SAN FRANCISCO (07/26/2000) - Microsoft Corp.'s Hypertext Windows Help system was the envy of operating systems everywhere--until Microsoft decided to dump it in favor of a clumsy HTML-based version that doesn't let you bookmark topics, add annotations, or customize fonts. This is progress? A few applications continue to use the old system, but recent versions of Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office, and Windows itself are decidedly help-challenged.
No instant fix is available to restore the hypertext version's features, but these tips will help you work around Windows Help's current limitations.
Bring text up to size: Though you can't directly alter the size of the font displayed in the HTML-based Windows Help window, the system will respond to certain Web-related settings. Begin by choosing either Large Icons or Small Icons, then adjust within those two ranges.
Open the Internet Options or Internet Properties dialog box: In Windows 98 SE, select Start*Settings*Control Panel and double-click the Internet or Internet Options icon. In Internet Explorer, choose View*Internet Options (IE 4) or Tools*Internet Options (IE 5). In Windows 2000 and Office 2000, you can open the dialog box from within Help by clicking the Options button and choosing Internet Options from the pop-up menu.
Make sure the General tab is in front, then click the Accessibility button near the bottom of the dialog box. To choose from a range of large sizes, check Ignore font sizes specified on Web pages. To choose from a range of small sizes, leave it unchecked. Then, either way, click OK. The ranges of available sizes overlap, but this is a good way to start.
To make finer adjustments within these ranges in IE 4 or Win 98, click Fonts at the bottom of the Internet Options or Internet Properties dialog box. In the Fonts dialog box, choose an option from the 'Font size' drop-down list. If you have IE 5, Win 98 SE, or Win 2000, launch Internet Explorer, select View*Text Size, and choose a size option. Your selection will affect font sizes in Internet Explorer regardless of the Windows version you run. You may need to close and then reopen the Help window to see the change.
Put on a happy typeface: You can change the typeface visible in the Windows Help window, but if you use Internet Explorer to surf the Web, that choice will also affect how you see many Web pages. Return to the Accessibility dialog box using one of the methods explained earlier. Check Ignore font styles specified on Web pages, then click OK. Next click the Fonts button at the bottom of the Internet Properties (or Internet Options) dialog box. For 'Proportional font' (IE 4 or Win 98) or 'Web page font' (IE 5, Win 98 SE, or Win 2000), select a typeface from the list, and click OK twice to close all dialog boxes.
Make your own bookmarks: Another feature removed from Help is the ability to bookmark topics you want to return to. In lieu of that, you can create shortcuts to specific Help topics. (Note: This technique may not work with early versions of IE 4 Help.) In any Help window, right-click in the right pane over the topic you want to bookmark, and choose Properties. In the Properties sheet, position the pointer at the beginning of the text to the right of 'Address:', then drag down and to the right to select the URL for that topic.
Long URLs may not be entirely visible at first, but as you drag down, the text should scroll until you've selected it all.
Now right-click the selected text and choose Copy. Next, navigate to the folder where you want to store your bookmarks. If you want access to these files from the Start menu, create a folder within the Windows\Start Menu folder or the Windows\Start Menu\Programs folder. Right-click in the folder and choose New*Shortcut. Type c:\windows\hh.exe (or a similar path) followed by a space in the Command line box of the Create Shortcut Wizard. Then right-click in the space after this text and either choose Paste or press Ctrl-V to paste the URL you previously copied. Click Next and type a name for your shortcut that will help you remember the topic. Then click Finish. The next time you double-click your newly created shortcut (or choose it from the Start submenu you placed it in), Windows Help will open to the topic you "bookmarked."
If you're interested in additional tips on enhancing the Windows Help system, visit www.pcworld.com/sep00/wintips.
Monitor Network Connection Status
If you're connected to a local area network or maintain an Internet connection through a network, Windows 2000 will allow you to keep an eye on your connection status. This is useful if, for example, you have a constant connection to the Internet but can't see the modem's status lights from your workstation. First, log on to Windows as an administrator. Right-click My Network Places and choose Properties. Double-click Local Area Connection. In the Local Area Connection Status dialog box, click Properties. At the bottom of that dialog, check the box for Show icon in taskbar when connected. Then click OK and Close. A networking icon will appear in the taskbar tray (near the clock) when you're connected. For more details, hold the pointer over the icon to see status information as a tool tip. Alternatively, you can click the icon to see the same information in the Local Area Connection Status dialog box.
