You're right to brainstorm new ways to present Help. Traditional Help links that open in a new browser tab have two problems:
- It's more difficult to digest the Help information when you don't have the original context to look at. See notes on Andrea Ames's Embedded Assistance talk
- Opening a new window can be disorienting for non-savvy users. See the discussion here
I'm not sure a Help panel that takes up space on the page is the right approach though. Even if it can be hidden, when shown it can clutter the design, and can be frustrating if users want to maximize the amount of information on their screen.
How about a panel that is hidden until the user clicks the Help link, and overlays the context? You could even make it context-sensitive.
For example, user sees login topics when clicking Help on the login page:
And the user sees setttings topics when clicking Help on the settings page:
I think this approach has the benefits of your Help panels without cluttering the design.
By the way, the Help in these screenshots was created with Convey. Convey is software that integrates into your web application and figures out the right Help topics to show your customers when they have a question. It only take 5 minutes to setup.
Full disclosure: I'm the founder of Convey