compiler is not there when you install the Windows AIK or Windows OPK on these systems. When you install the Windows AIK or Windows OPK on a 32-bit system, the compiler is there in the folder C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\SDKs\Help Compiler or C:\Program Files\Windows OPK\SDKs\Help Compiler, depending on the installed installation kit. The Help Compiler installed on a 32-bit system will work on a 64-bit system if you just copy the files to the 64-bit system.
  • To enable Help Customization you must install a Windows feature. For some reason I still don’t understand, Microsoft has decided to create two features for Help Customization. One for OEMs and System Builders, and one for corporations. But customizations have a separate URL to insert the customization, but the result looks the same from the end user perspective.

When first investigating the possibility to customize Windows Help and Support, I noticed that the information in the Windows OPK and Windows AIK is not very clear. But it can be done. Especially when you start from the sample files that come with the Windows AIK and Windows OPK.

The sample files that come with these packages can be found in the folder C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Samples\Help Customizations or C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Samples\Help Customizations, depending on the installed installation kit. In this folder you will find the following contents:

  • A file HelpConfig.XML
  • A folder structure:
    • Fabrikam Source
      • En-us
        • HelpHome
          • Topics
          • Resource
        • Escalation
          • Topics
          • Resource

The files in the Fabrikam Source folder are there to complete the set of compiled help files. For this case we will copy these files to a folder C:\HelpSetup\en-us. If you are working with the Windows AIK, all file names have the prefix corporate_. When working with the Windows OPK, all files have the prefix OEM_.

Copy both the HelpHome and Escalation folders to C:\HelpContent. From now on we will only work with the contents of these two newly created folders.

In both folders named Topics under HelpHome and Escalation, you will find an XML file that contains readable in formation about Fabrikam in the AML format. For HelpHome this is HelpHome.xml and for Escalation this is Escalation.xml. You can edit the text in XML to reflect your company information.

Both Topics folders contain the artwork for Fabrikam and a RSS file. You can replace the PNG file with a file that contains your logo as long as it has the same pixel size.

After you have edited the contents of the XML files, you can compile the help content for HelpHome and Escalation.

Make sure you have the Help Compiler available on the computer (see the third bullet above). Then run the following commands:

Apcompnt.exe -p C:\HelpContent\HelpHome\HelpHome.h1c -o C:\HelpSetup\en-us\HelpHome.h1s

Apcompnt.exe -p C:\HelpContent\Escalation\Escalation.h1c -o C:\HelpSetup\en-us\Escalation.h1s

This creates the full set of compiled help files in C:\HelpSetup\en-us. If you are working with another language then English, rename the en-us folder according to your language standard. In the Netherlands the folder would be named nl-nl.

Now we have to prepare a file named HelpConfig.XML to tell windows where the compiled help files are located and where the contents should be inserted in the help file. The file HelpConfig.XML that can be found in C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Samples\Help Customizations or C:\Program Files\Windows OPK\Samples\Help Customizations. Open the file in Notepad.

In the contents of the file you will find 2 settings that are of concern in this case:

  1. A URL referring to the location of the compiled help files
  2. The locations where HelpHome and the Escalation pages will be inserted in Windows Help and Support

The location for the compiled help files in the sample HelpConfig.xml file is \\YOURMACHINENAME\Fabrikam_Content\. Replace this text with the location of the compiled help files (f.e. C:\HelpSetup or \\<systemname>\HelpSetup).

The location where to insert the custom help content is referred to in urls with the mshelp:// prefix. You will notice that the two urls with this prefix say mshelp://oem. This is the prefix for OEMs that use the OPK to customize Windows Help. If you are running the Windows AIK you have to change these prefixes from mshelp://oem to mshelp://corporate. If you are running the Windows OPK, you can leave these URLs alone.

Now save the file as C:\Windows\Help\HelpConfig.xml on the system(s) that will get the customized Help and Support feature.

With all files in place you are now ready to customize Windows Help and Support by enabling a Windows Feature on the machine. When using the Windows AIK, the feature is called CorporationHelpCustomization. If you are working with the Windows OPK the feature name is OEMHelpCustomization.

You can enable the feature with DISM from the command line as follows:

  1. Start CMD.exe with Administrative privileges
  2. When using the Windows AIK, run the following command:
    dism /online /enable-feature /featurename:CorporationHelpCustomization
  3. When using the Windows AIK, run the following command:
    dism /online /enable-feature /featurename:CorporationHelpCustomization

This will install the feature and customize the Help Home and Escalation pages for Help and Support.

