Although the latest iteration of its development platform and tools were wrapped up and made available to developers in the first half of 2010, Microsoft only now released the SDK for the new help system that ships with the successor of Visual Studio 2010. Version 1.0 of the Help Viewer Software Development Kit went live on the Microsoft Download Center the past week and is now available free of charge. The SDK is designed to enable developers to take advantage of Help Viewer 1.0 interfaces, according to the software giant.

Visual Studio 2010 shipped with a new help system - Help Viewer 1.0. Help Viewer 1.0 is built on common standards such as XHTML and .zip file format. Developers can leverage the ms-xhelp:// protocol documented in this SDK to implement their own Help experiences and Help viewers using the Help Viewer 1.0 runtime, Microsoft stated.

Devs will need Windows XP SP3 or later in order to use Help Viewer 1.0 SDK. At the same time, they will of course need to be running the latest version of Visual Studio. Any of the Visual Studio 2010 family of products, including the Visual Studio Express products. This requirement is for the Help Viewer 1.0 runtime, which only ships with those products, Microsoft informed.

Despite coming packaged as an EXE file, HelpViewerSDK is not actually set up to install locally. Instead, the package only allows developers to have easy access to the resources contained by the SDK. This download is a self-extracting .exe, which will simply install some documentation in the form of HTML files, and some code samples. No executable code is included, the company added.

With the advent of Visual Studio 2010, Microsoft has also overhauled Help Viewer. In this regard, the Redmond companys work was focused on allowing developers to take advantage of a new model for authoring and viewing help content, which would simplify their efforts.

The system has been completely redesigned and has no dependencies on previous help systems, Microsoft explained, enumerating some of the new additions to the system:

View Microsoft Help Viewer offline content from your preferred Web browser.

Manage offline content and help settings with the Help Library Manager application.

Download the latest documentation from Microsoft on demand.

Offline content is stored in standard zip format files (with the MSHC file extension).

Navigate through content using a simplified Table of Contents (TOC) similar to the MSDN Online lightweight TOC.

Improved full text search algorithm.

Content authors use standard <meta /> tag attribution. This replaces the Help 2 XML data island.