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Better Ways to Access CS4 Help Files

Have you tried getting to the InDesign CS4 online help files from within the program yet? Or from any of the CS4 applications? If so, I’m sure you noticed that the old Adobe Help Viewer application is gone. Instead, your default browser opens a new window and connects to the Community Help page on Adobe’s web site for that program.

If you choose Help > InDesign Help; you’re brought to the main InDesign support page on with an empty search field you can use and a list of links to top issues and tutorials. Alternatively, you can enter a search term (like “object style”) in the Search Community Help field at the far right of the Application Bar:

When you hit Return/Enter, you’re brought to the same web page with the results of your search. Search results for your term include a mix of links to posts on third-party sites (like and to CS4’s Live Docs manual pages on Adobe’s site. (Try this search for “image.”)

Close But No Cigar

It’s a laudable goal — bringing sites like this one to the attention of the InDesign-using community, and expanding on the cut-and-dried material in the program manuals — but Adobe forgot a few things. An obvious omission, to me, is a checkbox or Preference setting  within the program that would let me confine the search to the programs’s actual help files. (This is normally why I’d open Help > InDesign Help; otherwise I’d just do a Google search on my own.)

Actually, the third-party sites included in the search results are a subset of what you’d get in Google itself; Adobe is doing some kind of filtering on its own and trying to include only reliable sources that have a long-term track record. Too often, though, the links to these sites lead to out-of-date content.

For example, when I search for “master pages” in InDesign CS4’s Community Help, the first search result is a link to an article about master pages in InDesign CS, from an old page (click the image to enlarge it):

As you can see from the blue BETA reminder to the right of the highlighted Community Help section tab, this whole approach is still in the testing phase. There’s a red “Give us Feedback” link on the right, so by all means, use it! In one of my feedback submissions, I requested a date range field, or at least a checkbox that limits the search to items that have been posted since the release date of CS4.

Tip: When you get to the Search Community Help page, click the large Support tab (instead of the Community Help tab, selected by default) under the search field before doing the search. That way, only Live Docs and Knowledgebase articles appear in search results, and no third-party sites.

Go Right to the Manual

You may be wondering what happens if you’re not connected to the Internet when you choose Help > InDesign Help or enter a search term in the Application bar’s Search Community Help field. Are you out of luck? Do you get an error? Fortunately, no.

Instead, your browser opens to the home page of the Help files that are on your local computer, complete with its own TOC and Search field. Didn’t know they were there, did you?

Also, check out the upper right corner of the window. You’ll see a link to the PDF of the manual, which you can download from Adobe’s web site the next time you’re connected. The link appears in the Live Docs version of the help files too.

Whether or you’re connected to the net or not, it’s useful?and easy?to have quick access to the local InDesign CS4 help files, just as the Adobe Help Viewer provides in CS2 and CS3.

First, you need to locate the main page for the documentation on your computer.

On a Mac, the “home page” of the InDesign CS4 help files is here:

Macintosh HD > Library > Application Support > Adobe > Help > en_US >
InDesign > 6.0 > index.html

On Windows XP, the home page is here:

Local Disk (C:) > Program Files > Common Files  > Adobe > Help > en_US >
InDesign > 6.0 > index.html

Of course, if you’re not using the US English version, choose your language instead of “en_US” from the long list you’ll find in the Help folder on your hard drive. When you open your language folder, you’ll see a folder for each CS4 program you have installed. Drill down within each one to find its index.html page. (So for Illustrator CS4, the last part of the path is Illustrator > 14.0 > index.html.)

Then, just double-click on the index.html page to open it in your browser. After it loads up, bookmark it (save it as a Favorite) for easy retrieval. Not everyone realizes you can have your web browser bookmark local files as well as web site URLs.

I still use Community Help — I think it’s a great idea, and I sometimes find information beyond what the manual offers. But when I specifically want to see what the official documentation has to say about a topic, I click one of the bookmarks in the “CS4 Help Files” bookmarks folder I created in Firefox.

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie “Her Geekness” Concepción is the co-founder (with David Blatner) and CEO of Creative Publishing Network, which produces InDesignSecrets, InDesign Magazine, and other resources for creative professionals. Through her cross-media design studio, Seneca Design & Training, Anne-Marie develops ebooks and trains and consults with companies who want to master the tools and workflows of digital publishing. She has authored over 20 courses on on these topics and others. Keep up with Anne-Marie by subscribing to her ezine, HerGeekness Gazette, and contact her by email at or on Twitter @amarie
Anne-Marie Concepcion

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15 Comments on “Better Ways to Access CS4 Help Files

  1. Like you, I’ve used their “Give Us Feedback” to complain about this new ‘throw everything at you but the kitchen sink’ approach. It’s way too much information badly organized–or rather not organized at all. We need a way to search Adobe help straight from the menu bar without all the distractions or the need to turn searches off. Search third-party sites should be a separate menu choice.

    Others might want to add their feedback. The more who complain, the more likely Adobe is to act.

  2. Me personally would really like to be able to just press F1 for the local help system to come up – you can call me lazy :)

    I did some digging and found out that that’s quite easy to accomplish.
    As I only have a Windows machine this only applies to Windows – maybe someone on a Mac can figure out if similar is possible?