If the command fails, it will refer to dism.log for more information. That file will refer to CBS.log, where you will find the actual reason why the installation of the HelpCustomization feature failed.

FabrikamHelpHomeFabrikamHelpEscalation

If you are customizing the Help and Support feature from an automated installation, then you have to make sure that the compiled help files and HelpConfig.XML are in place on the installing system. You can do this from the $OEM$ folder and then enable the feature in the unattend.xml file.

I hope this explanation will enable more people to create a branded Help and Support feature that enables their users more easily find support information on their corporate systems.

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17 Responses to Customizing Windows Help and Support in Windows 7

  1. anonymous says:

    The Help system in Vista/7 is so heavily dumbed down.
    – The content itself is extremely basic and far less comprehensive (biggest annoyance)
    – Search box doesn’t find anything relevant or useful
    – No dual pane navigation with index. There’s no index at all!
    – Favorites, History and advanced search options gone
    – What’s this/field leve help in dialogs is gone
    – The great Guided Help SDK introduced in Vista is gone and replaced by Windows Troubleshooting Platform in Win7
    – More complex help customization (I am thinking of putting back all XP help content as customized help in 7).

  2. transorbital says:

    Hi there,
    i´m frustrated by customizing the windows help and supprt.
    i compile the files. i make alle the changes and dism is running with no problem.
    but my help box says: “toppic not found”
    whre is my problem?

    • rayc25 says:

      The error sounds as if the customized help content is inserted in the wrong location. Did you replace mshelp://oem with mshelp://corporate in HelpConfig.XML before you ran DISM to enable CorporationHelpCustomization?

      • transorbital says:

        helpconfig.xml:


        <!– If you are using your own custom stylesheet, please add the following to the HelpHome.h1v file in the samples folder before compiling the .h1s file

        –>

        <!– If you are using your own custom stylesheet, please add the following to the escalation.h1v file in the samples folder before compiling the .h1s file

        –>

  3. transorbital says:

    hm..
    yes i did replace it.

  4. transorbital says:

    eventvwr tells me a error-id 1002 for microsoft-windows-help when opening the help and support center.

  5. Lee Bowman says:

    Hello,
    Your Help Customization Guide has been great and we have been able to create our own Help and Support page using the Fabrikam template.

    I am having a problem transfering the Customised Help files created on a test machine to our Reference Machine that is being used to create an Enterprise Image.

    What files should I be copying? I have copied the C:\Windows\Help\Corporation folder which contains all my compiled files and put this onto my reference machine. The Reference machine is in Audit Mode but I keep getting a 1603 error message when trying to enable Corporate Help

    Many Thanks

    • Lee Bowman says:

      Update – After reading the CBS log rather than the DISM log more information was provided.

      I copied over the HelpSetup folder from the test machine to the Reference Machine and reran the Feature-Enable command. This time it worked.

      Now back to playing with Bold fonts and the stylesheets

  6. roman says:

    Hi,

    I did the customization as described, and it worked fine. I just have a problem customizing the styles (like bold font or changing the font-color). whatever i change in the .css file, the escalation page looks always the same. And another topic i can’t figure out: is there a way to get linebreaks inside a paragraph?

    roman

  7. David says:

    Hi there,

    I have two questions with this customization:

    1. I have succeded followed by the above instructions. But how can I return to the original help and support?
    2. Can I use the method to localize other system .h1s files, other than the home page and escalation page?

    Thanks.

    • rayc25 says:

      You return to the original help and support by disabling the CorporationHelpCustomization feature.

      As far as I know there are no methods to customize other Help and Support pages.There are ways to create extra pages and add them.

  8. Brian says:

    Is there a way to brand the default Windows 7 Help & Support page with logo and homepage?

  9. yasin says:

    thanks for tips. nicely explained.

  10. I really believe this specific blog post , “Customizing Windows Help
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    com”, highly enjoyable plus it was indeed a terrific read.
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  11. Thank you for utilizing some time to post “Customizing Windows Help and Support in Windows 7 | Welcome to nextxpert.

    com”. Thanks a ton once more -Major

  12. Christian Nussbaum says:

    Hm, I´ve done everything that is mentioned, but I get DISM Error 1603. Maybe somebody has a clue?

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