Filling the holes in Autodesk’s CHM Help stopgap

It was good to see Autodesk react to criticism of AutoCAD 2011’s browser-based Help with an acknowledgement of the problems and an attempt to provide a workaround by making a zip file of CHM files available for download. That’s much better than ignoring people’s concerns, denying the validity of those concerns or shooting the messenger, which has been known to happen in the past.

However, there are some holes in the workaround, only some of which can be filled.

  • Under 64-bit Windows 7, the Search pane is blank, as it is in the CHM Help for earlier releases on that platform. This is stated on the download page. Index works well, but Search doesn’t. As Search is one of the worst aspects of the browser-based Help, this is a rather unfortunate.
  • There is no obvious way of making the CHMs provide contextual help. Don’t bother pointing at acad181.chm in the Files tab of Options, it doesn’t work. Edit: See Chris Cowgill’s post on the AUGI forums for a partial workaround.
  • Even without contextual help, no advice is provided for calling the CHMs from within AutoCAD; you are only told that you can set up a shortcut on your desktop and double-click on that when you need it. However, you can set up an alias command in AutoCAD. To do this, edit the acad.pgp file or use the Express Tools Aliasedit command to set up a shell command. The alias name can be whatever you like (e.g. HEL), the command name should simply be the path and filename of the main acad181.chm file.
  • The CHM files are currently available only in English.
  • The set of CHM files is incomplete. See below for more details and what you can do about it.

These are the CHM files provided with AutoCAD 2011:

acet.chm – Express Tools
AdRefMan.chm – Autodesk Reference Manager
adrefmanctxt.chm – Not to be launched manually
ole_err.chm – Not to be launched manually
webbrw.chm – Not to be launched manually

These are the CHM files provided in the zip file download:

acad181.chm – Main AutoCAD 2011 Help file
acad.readme.chm – Readme
acad_acg.chm – Customization Guide
acad_acr.chm – Command Reference
acad_aug.chm – User’s Guide
acad_dpg.chm – Driver and Peripheral Guide
acad_install.chm – Installation
acad_nfw.chm – New Features Workshop
adsk_lic.chm – Licensing

These are the CHM files that are missing:

acad_aag.chm – ActiveX and VBA Developer’s Guide
acad_alg.chm – AutoLISP Developer’s Guide
acad_alr.chm – AutoLISP Functions
acad_alt.chm – AutoLISP Tutorial
acad_car.chm – Connectivity Automation Reference
acad_dev181.chm – Developer Documentation
acad_dxf.chm – DXF Reference
acad_sso.chm – Sheet Set Objects Reference
acadauto.chm – ActiveX and VBA Reference
adsk_brw.chm – Licensing – (this appears to be a later version of adsk_lic.chm).

Do you need any of the above? I did. To obtain a full set of AutoCAD 2011 CHM files, I had to do the following:

  1. Download a vertical AutoCAD 2011-based variant. I used AutoCAD Civil 3D 2011, because I am entitled to download that from the Subscription Center. You may need to download an evaluation copy of a vertical. If so, make sure you delete the files after your evaluation period of 30 days, won’t you? Hopefully, Autodesk will have provided a better workaround by then.
  2. Double-click on the downloaded executable (which is actually a self-extracting archive). You will be prompted for a location for the files to be unzipped to. I accepted the default of C:\Autodesk\AutoCAD_Civil3D_2011_English_32bit.
  3. After the unzipping process is complete, the installtion window will appear. Pick Exit; you do not need to go ahead with the whole installation.
  4. Search for the CHM files in the unzip location. There are a variety of locations, some of them containing duplicate files, but I was able to find what I needed in C:\Autodesk\AutoCAD_Civil3D_2011_English_32bit\x86\en-US\C3D\Acad\Help.
  5. Copy the files from here to a safe location, and set up shortcuts and/or alias commands to access them.

Note that I can’t vouch for the completeness or correctness of these files (which may be why Autodesk didn’t include them), but I can’t do that for the HTML versions either. For those of you in non-English-speaking locations, I would be interested in finding out if you can use this method to obtain non-English CHM files. Are there non-English AutoCAD 2011-based verticals available for download yet? If so, are the CHMs in your language?

Finally, if you are having trouble reading CHMs over a network, check out this Microsoft document on a security update that may be the cause.

6 comments to Filling the holes in Autodesk’s CHM Help stopgap

  • Steve, I have provided a somewhat limited workaround to allow contextual help from within AutoCAD. Contextual doesnt work with all commands, but that doesnt mean that someone wont be able to figure it out and help get it up and running. It at least will bring up the chm help. The workaround can be accessed at http://forums.augi.com/showthread.php?t=118228. This solution is for more advanced users, because a moderate knowledge of customization and lisp is required to make it all work.

  • David Kozina

    Does anyone know if any progress has been made to improving/upgrading 2011’s on-line help system since it’s craptacular debut/foisting upon an unsuspecting group of suckers… er subscribers?

    Or is the only way to get some decent ‘chop-chop’ out of the thing to download and use the chm files?

    I would like to avoid the additional hassle of trying to download and attempt to work those files into my system if possible, but it seems like the on-line help files are on lithium or something (likely illegal).

    We are trying to transition to 2011 from 2008 – and I must say that so far, Autodesk hasn’t done a very good job of making that transition very friendly-like. (I usually don’t have to consult the help files much, but the interface changes with this transition are great enough that consulting the help seems to be unavoidable.) We’re trying to get accustomed to the ‘new look and feel’ (read ‘stoned’) interface.

    On a happier note, I finally figured out how to access my laptop’s BIOS so that when I press F2 or F9 I get the Text Screen or Snap Increment Toggle, respectively, instead of Dimming the Display or Turning Down the Volume… Whoever thought that “if they want a Function Key, they should press the ‘fn’ key first” has missed their true calling as a government official. THAT was pretty maddening…

    I’d’ve posted this query in the newsgroups, but, well, you know how that went…
    Hope it’s at least a bit entertaining.

  • Progress? Well, now it’s all on line, improvements can be made instantly! They just aren’t.

    And don’t get me started on the newsgroups.

  • On (almost) the same subject, I cannot find the LISP reference manual in AutoCAD 2012…

  • Is this in the English version or French? In the main Help, I see AutoLISP Reference Guide in the sidebar on the left, which leads to a page with two links, for AutoLISP Functions and Externally Defined Commands.

  • Matt Ferreira

    Connecting some dots here; Autodesk uses the MindTouch platform for http://wikihelp.autodesk.com (you can see the MindTouch reference in the footer). It could be that they plan on using the recently announced MindTouch F1 feature (http://www.cmswire.com/cms/enterprise-20/mindtouch-reintroduces-f1-contextual-help-with-a-touch-of-marketing-automation-012032.php) both on Wikihelp and within the products. Supposedly it can use existing CHM files as the content-driver.

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