Mac OS X Help: Unbelievably Bad

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
August 6th, 2003 • 5:25 pm

I don’t know if it’s because I’m on a modem connection, but Mac OS X’s Help feature is absolutely, unbelievably, unacceptably bad.

Today, I wanted to do the simplest thing: Look up what “directories” are in Address Book parlance. (I have never used the feature and the AB interface doesn’t give me any indication of what they are for.)

So from within Address Book I choose “Address Book Help” in the application’s Help menu. The Help Viewer application launches. LittleSnitch tells me that it wants to access an external web site — which is fine, I suppose, since I have unlimited dial-up Internet access and my connection is always on, but already I can’t help but wonder what happens if you want to use the Help Viewer and you are not connected to the Internet. I then create a new rule that allows Help Viewer to connection to port 80 of any server, and after a few seconds a page loads titled “Address Book Help” which is not even a TABLE of contents or anything, just a plain page with three sample questions that I can ask and two small blurbs:

Help Viewer - Address Book

Since I want to know more about directories and none of the three sample questions is about them, I simply type “What are directories?” in the “Ask a question” field and press return.

And then I wait. And wait. And wait. MenuMeters indicates that there is all kinds of activity on my Internet connection, which indicates that Help Viewer is retrieving all kinds of help information from Apple’s web servers instead of looking it up locally on my hard drive. It takes more than a minute.

And then finally I get a page of results and… not a single result is about Address Book! The top one by ORDER of relevance is an entry in Mac Help (i.e. the general Mac OS X help) titled “How to set up Mac OS X directory services”. There are several other entries in “Mac Help” and then a whole bunch of entries in… “ColdFusion”, i.e. help files installed as part of Macromedia’s Studio MX package. Unbelievable. I’m trying to do the simplest of things, and Help Viewer is not even able to deal with such a simple request.

The basic fact is that, when you enter a question in “Ask a question”, it doesn’t matter which help file is currently selected. Help Viewer searches through all help files for all applications. This is ridiculous. If I SELECT “Address Book Help” from within the Address Book application, this is because I need help on an Address Book feature, so the search should automatically be restricted to the Address Book help file. As it is, Address Book, even though it’s a separate application, doesn’t have its own help file. Its help information is, presumably, included in the general Mac Help file. In fact, there is one entry in the long list of results that I got from my search titled “Using network directories with Address Book”. So I go there. And this is what it says:

If you’re connected to a NetInfo network, Address Book automatically searches for addresses on the network directory servers in your NetInfo domain.

You can also have Address Book search for address information on LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) servers you specify.

Choose Preferences from the Address Book menu, then click the LDAP tab. Click Add to specify the settings for the LDAP server you want to use. CHECK with the administrator for the server if you’re not sure what the settings should be.

Now when you SELECT Directories in the GROUP column of Address Book and type text in the search field, you’ll see results from the network directory. To add someone from the network directory to your address book, drag the card from the directory to All in the Groups column.

So is that what directories in Address Book are about? Remote address book files accessible via a NetInfo network? How is the ordinary user supposed to understand that this is what the “Directories” section in Address Book is all about? If you click on “Directories” in the first column in Address Book, all that happens is that Address Book shows a second column with the “Directories” heading and a single line called “All” that shows nothing. There are no buttons to try and add anything.

In other words, this is a feature that assumes that the user knows what directories are to begin with within the context of the Address Book application. And if the user doesn’t know and goes to the Help feature to find out more about this, he has to go through the whole ordeal described above, with an abnormally long wait and all kinds of totally irrelevant search results. And even then, if he’s patient enough and astute enough to locate the one relevant search result within the whole mess, he is still faced with a help page that’s hardly clear about what directories are all about.

This is simply unacceptable stuff. If directories are a feature only for advanced users, then it shouldn’t be visible by default in Address Book. If it’s supposed to be used by the rest of us as well, then clearly the interface for using it should be much clearer, and the user should be able to get help about it immediately through a simple search.

3 Responses to “Mac OS X Help: Unbelievably Bad”

  1. Pierre Igot says:

    If you’re talking about cards in Address Book, just dragging a name from one group to another copies the name to the other group. Then you can just delete the name in the original group.

    As for directories, I suspect you can only copy entries to your own groups. Directories are owned by those who are sharing them.

  2. Karen Schwartz says:

    You make good points, Pierre. Does anybody know how I can move onc card from one directory to another? A seemingly simple task, but cut and paste didn’t work for me.

  3. Karen Schwartz says:

    Thanks, Pierre.

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