Screen Shots In A Hurry
Whether you're writing a user manual, preparing a sales presentation, or sending helpful Windows tips to Aunt Martha, you may need to capture a picture of your computer screen. Fortunately, lots of good shareware programs can help you out. Alternatively, you can find freeware screen capture utilities, but in my experience they aren't worth the bother, especially since Windows has its own screen capture tools.
The basic shot: To get a picture of your entire screen, press the Print Screen button on your keyboard. This doesn't actually print anything, but it does put a picture of the screen (minus the pointer) in your Windows Clipboard. Now choose Start*Programs*Accessories*Paint, and in that application choose Edit*Paste to paste the image into the workspace. If your default Paint workspace is too small, Paint will prompt you; click Yes to let it enlarge the area to accommodate the shot. Once the image appears, click any tool on the left to complete the pasting process. Edit the picture, then choose File*Save As to save it as a file on your hard disk.
Current window only: To capture just the currently active window, follow the steps described above, but this time press Alt- Print Screen to copy just that part of the screen to the Clipboard. In this case, the image you paste into Paint will probably be smaller than the existing workspace. If so, don't click another tool after pasting. Instead, choose Edit*Copy To immediately after pasting to save the pasted area to a file. Designate a folder and name for the file, and click Save. That way you won't have to crop out an unwanted background. If you need to retouch the image you just saved, choose File*Open, select the newly created file, and click Open. Click No when prompted to save the workspace with the image you just pasted. Edit the file and save it again.
You can use the same technique if you need to do other cropping: Use the rectangular select tool to demarcate an area, and use the Edit*Copy To command to save it as a separate file.
Save disk space: Paint's native .bmp format is a disk hog. If you want to save memory and maintain image quality--and you don't mind taking a few extra steps--right-click on your desktop and choose Properties. Click the Settings tab. From the 'Colors' or 'Color palette' drop-down list (the exact name depends on your video driver), select a lower level of color for your monitor--for example, 256 Colors if you're currently using High Color (16 bit).
The lower the number of colors you choose, the smaller the file Paint will create. Click OK, and follow any prompts to complete the process. If the elements you want to capture still look good, take your picture. If not, increase the video color level to the minimum necessary to get a good shot.
When you're finished, you can return your video system to its normal color level.
Save more with FrontPage Express: If you don't mind sacrificing a little bit of quality, you can reduce file size even further without adjusting your video settings by using FrontPage Express, which is included in Windows 98, Windows 2000 Server, and some versions of Internet Explorer. Use Print Screen or Alt- Print Screen to copy the screen, then choose Start*Programs*Internet Explorer*FrontPage Express. Use the Internet Explorer option that has a folder icon, not the "e" icon. Or you can choose Start*Programs*Accessories*Internet Tools*FrontPage Express. Select Edit*Paste and then File*Save. Click As File and designate a name and location for the new HTML page (which you will discard later). Click Save, and when prompted, click Yes to save your picture in .jpg format. You can then exit FrontPage Express and delete the HTML file it created.
Unfortunately, in converting the image into a compressed .jpg file, FrontPage Express significantly lowers image quality. For more control, you could create the picture in Paint as previously described and then drag the .bmp file into a new FrontPage Express document. Right-click the picture and choose Image Properties. In the General tab, select GIF or JPEG; for JPEG, you can specify a quality level from 1 to 100. Lower numbers yield smaller files, but higher numbers provide better quality. Click OK and then save the file, following the steps described above. This technique won't work for pictures pasted directly into FrontPage Express, however. The pasting process irreversibly alters the pixels, which reduces the quality of the image.
Find files in this article at www.fileworld.com/magazine, and find more tips at www.pcworld.com/heres_how. Send your questions and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Windows Tips pays $50 for published tips and questions.
PC World Contributing Editor Scott Dunn is a principal author of The PC Bible, 2nd Edition (Peachpit Press, 1995).
Windows Toolbox: Capture Screens Like a ProNow in its fifth major release, SnagIt is a veteran Windows shareware screen capture utility with features for the professional but ease of use for the rest of us. SnagIt 5 simplifies capturing static images from your computer. The program can record screen actions as a video and captures text screens to a text file, including text that has scrolled off the screen. SnagIt 5 has an Explorer-like utility for browsing images as thumbnails, and a retouching utility for adding callouts and other enhancements to your pictures. It's well worth the US$40 registration fee. Download an evaluation version of SnagIt from PCWorld.com's FileWorld or from the developer's Web site at www.techsmith.com.
Send your questions and tips to email@example.com. Windows Tips pays $50 for published tips and questions. PC World Contributing Editor Scott Dunn is a principal author of the PC Bible, 2nd Edition (Peachpit Press, 1995)