Online groups, autumn 2008

Microsoft graphics and copyright

Conformance to copyright law is important for all professional technical communicators. If you include images of buttons that appear on Microsoft products, are there potential copyright problems? According to, 'You may not use portions of the screen shots.' I interpreted that to mean that one could show, for example, an entire dialog box, but one could not crop an image to show just part of a dialog box. A lively debate arose about what is technically possible, what is legally permitted, and what Microsoft intended to mean.

Microsoft's restriction hinges around the legal meaning of 'portions of a screen shot'. If Microsoft had stated that showing a portion of a screen were not permitted, the restriction might have been enforceable. However, Microsoft refers to screen shot. Therefore, even if the intention is that you should not show a part of a screen, if you take a strict interpretation of the text, you can legally get around the restriction by capturing only what you want to show, rather than cropping it from a larger image. None of us would like to test that in court! Anyway, doesn't the principle of fair use apply?

Many textbooks about Microsoft products contain images of buttons, fields, and other parts of a screen. To include a screen shot of an entire screen when you want to document a single widget or data-entry field would make such a book impractical and ugly.

Right-click and left-handers

To describe the use of a mouse, the terms 'click' (which implies 'click the left button') and 'right-click' (which implies 'click the right button') are common. However, a user might set up a mouse for left-handed use, with the primary key operated by the index finger. Is there a simple way of referring to mouse actions that applies to such users, and which avoids awkward constructions such as 'click the primary button'?

Most people suggested that the simplest option was to use the terms 'click' and 'right-click'. People with left-handed mouse devices are likely to be able to interpret the terms such that they operate their mouse devices correctly. Two left-handed people agreed with this assertion.

One member explained that the Microsoft Manual of Style suggests using the term 'right mouse button' rather than 'secondary mouse button', or 'mouse button 2'. It states: 'Even though a user can program a mouse to switch buttons, usability studies show that most users understand this commonly used term.' He applies the same reasoning to 'right-click'.

For left-handed products (including mouse devices) and information about left-handedness, see

CHM, XML, and translation

One member produces online help for a complex software product. The authoring tool is RoboHelp, and the output is Microsoft's compiled HTML format (CHM files). That format is convenient for him and for the developers, because there are only a few dozen files to archive using the source control software, instead of many thousands of files for WebHelp. Soon, the product will be sold in international markets, and some online help will need to be translated. Is it better to remain with the CHM format, or would an XML-based system be easier and cheaper for translation and integration with the translated user interface?

Many translation tools are designed to work with XML. However, translation companies can deal with HTML files, so, from purely a translation perspective, there is no need to change from HTML. Two technical authors at one company use Help & Manual from EC Software ( This tool stores the documentation content in XML and generates the final documents in various formats, including CHM, web pages, PDF and Rich Text Format. For translation, you can export the source as XML, and import the translated XML for final publication.

The ISTC ( recently published XML in Technical Communication by Charles Cowan, priced at £20, with a 25% discount to ISTC members.


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