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Slimming down the Help browser

I’d like to welcome guest blogger Chris Kollett this week from the MATLAB Help team to talk about the redesigned Help Browser.

If you’re a regular user of the Help browser, you’ll notice that its user interface has changed quite a bit in R2009b. One of our main motivations for these changes was to make the Help browser useful in layouts other than its default layout. Time and time again we’ve seen users struggle to use the Editor and Help browser at the same time, because they both work best when they’re laid out relatively wide. Since users can’t get them both on screen at the same time, they end up switching back and forth between them, wasting time and breaking their flow.

If you struggle to see your work and use the Help system at the same time, here are a couple of tips for making the Help browser take up less space in R2009b:

Close the Help navigator

Yes, really, close the Help navigator (the left side of the Help browser, where the table of contents and the search results show up). It used to be that if you closed the Help navigator you wouldn’t be able to navigate the doc at all – the table of contents, demos, and even the search field would go away with it. In R2009b, we’ve moved the search field up into the toolbar when the Help navigator is closed, and even more significantly, we’ve replaced the old location dropdown with a breadcrumb navigation widget that lets you access to the full table of contents and all of the demos from the toolbar. If you’ve always wanted the Help browser to give more space to the documentation without sacrificing so much functionality, R2009b should be a big improvement for you.

R2009b Help Browser Breadcrumb Navigation

Consider a taller, narrower Help browser

Prior to R2009b, it was virtually impossible to use the Help browser once you made it narrow. The Help navigator could only be positioned on the left hand side of the Help browser, and as we discussed above, you lost a ton of functionality if you tried to close it. So if you made the Help browser narrow, you had very little room left to display the documentation. In R2009b, we’ve introduced an alternate layout for the Help browser: if you resize the Help browser so that it’s tall and narrow, the Help navigator moves up above the contents. We’re hoping you’ll find it convenient to try some alternate layouts, like docking the Help browser in a narrow space next to the editor.

R2009b Help Browser Narrow Layout

Please try out these changes and let us know if they help keep you in your flow – we don’t want you to get bogged down in the Help browser and lose track of your work. We’ll look at some other changes to the Help browser in a later entry.

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