Thunderbird:Help Documentation:Background

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  • Get Help Viewer working - bug 253334 - Jeff Walden (currently mostly held up by other patch reviews)
    • Make Help a component in install builds - no bug quite yet, will be filed/taken by Jeff Walden (not at all difficult, waiting until viewer works correctly)
    • Fix other miscellaneous things necessary to make Help a proper part of toolkit - buglist - Jeff Walden
  • Create outline of Help documentation for Thunderbird - getting close to done, now need content
  • Write Help documentation - anyone who wants to help, as we complete the topic outline

If you are interested in helping, feel free to email me at the email listed on my user page.


Thunderbird Help has always been neglected to some extent. The very first Thunderbird Help was an extension created as an outshoot of the Firebird Help project at Mozdev. It had the absolute minimum when it came to documentation, and the best it reached was a 0.1a release. Unfortunately, this has been somewhat typical of the status of Thunderbird Help. It's always been something of a secondary citizen in the documentation world.

When Firefox 1.0 was released, it had relatively comprehensive built-in help documentation. As a 1.0 product, it would be ludicrous to expect it wouldn't have help docs. Of course Thunderbird 1.0 would have help docs, right? But it didn't. No one made an effort to write help docs, no one made an effort to get the help viewer working, and consequently Thunderbird 1.0 was Helpless.

This must change.

A Start

The first efforts started with a request for help on MozillaNews. With this announcement, we have started a new effort at making real Thunderbird Help documentation. What's next? We need to start planning what we want for help documentation, we need to start writing it, and we need to make the Help Viewer work in Thunderbird. The topic planning will take place here and over IRC in #documentation. Hopefully, we can create an outline of what we want by the end of the year, and then starting in January we can work on bringing that documentation into being. I (Jeff Walden) will be working on getting the Help Viewer functional in Thunderbird, starting with making it work and continuing with making it available in installer builds of Thunderbird (which are the only kind I use because that's what the general public uses).

Thunderbird Help won't be in builds until the viewer works, at the very earliest. Hopefully, by that time we have at the least a set of extremely minimal help docs to add, and then we'll get it enabled in nightlies. It may not actually be left on for release builds for a while, but it's a start.