    As it seems, the url of the online help is stored in a separate text file called helpmapBaseUrl.txt

    If you are using the us version of InDesign it will be:

    C:Program FilesCommon Files\Adobe\Help\en_US\InDesign\6.0\helpmapBaseUrl.txt

    for Windows 32bit or

    C:\Program Files (x86)\Common Files\Adobe\Help\en_US\InDesign\6.0\helpmapBaseUrl.txt

    for Windows 64bit

    By the way – I recommend to make a backup of this file before altering – just in case.

    Normally the contents of this file will be:

    To redirect it to the local help system, change it to:


    for Windows 32 bit or


    for Windows 64bit.

    I didn’t figure out yet how to redirect when doing a search using the search bar in InDesign – maybe later.

    I hope this tip will be of use to more people! :)

    Take care,

    P.S. The same is possible with the other CS4 applications, just change specifics accordingly.

  3. Sorry – after posting I noticed for Backslashes (\) to appear in the post you have to use double-backslashes (\\).
    I started to edit it but work and the ‘nn minutes and nn seconds’ left to edit my comments got into a fight… as a result there are some backslashes missing in

    C:Program FilesCommon Files\Adobe\Help\en_US\InDesign\6.0\helpmapBaseUrl.txt

    for Windows 32 bit

    This should should be:

    C:\Program Files\Common Files\Adobe\Help\en_US\InDesign\6.0\helpmapBaseUrl.txt

    for Windows 32 bit


  4. If you’re using Firefox and find yourself using the help files often, try installing either the Fast Dial or Speed Dial extentions (they can be found here). They both do the same thing: copy the speed dial page found in Opera.
    Basically, the speed dial page (which you can use to replace the browser’s default home page) contains a number of ‘previews’ of sites you specify. Click on a preview and it opens as you set the preferences (new tab, new window, etc.).

    I believe both extentions have the option of making multiple ‘sets’, so you could have one specifically for CS4 help and another for the rest of your frequently visited sites.

    Here at work I’ve set Fast Dial up to include google, gmail, indesignsecrets, the photoshop disasters blog, kotaku,, MyFonts’ WhatTheFont, and a couple more.

  5. I just wanted to point out that the local version of help is a subset of web help. Many of the new CS4 features are described only minimally in local help. However, if you prefer using local help, try this:

    1. Choose Window > Extensions > Connections.

    2. From the Connections panel menu, choose Offline Options.

    3. Select Keep Me Offline.

    When you press F1 or choose Help > InDesign Help, the local help files appear. By the way, these steps work for any CS4 app.

  6. Thanks Bob! That is a great tip.

    It’s unfortunate, though, that Adobe has gone this route. Even the subset that is local has numerous links back out to the Web site if you want any coherent help information.

    Perhaps the better approach is to let the user decide when installing. Adobe could show the local help files and how much room they will use. Then if you have the space install away!

  7. Hi Anne-Marie. We hear your pain and are working on solutions to improve the situation. In the meantime:

    If you?re connected to the Internet, the Help menu within the product opens the product Help and Support page by default. This page is a portal to all of the Community Help content for the product. If you want to consult or search online product Help only, you can access it by clicking the product Help link in the upper-right corner of the Help and Support page. Once inside the Adobe Help for the product, be sure to select the This Help System Only option before you do your search. Otherwise, Adobe content and Community content will be returned in the search results.

    If you?re not connected to the Internet, the Help menu within the product opens local Help, which is a subset of the content available in online product Help. Because local Help is not as complete or up-to-date as online product Help, Adobe recommends that you use the PDF version of product Help if you want to stay off-line.

    A downloadable PDF of complete product Help is available from two places:
    – The product?s Help and Support page (upper-right corner of the page)
    – Local Help and web Help (top of the Help interface)

    If you are working in Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, Fireworks, or Dreamweaver, and you want to turn off Community Help so that local Help opens by default, do the following:
    1. Open the Connections panel (Window > Extensions > Connections).
    2. From the Connections panel menu , select Offline Options.
    3. Select Keep Me Offline and click OK.

  8. The online expanded help is a plus, but the win-win solution would be to allow both at any time. Maybe reserve preferences for the default action.

    Sometimes the web response is too slow, or I know roughly where something is in the local docs and don’t want the lag and the extra clicks of online searching. On the other hand, sometimes the topic is more general and the online system is a plus.

    It’s not either-or. Why not make both available all the time?

  9. Thanks to everyone for good info. My problem is that I cannot open help documentation AT ALL in any of my CS4 MASTER Suite of programs. The hourglasslooks as if it’s doing something for a half-second; then, it just quits. I know that I have a broader problem because my HELP in MS Office programs is also on the skids. There, it brings up a window telling me it doesn’t recognize XML. I apologize for posting this dilemma here, but I cannot find anything on the web. I surmise that an essential file was deleted in a recent disk cleanup. I reinstalled CS4 (no good) thinking that something might fall into place. HELP!

  10. While you can download a PDF of most all help documentation in addition to live access online both formats have pros and cons. The biggest issue is the time spent digging through a PDF and the LiveDocs system requires internet connectivity. Bringing the convenience of offline viewing and quick look-up speed together, Doc? bridges the gap between client and server side documentation.

    Doc? is an AIR application that downloads, indexes and manages LiveDocs format help in a document library like manner. With few features it presents a user with a clean, easy to use interface virtually eliminating the learning curve. The tool is freeware and is actively maintained by two developers.

    Doc? can be found at the developer blog:
    Check out Doc?

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