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Help Agent

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The Help Agent is a small window that opens automatically in the lower right corner of the OOo document window. It generally shows an image of a light bulb.

A list of events that call the Help Agent is defined in the file SFX.xcu in the directory share/registry/data/org/openoffice/Office. This file is not part of the helpcontent2 module.

There is a request for enhancement to remove the Help Agent. See http://www.openoffice.org/issues/show_bug.cgi?id=53114

Why the Help Agent is bad

People don't tend to read the hints

Usability research revealed this typical user behaviour pattern:

1. A user writes some text in Writer, starting with a lower case letter.

2. The automatic AutoCorrect feature converts the lower case character to upper case.

3. This is one of the events that trigger the Help Agent, which now shows in the lower right corner.

4. User tells "What the heck happened here? It converted my character. How can I get rid of this automatism?"

5. At the same time the user clicks away the Help Agent.

The Help Agent, when clicked in the window, would just have answered the user's questions. But the user closed it.

Others

  • Because it is a popup window, it is annoying.
  • It also brings back bad memories of the animated paperclip in Microsoft Word 97 and 2000.

How to disable

You can permanently disable the Help Agent on the Tools - Options - OOo - General dialog. The Help Agent is disabled automatically for a certain event when you close it or don't pay notice three consecutive times for this event. The list of events for which the Help Agent will no more show up automatically can be reset on the same dialog page.

Possible Solutions

Have a more intelligent Help Agent:

  • it would show up only when the help text is really helpful,
  • there should be no complicated paths to dialog boxes where you can manually enable/disable features, but the Help Agent itself would include buttons to enable/disable a feature.

Replace Help Agent by smart popup dialogs. (What's the benefit of this? It annoys users even more and they still don't read the message.)

Show the actual help message text (or the start of it, if it is too long), instead of the help agent icon. That way the user does not have to interact with the agent to know what happened, and is more likely to read the message.

External links

  • bug 62204, "ux-ctest: Appearance of Help agent astonished user."
  • bug 74677, "Help Agent should only pop up once per tip"
  • bug 74678, "Help Agent should be shrunk and only appear in statusbar, so as to distract users less"
  • bug 74679, "Help Agent should not trigger when the user types a quotation mark (") in Writer."
  • Help Agent Notification - GNOME notification area suggestion

Mail list discussions:

http://www.openoffice.org/servlets/ReadMsg?listName=discuss&msgNo=57241

http://www.openoffice.org/servlets/ReadMsg?listName=discuss&msgNo=59619

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