Monday, May 4, 2009

Help assistant widget for RCP

Everyone who's used any MS office application would have come across this annoying yet sometimes useful Office assistant. He's there to "point" us in the right direction to do something. If we've got questions (as silly as how to wrap text) he may have the "answers".

I was wondering ... RCP has a very nice help system in the form of cheatsheets, balloon help, context based help, status bar messages, etc... which will prompt the user for action/attention as required. But the help system doesn't have something like a help assistant - similar to the ones in MS Office applications. Eclipse RCP as an application is used in a variety of domains (hell even Swiss Railway people use it!) we get users who aren't aware as much and aren't willing to experiment or search to find out. I'll share some inputs I got from users who don't know much the Eclipse UI way. There are a some of them who say "How do I know that i have to right-click on the wizard to get a context-menu full of options ?" We can provide a message in the wizard page ... but that may be hard to notice.

I feel RCP help assistant widget is a better HMI mechanism than the usual status bar messages. May be the widget can be a very low on graphics, animation and high on usefulness. This is just an idea ... I thought I'll share.


Zeb Olaf said...

I have an even bigger issue... I am using eclipse RCP to develop an application that primarily has "little old lady" users. We are working on removing almost all features of eclipse views and editors because they are far too confusing for our users.

We did one user test where a user accidentally minimized a view then had no idea what they had done or where their view went or how to get it back. We found that standard eclipse features are great for developers, but terrible for extremely novice users.

Fortunately we have found that eclipse RCP is flexible enough that we can turn off all of the advanced features. We now have a 'beginner perspective' where nothing can be moved or minimized, the menu is very minimal and the toolbar has only a hand full of very large buttons. We call it "granny mode." We still have an 'advanced perspective' for our more computer-savvy users. I think our beginner mode could make use of a very simple help assistant.

Christian said...

Why the MS Office assistant disappeared (or is not enabled by default anymore)? Probably because it bothered most of the users and prevented them from their real work.

17th Camel said...

@Christian: Thank you for your comment! Yes the office assistant is annoying ... yet i feel its got some potential to help out extremely novice users like Zeb pointed out. We can make it less annoying by popping it up only when required!