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How to Use Mac OS X Snow Leopard's Help Viewer Window

If you start having problems with Mac OS X Snow Leopard, your first line of defense is the Help Viewer. To display the Help Viewer from the Finder menu, click Help and choose Mac Help, or press the Command+? keyboard shortcut. The Help Viewer window is context-sensitive, so it contains different menu items when you’re working inside an application.

Use the Help Viewer for context-sensitive help.
Use the Help Viewer for context-sensitive help.

The Help Viewer is divided into three sets of controls:

  • Toolbar: The toolbar includes navigational controls (Back, Forward, and Home buttons), an Action button (where you can print a topic or change the text size), and the Ask a Question (or Search) text box. On the far right, you see an Index link; click it to display an alphabetical index of help topics.

  • Quick Clicks: Clicking these links takes you directly to some of the most frequently asked Help topics for the Finder (or the application you’re using), such as Connecting to the Internet and Switching from Windows. To use a Quick Click, just click once on the question that you want to pursue.

  • Apple Web site link: Click this link to display the latest Mac OS X news and the latest Help topics from the Apple Web site.

The Help Viewer looks a little sparse at first glance. However, when you realize how much information has to be covered to help someone with an operating system, you get an idea of why Mac OS X doesn’t try to cover everything on one screen. Instead, you get the one tool that does it all: the Spotlight search box.

To search for the Help topic you need, here are two paths to righteousness:

  • From the Finder Help menu: In Snow Leopard, you don’t even have to open the Help Viewer to search for assistance on a specific topic; just choose Help from the Finder menu, click in the Search field right there in the menu, and type a keyword or two. (Although you can ask a full-sentence question, the shorter and more concise your search criteria, the more relevant your results.) As with the Spotlight search box, you don’t need to press Return; just click the topic that sounds the most helpful.

  • From the Help Viewer: Click in the Search text box at the right side of the toolbar, type one or two words that sum up your question, and press Return.

    Read your search results within the Help Viewer.
    Read your search results within the Help Viewer.

No matter which method you use, the topics are sorted by approximate relevance. Within the Help Viewer, articles taken from the AppleCare Support section of the Apple Web site appear in the Support Articles portion of the window. (Because Web stuff is going on in the background, you don’t see these articles unless your Mac has an active Internet connection.)

You can double-click any topic to display the topic text.

A typical topic within the Help Viewer.
A typical topic within the Help Viewer.

To move back to the previous topic, click the Back button on the Help Viewer toolbar.

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