Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The Upgrade: Help! I can't get help!

Now that my VPN problem is solved, my Windows 7 system seems to be working reasonably well. I still can't find the IE cache, or rather I can find it and some things are there but a lot of other things aren't. And videos always start jerkily in the first few seconds, but then they get smoother. All of this is survivable.

But I did come across yet another "what were they thinking" a few days ago. I have quite a lot of old software on the machine - my very own Winlife32, dating back in its origins to 1992, for one. I have a version of "Corel Essentials" that I bought nearly ten years ago. I don't use it enough to justify going and spending $100 on a newer version, but it's handy when I do need it. PhotoPaint is an OK-ish inferior version of PhotoShop, with the great advantage compared to PhotoShop that I know how to use it. And CorelDraw is absolutely indispensible for making jam labels. So the other day I needed to annotate the pictures for my Divisumma Diary. I wanted to draw some arrows on them, which ought not to be difficult to do, but I couldn't find the trick. For once Google was no help, so I was driven to the ultimate recourse, the documentation. Or rather, since there isn't any, the online help. So I clicked the help button. And my brand new Windows 7 system said "I don't know how to open this file", or words to that effect. It turns out that brand spanking new Windows 7 can't open those crufty old fashioned .HLP files that came out with Windows 3.1. Which is a major pain if you have applications that still work that way, like my Corel stuff or indeed Winlife32.

Ah! But then there's an option that says "would you like to download WINHLP.EXE for Windows 7?" So I said yes, and was led through a maze of twisty little web pages, until I got asked which of several files I wanted to download. There was no basis for choosing, and the one that looked most likely (it had 32 in the name where the others had 64) downloaded then said, "this program will not run on your system". Eventually random selection found the right one. And then Corel help worked fine. So does WInlife32 help, although I have now discovered that the API it uses for drawing doesn't work on Windows 7 or Vista, so I guess I'll have to figure out what gratuitous change Microsoft has made there and figure out the fix for that.

So, some genius in Redmond decided that although there's a perfectly fine version of Winhelp that runs on Windows 7, and there are undoubtedly thousands of old apps out there that want to use it, they wouldn't put it on the (huge and bloated) distribution. Instead you have to go through an arcane process to download it, whereupon it works fine. What were they thinking???

Oh, and it turns out that there is no way to draw arrows with PhotoPaint, at least not the version I have, short of drawing the heads by hand, line by line. By the way there's also no way to draw a simple oval line with transparent fill, such as you might put around something to draw attention to it. I guess maybe I really should get one of the cheaper flavors of PhotoShop.

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