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Add support for legacy help file WINHLP32.EXE in Windows Vista

Help files that use the .HLP extension are run with the program WINHLP32.EXE, but such 32-bit files are not supported in Vista. Microsoft will eventually make the program available as a download, but what do you do if you're working with Vista and need access to such help files? Here's a workaround you can use today.

When installing existing (i.e., Windows XP-compatible) applications in Windows Vista, you may run into problems...

with the older help files supplied with such software. Help files using the .HLP extension are run with the program WINHLP32.EXE, but if you try to launch such a file in Vista, you'll get this warning: The Help for this program was created in Windows Help format, which was used in previous versions of Windows and it is not supported in Windows Vista.

You'll then be directed to Microsoft Knowledge Base article 917607, which describes how WINHLP32.EXE is not even shipped with Windows Vista, inasmuch as it "no longer meets Microsoft standards." (What's more irritating is that the 16-bit help file application is included in Vista.)

But if you do need WINHLP32.EXE, the article continues, Microsoft will make it available as a download once Vista is available for commercial release. Fine, but if you're working with Vista now and you need access to such help files, you may not find that assurance very comforting.

The good news is that there's a simple enough workaround. Go to a machine currently running XP and copy WINHLP32.EXE from the \Windows directory. (Note: For safety's sake, do not place the WINHLP32.EXE file in Vista's own Windows directory. Instead, create a subfolder in Programs called Legacy Help (or something along those lines), and put it there.)

Right-click on a legacy help file and select Open With to associate with WINHLP32.EXE. From that point on, all legacy .HLP files should open with WINHLP32. By default, such files are opened with the "Windows Winhlp32 Stub," an application that simply pops open the explanatory text described above.

If you're building a Vista image for deployment on multiple machines, this might not be a bad default addition to such an image. . .especially if you're going to be stuck working with a lot of software that has legacy .HLP files!

About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the  Windows Insight, (formerly the Windows Power Users Newsletter), a blog site devoted to hints, tips, tricks and news for users and administrators of Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and Vista. He has more than 12 years of Windows experience under his belt, and contributes regularly to and

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This was last published in February 2007

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