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Getting Started with HV 1.0

Installing MS Help Viewer 1.0 Runtime

MS Help Viewer 1.0 is not a standalone release. You need to install Visual Studio 2010. You can download the VS 2010 evaluation version or the free Express version, help should not expire.

System requirements

From MS Help Viewer 1.0 Readme:
  • Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2
  • Microsoft Windows Server 2003 SP2
  • Microsoft Windows Server 2008 SP2
  • Microsoft Windows Vista SP2
  • Microsoft Windows 7
  • Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 RTM

Installing Standalone

** This is unofficial and not supported by Microsoft **

Although 1.0 is not a standalone release there are always ways and means. Documentation teams shouldn't have to purchasing VS just to write documentation, although if you are writing F1 help for the VS environment it stands to reason that you may need a copy of VS to test your F1 links. Here's how to install standalone (without VS)...

Copy the help installer file from the VS Install DVD (copy the x64 version if you are running 64bit Windows).


Unzip HelpSetup_x86.exe. WinZip will do this or run the following command...

HelpSetup_x86.exe /x:c:\SomeFolder

Now install MS Help Viewer using this command...

msiexec.exe /i c:\SomeFolder\help3_vs.msi VS_SETUP=1

Caveat: We published a similar workaround for installing MS Help 2 without VS 7,8 & 9 and the help team were quietly supportive of our action since at the time it helped Borland .NET documentation integrators work without installing VS. The above is handy in-house for your tech-writers and doc reviewers. Remember that redistribution of MS Help Viewer 1.0 to your customers is not allowed. If you want to get HV 1.0 to your customers then get them to install Visual Studio 2010. 

Initializing Help & the VS\100\en-us Catalog

Initialization of help is done automatically during VS 2010 installation. You press the big blue button (last VS Setup screen) to install local help content from the VS 2010 setup DVD.

Initializing for Standalone 

The VS install adds 3 additional files. Two are for branding (so VS catalog topics have the VS logo and VS feedback links). The third is an updated Help on Help which seems currently unused (possibly a bug with HV 1.0). If you install standalone then I suggest you copy these 3 files across from a VS 2010 machine. It's not critical but gives your documentation the same branding as other VS installs.

C:\Program Files\Microsoft Help Viewer\v1.0\dev10.mshc
C:\Program Files\Microsoft Help Viewer\v1.0\dev10-IE6.mshc
C:\Program Files\Microsoft Help Viewer\v1.0\CatalogInfo\vs_100_en-us.cab


This command opens HLM (VS\100\en-us catalog context), and if the catalog does not exist then create it using the branding package dev10.mshc. Omitting the /brandingPackage dev10.mshc parameters would create the catalog using the default branding. 

"%programfiles%\Microsoft Help Viewer\v1.0\HelpLibManager.exe" /product VS /version 100 /locale en-us /brandingPackage dev10.mshc

The first time you run Help Library Manager (HLM) you are asked to specify the location of the help library store. Default location is...

W7: C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\HelpLibrary\
XP: C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\Microsoft\HelpLibrary\

Once a catalog is created the branding is set and cannot be changed. Actually you can change if you clear and reset the local library.

Reset Local Library

To clear and reset your local library
  1. Kill Agent off if currently running (using taskbar tray icon).
  2. Delete your current local library store.
    The default library location is %PROGRAMDATA%\Microsoft\HelpLibrary\
    • EG. Windows 7: c:\ProgramData\Microsoft\HelpLibrary\
    • EG. Windows XP: c:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\Microsoft\HelpLibrary\
  3. Edit the file C:\Program Files\Microsoft Help Viewer\v1.0\HelpLibManager.exe.config and set...
    • <add key="FirstTimeRun" value="True" />
  4. Launch Help Library Manager (with the branding parameter if you want the normal VS dev10 branding).
    Tip: You could copy and paste this into Windows Start menu > Run command.
    • "%programfiles%\Microsoft Help Viewer\v1.0\HelpLibManager.exe" /product VS /version 100 /locale en-us /brandingPackage dev10.mshc

About Help Catalogs 

Help collections in HV 1.0 are called catalogs. Each catalog may contain several packages (help files). And packages are grouped into books. We install help by the book (Help Library Manager lists books not packages). Note that a particular package can exist in several books, and a particular book can exist in several catalogs.

