VB.NET 2008 Help does not find obvious things

Posted on 2011-09-12
Last Modified: 2012-06-21
I'm running VB.NET 2008, and can't understand how badly the help behaves.  For example, I remember that there's a class "list" in the language.  Want help on it.  I type "list" in the source code, place the cursor on it, hit <F1>, and all I get for help is "Information not found."

So is there something in my setup that's lacking, or does VB.NET's context-sensitive help just not work the way other IDEs (like Delphi) have trained me to expect?
Question by:RHenningsgard
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LVL 75

Expert Comment

by:käµfm³d 👽
ID: 36522415
I set my help to use "Search Online" as the primary search area, but I have still been unimpressed with the results it returned. Quite frankly, I've found "googling" much easier and faster. You're not alone  : \

Author Comment

ID: 36522630
Unimpressed?!  Good grief, I guess so.  I just hit <F1> on the incredibly obscure and arcane keyword "Long" and got the same crap, "Information not found."

Is there truly no combination of VB.NET's help settings that will render it better than a complete waste of CPU cycles?  If not, any 3rd-party replacement "Help" system that actually does, er, "help" somewhat?
LVL 40
ID: 36523635
A little longer, but it usually works better.

Right click on the element you want to get help on and select Go To Definition.

This will open the Object Browser on the selected item.

Press F1 from there.

It looks as if Go To Definition gets a better grasp of the Namespace.Class that leads to the definition than F1 does.

Author Comment

ID: 36523740
Huh:  Maybe there actually is something missing in my VB.NET 1008 Express Edition installation.  If I just type the keyword (sticking with the example "List"), right-click does nothing.  If I peroperly declare a variable of type "List", the code tip does lead me to complete the declaration correctly, so the background compiler can figure it out.  After that, right-click does indeed bring up the object browser with that keyword highlighted.  A minimally-informative summary appears in the lower-right corner of the object browser (good enough to at least get you an assist on this question, thanks).  But pressing <F1> at that point is again a maddening trip to the "Information not found" zone.

If this is as good as VB.NET help gets, all I can do is quote the Bill Murray character from Stripes and say "talk about massive potential for growth."
LVL 40
ID: 36523880
You can do almost anything in the Express edition, but a lot of tools are missing.

If you do not see the Object Browser in the view menu, or if it does not show by pressing F2 or Ctrl-Alt-J, this means that it is not available in your edition.

True, help is not perfect. But with over 9000 classes with each an average of 40-50 methods/properties/events, combined to the fact that the environment must interpret your code to know to which class a word applies, it is to be expected.

When F1 does not work, typing <ClassName>.<PropertyName/MethodName> in the index usually leads you to the right place. Just be careful, because some combinations give both a Web and a Windows form entry. Choose the one pertinent for your type of project.
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Author Comment

ID: 36524682
Thanks for your input.  Express edition does have the Object Browser, same as the full Visual Studio version (which I also have on another machine).

Perhaps my expectations for the help are just unusually high, having grown up on Delphi (and before that, Borland Pascal).  In those products, the Help always returned the highest-ranked, most commonly-used information first, with "see also" available for the less-common, much more extensive information.

I get the distinct impression that the Visual Studio help is all just programmatically mashed together, with no relevance-weighting of any kind... sort of like most 1990's web search before PageRank started lending some sense and value to it.
LVL 40

Accepted Solution

Jacques Bourgeois (James Burger) earned 500 total points
ID: 36525475
If you get the Object Browser and it is showing you List hightlighted and F1 shows does not find the help information, that might mean 2 things:

MSDN help is not completely installed locally and online help is not enabled. Local MSDN help is not installed by default with the Express editions of Visual Studio. You have to download it separately.

You might have set the help filter so that help does not display the whole thing.

Unfortunately, I do not have 2008 installed in my environment anymore, and the help interface has been completely redone in 2010, so I cannot guide you precisely. There use to be an option to setup online vs local vs both help. It was somewhere in the Tools or Options menu (or Tools...Options) in the help interface itself.

If my memory is good, under the index, there was a drop down that could be use to filter what help was available.


Author Comment

ID: 36525494
Sounds promising! I'll look into it and report my results later.  Thanks!
LVL 40
ID: 36525497
And by the way, Delphi did not have 9000 classes + the OS help + Office help + SQL Server help to deal with at the same time.

And the interface did not have to deal with editors for 40 different languages + at least 60 different types of item, windows as well as web, not counting WPF, Silverlight and a few others.

The context sensitivity of F1 is a lot harder to implement than it was in Delphi.
LVL 40
ID: 36537872
Things get easier in VS2010 where the documentation is now so huge that we get to decides with parts of if we need.

(And by the way, since it is free, why don't you move to 2010? It is always a bad idea to skip a verion of Visual Studio, you could end up with problems in 2012.)

Once again, I do not have VS2008 anymore, so this is from memory, a strange tool that fails you when you have worked in 5 different versions of Visual Studio and 11 different versions of Visual Basic.

But if I remember well...

In the Index tab, under the line where you type your search, there is a ComboBox that enables you to search the index only for a specific part of the documentation. The bad thing is that you cannot make a multiselection, so you often hide things that could be useful when filtering that way.

For the Search outside of the Index, there use to be a small blue funnel in the result pane. Not sure if it was still there in 2008. A click or a right-click on it enables to you filter the search, and this one enables multiselection. It is only half efficient, because a lot of the result pages have not been tagged to work with that filter. But that filters a lot of useless stuff.


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