Turning inner space into outer space

May 12, 2024

You can judge a Mac app by how it helps you

What makes an app a good Mac citizen? For many of us, it could be summed up in this statement on the CotEditor website:

“CotEditor is exactly made for macOS. It looks and behaves just as macOS applications should.”

A big test is the Help menu. Apps made by Apple generally set the standard with “Name-of-app Help”, which opens an in-app browser with instructions on how to use the app.

I was surprised to discover that CotEditor does this, too. I was expecting to have to search for documentation on their website, because this is the norm with other code editors.

Most of them are cross-platform so it’s to be expected. If the help is on their website, they only have to do it once for all the platforms they support.

That doesn’t explain Nova, though. Despite calling itself “The native Mac code editor that's fast and amazing,” the help menu takes you to their website, where you can search through articles. I’m pretty sure this could have been implemented with an in-app browser.

Besides CotEditor, here are some other Mac apps that pass the test of in-app help: iA Writer, Tot, ImageOptim, Photoshop, Affinity Photo, BBEdit, Moom, and Scrivener.

Here are some otherwise great Mac apps that fall short by not offering in-app help: Bear, Little Snitch, NetNewsWire, Reeder, and SnippetsLab.

The worst are the ones that have a help menu with “Name-of-app Help”, but when you click on it you get a window saying, “Help isn’t available for Name-of-app Help.” Why have a help menu at all?

I have a habit tracker called Streaks that has no help menu, likely because it’s an iOS port. It’s not great, but seems a little more respectful of my time.

In-app help is so hit-and-miss that I often don’t think to look there. But I’m going to be doing it more often. And I will be silently judging the apps that don’t have it.