Catalogs are defined by 3 things: A Product name; A Product Version; A locale; The help catalog for English Visual Studio is VS\100\en-us (see other VS locales). For most of us VS\100\en-us is the only catalog we will interact with.

Help Library Manager (HelpLibManager.exe) is responsible for creating help catalogs and merging books into catalogs. You must open HLM in the context of a catalog, which you specify on the command line. If the catalog does not exist, HLM creates it. The Help On Help package is automatically added to each new catalog.

To open HLM in the VS\100\en-us context run the following...

"%programfiles%\Microsoft Help Viewer\v1.0\HelpLibManager.exe" /product VS /version 100 /locale en-us

If the catalog has not been created yet, then you can also specify the branding package to use by adding the /brandingPackage switch (as we did above with the dev10 package).

Installing VS Documentation

All VS documentation is stored in the \ProductDocumentation\ folder on the VS install DVD. If you reinstall regularly you could copy this folder to your local hard drive. 

To install local documentation from DVD:
  1. Insert the VS Install DVD.
  2. Run Help Library Manager (in VS\100\* context) by running...
    "%programfiles%\Microsoft Help Viewer\v1.0\HelpLibManager.exe" /product VS /version 100 /locale en-us
  3. Click the "Install content from disk" link.
  4. Browse for the following DVD file and add all local VS documentation.

The VS Setup program prompts you to install the local documentation if you press the Blue button on the last screen of VS Setup.

Viewing Help

Help is installed. Now we can view it.

The following command opens the VS\100\* catalog in the default browser. Try pasting this path into "Start > Run" or make a program shortcut.


Note that although this looks like a web URL it will not work in your browser's address bar. It must be run using the Windows shell. It works because the ms-xhelp:/// protocol is associated with the HV 1.0 program HelpLibAgent.exe.

At this stage you are probably wondering why local help is not working. It is because VS Help Mode = "Online Help" (the default). This is a limitation of Help Viewer 1.0. We need to switch VS Help Mode = "Local (Offline) Help" to view locally installed help.

Run HLM in the VS\100\<your-locale> context...

"%programfiles%\Microsoft Help Viewer\v1.0\HelpLibManager.exe" /product VS /version 100 /locale en-us

When HLM opens click the "Choose online or local help" link and select the "local help" option. You will now be able to view local help.

A Better Viewer

The browser experience is very basic (No full TOC, No Index). You will get a better experience using a 3rd party viewer.
  • H3Viewer.exe - A free viewer by Helpware, Standalone viewer like DExplore; Full TOC; Full Index; Multi-tab;
  • HelpViewerKeywordIndex - By the MS Help team. Integrates into VS IDE. Provides search and index.

Integrating 3rd Party Help

Using our free mshcMigrate.exe utility it is fairly easy to convert your existing help into .mshc help files and merging them into the VS\100\* catalog.

To convert your existing Help to .mshc help.
  1. Run mshcMigrate.exe
  2. On the Migrate page enter the .HxS, .Chm or help folder to migrate (your original source wont be modified).
  3. Enter the output folder.
  4. Go to the Options page. Click the "Defaults" button, then enter Manifest info (Vendor\Product\BookName) for the new help file.
  5. Click the Migrate button.
On completion you will now have a .mshc help file and a HelpContentsSetup.msha manifest file.

To register your new help file:
  1. Go to the "Help Library Manager" page (mshcMigrate.exe application).
  2. Click the catalog link and select "VS\100\*"
  3. Check the Install checkbox and enter the path to you new HelpContentsSetup.msha manifest file.
  4. Check "Run as administrator" and click the "Run Help Library Manager" button.
  5. When HLM appears you can add and install your book.
Alternatively run HLM (in VS\100\* context), click "Install content from disk" and browser to your HelpContentsSetup.msha manifest file.

"%programfiles%\Microsoft Help Viewer\v1.0\HelpLibManager.exe" /product VS /version 100 /locale en-us

Now you can view your new help. Again this command will open the VS\100\* catalog in the default viewer.


Or use our free viewer H3Viewer.exe.

Summing up

This has been a very quick introduction to MS Help Viewer 1.0. To lean more browse the other pages on this site.