WinHlp32 for Windows 8.1

Microsoft dropped support for the old WinHelp (*.hlp) file format in Windows 7 (or was it in Vista?). They provided a download that added the missing WinHlp32.exe (and probably quite a few other files) back so we could display .hlp files again. Today I had the need to do that on Windows 8.1. Unfortunately I run into several issues:

  • There are multiple downloads and it isn’t trivial to find the right one (Update for Windows 8.1 for x64-based Systems (KB917607) worked for me)
  • The download is a .msu file which doesn’t install if your windows does not have one of the supported language packs. If you get the error “The update does not apply to your system”, install the English-US language pack (I didn’t have that, I used English-GB.)
  • The installer package takes forever to prepare, then asks you whether you want to install KB917607. After a while it looks as if it is finished. I tried to open a .hlp file and it still didn’t work. Looking closer revealed yet another window open requiring me to acknowledge the license terms. So I did that and lo and behold: I could finally view .hlp files again.

Why does Microsoft make everything so complicated?