How do I document vaporware?

Subject: How do I document vaporware?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: Technical Writing <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Sarah Stegall <sstegall -at- bivio -dot- net>
Date: Tue, 27 Jan 2009 21:16:57 -0500

Skywriting? <g>

Sarah Stegall wondered: <<Having spent half a week taking all
references to a certain feature OUT of our software documentation, I
am now informed that these references are "placeholders" for future
development. This means that when our users (other software
developers) browse through the command line interface or the help
menu, they are going to find undocumented commands (that don't
currently do anything anyway).>>

If the software is even halfway competently designed, menu choices
that aren't currently available should be greyed out, which is
standard interface convention for both Windows and Mac -- and
presumably Linux, though I don't use it and can only speculate. In the
command line interface, the equivalent is a "this feature not yet
implemented" error message if someone tries out a command that isn't
yet enabled. However, people will want to know why something won't
work and what to do about it:

<<There's no telling when these "features" are actually going to be
implemented... What would be the best way to mention these in user
documentation? I am afraid our users will be very confused when they
happen across undocumented commands.>>

Get a jump on the next software release and document all of these
things, but in general terms if the specs are nonexistent or unlikely
to reflect the final product. Then add a clear note at the start of
each feature description: "This feature is not yet implemented. When
it is implemented, it will perform the following functions
[description]. Until the feature has been implemented, you can
accomplish the same goal by [description of how]." Replace the latter
with "You can't accomplish that task with the current version of the
software" if you can't get there from here.

Geoff Hart (
ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca / geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com
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How do I document vaporware?: From: Sarah Stegall

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