Open Windows Help (.hlp) Files in Windows 7 and Vista

Windows Help (WinHlp32.exe) is a Help program that runs .hlp formatted files and has been included with Microsoft Windows versions starting with Windows 3.1. However, Microsoft stopped shipping the Windows Help program in Windows Vista and Windows 7 because it  has not had a major update for many releases and no longer meets Microsoft’s standards.

If you want to view any old .hlp files you still have, you must download and install the update that adds the Windows Help program (WinHlp32.exe) to Windows 7 or Vista from the Microsoft Download Center.

For Windows Vista:

For Windows 7:

To download this update, you must first validate your copy of Windows. To do so, click Continue to the right of the file names.

Clicking Continue to download the update

The Genuine Windows Validation screen displays. Click the Continue link in the Run the validation tool section.

Running the validation tool

If you are not presented with an option to run the GenuineCheck.exe file directly, you will have to download the file and then double-click on the it to run it. Once you have run the check, and your copy of Windows is determined to be genuine, the following dialog box displays. Click Copy to Clipboard.

Windows Genuine Advantage code dialog box

Put the cursor in the edit box under Enter your validation code, press Ctrl + V to paste the code in the edit box, and click Validate.

Entering the validation code

There should now be Download buttons available for the two update files. Click the Download button for the type of Windows system you are running, 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64).

Download buttons available for update

To install the update, double-click on the .msu file you downloaded.

Running the Windows Help update file

A confirmation dialog box displays making sure you want to install the update. Click Yes to continue.

Confirmation dialog box for installing the update

Read through the license terms that display and click I Accept to continue with the installation of the update.

License terms

The progress of the installation displays.

Updates are being installed

When the Installation complete screen displays, click Close.

Installation complete

Now you are able to open any .hlp files you have saved from earlier versions of Windows. Windows Help files sometimes displayed a Contents window providing a table of contents with active links to the topics. These files had the extension .cnt. The Windows Help file we are using as an example includes a .cnt file, but the extension was changed in case you don’t want to use that file. We changed the .CN~ extension to .CNT to use the Contents window.

Changing the CNT file extension

When you rename the extension on a file, Windows displays a confirmation dialog box to make sure you want to change it. Click Yes.

Rename dialog box

To open the Windows Help file, simply double-click on the .hlp file.

Running the ASCIICAT.HLP file

If there is a .cnt file in the same folder as the .hlp file, the Contents window displays. Select a topic from the table of contents by double-clicking on it or clicking once on it and clicking Display.

ASCIICAT Contents window

Here is a sample topic from the ASCII catalog Windows Help file we used as an example.

ASCIICAT Character Converter topic

The ASCII catalog Windows Help file displays character sets, conversions, codes and
data, useful for programmers, writers and Internet developers. The help file is not available at the URL listed in the help file or the included text file. If you want to download the ASCII catalog help, see the following web page.

by Lori Kaufman

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