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In relation with this question at SuperUser, I also want some user feedback about this topic.

So you install a desktop application which you've just bought/downloaded/pirated and you start it up. You look at the screen and you're start having questions about the application...

Will you press F1 first to get the context-sensitive help or would you rather read the online/hardcopy/ manual/PDF?

This is something I wonder about and this is a bit subjective, so instead I'm going to ask something different, to all of you who develop desktop applications: Do you (still) want context-sensitive helpfiles? Would you stop using an application if it has no context-sensitive help?

Yes, or no, please. Feel free to add some subjective texts but to me, what is important is knowing if modern users are still relying on context-sensitive help for their GUI applications.

Personally, I rarely use context-sensitive help and just start exploring.

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5 Answers 5

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I very rarely read help files, but expect icons to be standard, and that any toolbar option has a tooltip to explain it's purpose.

The UI should be pretty easy to understand without a manual.

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I don't use help files, and I'd tend to believe most end-users don't. Most people click buttons until something works.

If you can't find out how to do something, most people will turn to Google before a help file.

With that said, if you find there is a feature in an application that people are having trouble with, rather than documenting how to do something, it's usually better to reconsider how that feature is implemented, and make it more user-obvious. Tool-tips, less clicks to do things, more obvious names in menu bars, and other various concepts in User Experience Design should aim to make help files unnecessary.

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The answer depends rather on the application and its development.
For complex applications offering many options, help is mandatory. It's impossible, for example, to use Visual Studio without referring to its help.

So the answer depends on you: An application whose screens are not self explanatory and doesn't have help is rather useless.

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The kind of people who use superuser probably aren't the target audience for those helpfiles.

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True, but even SuperUsers sometimes need to learn something new and as experienced users, their experience is very interesting. –  Wim ten Brink Sep 16 '09 at 19:57

If the help files where actually helpful I would read them, but I find most help files to be less than helpful so I often turn to Google. So for me it's less of a question of should software have help files, and more how can help files be better?

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