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Stop the Help window being on top

OS X's help system on the Apple Mac is at times very useful, but occasionally it can be very irritating too. For example, one of its annoyances is that whenever you display a help window in OS X or an application, that window it appears on top of every other window. It's fixed as the topmost window.

Normal windows can be on top of or underneath other windows and it's easy to switch from one window to another by clicking the one you want - providing you can see a bit of it to click on.

The help window being permanently on top of every other window isn't that much of an issue when you have a 20in iMac or an even bigger display because there's acres of space to arrange the windows. You can have the application and help windows side by side and you can see them both at the same time.

The problem affects small screen the most and especially the smaller MacBooks. There just isn't the screen space to have an application and help window side by side and since you can't switch from one window to another and bring the application or any other window to the top, you have to minimise the Help window. It's frustrating when you have to follow instructions - read a bit, minimise the help window, use the application, find the help window in the Dock and restore it, then read a bit more, then minimise it, and so on.

Ah, but suppose you used Spaces to have two desktops, one with the application on and another with the help window on. You could then switch from one to the other with a hotkey. However, help windows don't show up in Spaces so you can't drag it from one desktop to another. It always appears on the desktop with the application.

Fortunately, there is a solution and there is a way of turning help windows into normal windows that can be on top or underneath other windows, viewed in Spaces and dragged from one desktop to another.

Help viewer plistOpen a Finder window and go to your Home folder. Open Library and then Preferences. Double click apple.com.helpviewer.plist and it will open in the Property List Editor.

(It's possible that you may have to install the developer tools from the OS X disc - always do a full install of OS X including all the optional components because you never know when you might need them.)

Click Root in the Property List Editor window to expand it. With Root selected, click the New Sibling button and name it NormalWindow.

Click in the Class column and set it to Boolean (Yes/No, True/False are boolean values) Now click in the Value column and set it to Yes.

Select File, Save and quit the program. Restart OS X and help windows will now behave like normal windows.

You can perform the same system tweak from the Terminal too, which is useful if you don't have the Property List Editor. Open a Terminal window and type defaults write com.apple.helpviewer NormalWindow -bool yes. (If you want to know more about the defaults command, go to Apple's explanation of defaults).

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