Multiple Licenses, multiple flavors of help?

Subject: Multiple Licenses, multiple flavors of help?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 05 Jul 2006 14:20:44 -0400

Kevin McGowan wondered: <<With our latest release, our product introduced 5 different licenses, and the doc set is already suffering. Due to some R&D confusion (and the fact that I'm now the only writer on the team), the licenses are not clearly defined throughout the doc set. If you have license A, you open the docs and you will see information for license B, C, D, and E, even though it doesn't apply to you.>>

This shouldn't be a problem. Readers of our products are highly skilled at ignoring information that directly concerns them, so I doubt they'll be any less skilled at ignoring information that doesn't concern them. <g> In terms of the licenses themselves, simply provide the license information as a single help topic, with five subheadings, and start that topic with a mini-TOC that lets them jump straight to the license that relates to them. In effect, what you're doing is saying "if you want to use the following features, you need to upgrade from license A to license B (or whatever)".

<<I need to develop a help system that will allow me to simply include/exclude information based on the license triggers in the UI. And of course, I need to build it relatively quickly, because we've got another big release coming up for January, and they're introducing at least one more license option.>>

Similarly, don't bother trying to create multiple help systems. Create a single system for all licenses. Most users will never see features that don't relate to them because they'll be using context-sensitive help; that makes the features that aren't relevant... irrelevant. <g>

To accomodate the needs of those who enter the documentation via the index or search tool, and don't know that a specific feature isn't available to them, simply add a note in each help topic about which licenses it's available for. (Topics available for all licenses don't need this disclaimer.) Think of this as a marketing tool: if you need to be reading about this feature, you should be buying a license for it. Where it's possible to accomplish something in multiple ways, state which of those alternatives are available under each form of license and what can be done if none of these solutions apply to your particular license.

If you design your help system intelligently, the topic IDs won't overlap, so you'll never have to worry about renumbering the IDs for different licenses: each topic is identified with the same number in all versions of the licensing.

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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Multiple Licenses, multiple flavors of help: From: Kevin McGowan

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