Help for Help in Jaguar

by Terrie Miller

I'm one of the many people who've had problems loading OS X's "Help" system after upgrading to Jaguar. First I got the spinning beach ball of death and had to force-quit Help. Then it degraded into a simple "Application unexpectedly quit" error whenever I tried to load Help.

I saw numerous reports of this on message boards, but I hadn't found a solution that I was willing to try that worked. Many wrote of searching for all Lexmark-related files and deleting them or moving them to the desktop...but I have a Lexmark printer, and to be honest, it all sounded a bit fishy to me. Why would removing all the Lexmark files help Help?

Then on MacInTouch I found a collection of posts about the topic (see the heading, "Several readers sent notes about fixing problems with Mac OS 10.2's Help viewer"), including this gem:

[Dave Gomme] I also had the problem where Finder's Mac Help would act as if it were loading, then crash. I was able to open Help Viewer by itself, though, and in the Help Center browse list I found a blank entry at the top of the list. It turned out that the Virex 7 help folder in the /Library/Documentation/Help folder was causing the problem. I trashed the "" folder and Mac Help was able to load. Try looking for folders with a ".help" extension. I get the feeling 10.2 is less forgiving about these, and only wants packages with ".help" extensions.

Since I have Virex installed, it sounded promising, so I searched for .help files and looked for folders...sure enough, there's a file AND a folder alias called I renamed both, just removing the .help extensions, and now Help is back in business.

I think Dave Gomme might be on to something here with the .help extensions being for packages only. There are some other suggestions floating around, but this one definitely helped me.

So my Help system works, but now I don't need it...I already figured out how to get screenshots in non-PDF form from the talkbacks in Derrick's weblog!

What helped your help?


2002-08-28 10:13:48
a users apple help prefs?
Old prefs in /Users/xxxxx/Library/Preferences/Apple Help Prefs may have something to do with this. I had a lot of broken alias's in there.
2002-08-28 11:16:34
Let help finish loading?
After reading about the "Help" problems after a force quite I made sure to let help finish loading. It seemed to take 3-4 minutes over a medium-fast cable modem. It works fine now though.

That might translate to an interminable amount of time with a dial-up account.

Question: Will a force quit in the middle of a "Help" download cause an incomplete package to now look like a file or folder?

I feel it is best to let "Help" finish loading.

2002-08-28 22:38:54
Just remove the prefs
I got the "infinite startup" problem with Help when I upgraded to Jaguar as well. I just deleted ~/Library/Preferences/, and everything's been hunky-dory since.
2002-08-29 09:35:35
Weak/poor internet connection affects Help
A poor internet connection also appears to affect the Help Viewer. As a developer, I've been troubleshooting this issue on a couple of machines for the benefit of Apple dev support.

We've found that on machines using Airport, a weak signal can cause the viewer to hang for a indeterminate length of time. I use a laptop and the distance to the base station is typically quite far. Using a utility like MacStumbler, I can see the signal repeatedly dropped and reacquired, and I typically get the beachball when launching and using Help on this machine. When troubleshooting on a separate desktop machine, I turned Airport on but disconnected the Airport from the internet. When connection from the desktop to the Airport was on, Help Viewer would launch then sit for 3 to 4 minutes with a spinning beachball before displaying the TOC. Clicking links would be equally painful. By simply turning Airport off from the menu item, the Help Viewer response became almost instantaneous.

Just a few more clues for others.

2002-11-03 14:14:54
Palm Desktop crashes Help Viewer
I also experienced crashes of the help viewer whenever I tried to use it. I've followed the advise made earlier in this weblog and deleted the preference list ( Then I systematically tried to identify the offending application and at least on my system (10.2.1) the Palm Desktop v.4 was to blame. Deleting the corresponding key in the preference list using BBedit restored full functionality of the viewer. Has somebody got an idea what's wrong the HTML help of the Palm Desktop???
2002-12-13 02:19:18
Palm Desktop crashes Help Viewer
yes the problem is that the Palm Desktop help file system is incomplete - at least in the French version -

This help file system is inside the Palm Desktop File
(it can be opened with Ctrl +clic -> 'display the software content' or something like that)

The Help folder is located (in my case) :

There, you should find a file called toc.htm, but it's missing. Instead there is a toctmpl.htm file which is only a model for the 'toc' file.

This toctmpl.htm file can be modified to solve the problem, and saved as toc.htm (toctmpl.htm has to be removed).

It has to be changed by modifiying the lines between


In each subfolder of the main help file, you will find a file containing one help topic , for instance a subfolder named "Intro" may contain an help file named "inttoc.htm" that is an Introduction. In that case "AppleURL", "AppleTarget" and AppleTitle have to be replaced that way:
AppleURL -> Intro/inttoc.htm
AppleTarget -> content_frame
AppleTitle -> Introduction

The lines between
and have to be repeated for each subfolder, with the ocrrect information filled in . ('AppleTarget' is 'content_frame' for all)

2003-01-04 03:40:22
Easy Solution
Just check the size of your (note: not the exact filename) "Apple Help Index ???" file. In my case it was a 0 bytes file and therefore always crashed the help viewer...

bye Matt...

2003-03-19 04:42:51
Palm Desktop crashes Help Viewer
Your advice helped me too. i use 10.2.4 & palm. same problem and your gave a good solution! Thanx from Rolf
2003-05-30 07:25:58
Help Viewer crashes
I had the same problem on eMac, perhaps after updating to 10.2.6 ? I just put in the trash the files : copie.helpui copie.plist
and it seems to work. I say : "It seems" ! But very slowly
2003-08-27 09:33:38
Palm Desktop crashes Help Viewer
helped me too! in the german version. Exact the same problem. Thanks very much!
2004-05-10 09:35:00
More info from a reader
I received this by email from someone who prefers to be anonymous, but I thought it would be good to post here:

I went through several hours of agony to get my Help Viewer crash problem fixed. It turns out that the Help Viewer reaches out over the network to apple to retrieve information.I am using a web proxy server to block popups, etc, and it was messing up the interaction between Help Viewer and (or something similar), causing the help viewer to crash.