When we mention “Help” in the software publishing world, we don't mean technical support or maintenance (that's generally called “Support”). Instead, the collective term “Help” refers to the free published content that ships with most commercial or professional software programs. This content can serve as a reference (like the printed manuals that used to be included in the box) or it can provide training, step-by-step tutorials, and overviews to help you learn a new software program and master its many features over time.
You probably know that pressing F1 in any Office 2007 program opens the Help viewer, which lets you browse that program's Help content by clicking through a Table of Contents or by searching for keywords and feature names. Clicking the appropriate link on the Help menu will do the same thing, although this interface style has gone out of fashion in programs with the new Fluent (a.k.a. Ribbon) interface, such as Word 2007 and Excel 2007.
What you may not have noticed before is that, regardless of the interface, the programs in the Office 2007 suites have two very different Help experiences. When your computer is connected to the Internet, and if you (or your system administrator) have given permission, the Help viewer will fetch and display the most up-to-date and complete content for the Office 2007 Help in each program. This experience is preferred because, in this so-called “connected state,” you're sure to always see the latest and greatest Help content that's available for your program(s). In this scenario, the Help viewer bypasses the Help files that were originally installed with each program because such disk-based content cannot be automatically updated and thus becomes outdated rather quickly.
If you yank the network cable from your computer or otherwise disconnect from the Internet for any reason, the Help viewer reverts to the offline Help files on your hard drive — outdated as they may be. All of the Help and How-to content that has been published since the launch of the product is then no longer fetched from the Office Online Web site. This is problematic when you need to look up procedure steps for a program task or feature and the corresponding Help topic exists only online. For example, imagine you're traveling on business and finishing your big PowerPoint presentation on the plane. Your boss told you to insert an animation or video, but you don't remember how to do this. If a specific article with the solution to your issue was not published as part of the original "offline Help" files on your Office CD or DVD, you'll have to wait until you can next connect to the Web.
Sitting on planes isn't the only situation where offline Help files may suddenly become important. In many companies, employees are not permitted to connect to the Internet for security reasons or due to corporate policies. For these customers, keeping our offline Help files as up-to-date as possible is very important. Larger companies typically have an IT staff that keeps cached versions of new Help content available in-house for searching. But for smaller businesses, no such luxury exists.
Whatever your situation, I recommend grabbing our newest Office 2007 Help updates and installing them on your computer.
If you have configured your version of Windows Update (Windows XP or Windows Vista) to include updates for all Microsoft software, these new offline Help file updates will show up in the “Office 2007” category of your “Recommended” updates (see screenshot). Depending on how your Windows Update is configured, you may already have these updates, or you may need to manually check for them. You may not see exactly the same items on your screen as are shown in this screenshot. The number of Help updates depends on whatever individual Office 2007 programs you have installed (separately or as part of any of the suites).
By the way, if you don't have Office 2007 updates integrated with your version of Windows Update (or if you don't want to for some reason), you can go to http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?linkid=40747 to check for all available Office 2007 updates for your computer. This is the same link that the Office programs go to when you click Check for updates from the Office interface.
Once updated, the offline Help files on your hard drive will contain a new, up-to-the-moment snapshot of the Help libraries which we keep current on the Office Online Web site every month. So, even if you're not planning to ever disconnect from the Internet, offline Help files on your hard drive might just get you out of a bind the next time you find yourself up against a deadline and in need of finding that elusive, secret handshake for mastering a particular task or feature.
To make sure your Office 2007 Help viewer is configured to fetch the latest online content whenever you're connected to the Internet, click the button in the lower right corner of the Help viewer window (in OneNote 2007 or any other Office 2007 program, press F1) and then choose Show content from Office Online from the popup menu. “Connected to Office Online” means that your Office program will automatically include the latest online content in the Help Table of Contents and in the Search results.
By the way, to quickly find all OneNote-specific Help & How-to content that's currently available on Office Online, click the links in the left margin of my blog (under the OneNote Links heading).