Thanks for all the feedback (and keep it coming)! Yes, we'll think long and hard before doing anything (as we already are/have), and yes, there is a big cost to keeping WinHelp on life support. This is not something we take lightly or do on a whim (if it was, WinHelp would have been oh so gone a long time ago). We know that application compatibility is important.
Oh, before continuing, I should point out that today's post contains the unadulterated opinions of ShaneMc. The views expressed are entirely his and are not necessarily those of Microsoft, the AP Team, or our sponsors.
For fun [hey, it's raining; what else 're we gonna do?], let's look at the definition of "deprecate" from the Encarta dictionary (http://encarta.msn.com/dictionary_/deprecate.html):
dep·re·cate [ dépprə kàyt ] (past dep·re·cat·ed, past participle dep·re·cat·ed, present participle dep·re·cat·ing, 3rd person present singular dep·re·cates)
transitive verb deplore: to express condemnation of something or somebody
[Early 17th century. From Latin deprecari , literally “to pray against,” from precari (see pray).]
The literal Latin translation of deprecari is probably closest to my own personal feelings about WinHelp. :-) [remember this is ShaneMc's opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of other AP representatives or Microsoft].
But the common use of this term in our industry is more as a warning of something that is going to go away sometime so you should stop using it. WinHelp falls into this category. When will it go away, you ask? I can't tell you at this time (simply because I don't know); all I can do is continue to warn you (as I have for a number of years) that it will go away. And beg you, please, to stop using it. It's possible that it will go away sooner rather than later--the increasing importance of Security may put a stake through its heart. Localization issues have driven WinHelp out of Microsoft products, even for popups. Usability and discoverability problems have led us away from What's This? help and toward a more task-oriented model. When the next version of Windows ships, there will be no .HLP files present on the CD. Nor will there be any What's This? help (even using HTML Help). The What's This? handler will still be there, but Windows won't be using it.
I totally get the argument for application compatibility and legacy WinHelp, and it's probably unlikely that WinHelp will be removed from Windows codename Longhorn. But really, I'm begging you: please don't create new WinHelp content and apps that use it. You're painting yourself into a corner if you continue to do so. I'm hereby personally deprecating WinHelp, both in the dictionary meaning above and in the common industry meaning. [Note that I have no responsibility in deciding whether WinHelp will actually be removed from Windows; I'm just a voice crying out in the wilderness]. The end of the WinHelp world is coming--we just don't know when yet.