RE: getting experience with expensive tools

Subject: RE: getting experience with expensive tools
From: "McLauchlan, Kevin" <Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 11 Mar 2009 11:53:07 -0400

Eric (TECHWR-L Administrator) said:

> On Mar 10, 2009, at 11:16 AM, Bill Swallow wrote:
> >> Anyone have any creative ideas on how to get experience with
> >> expensive tools
> >> like Flare and Robohelp, when you can't afford to just buy
> them and
> >> don't
> >> ever work at places that can afford them or have the bandwidth to
> >> deal with
> >> changing to a dedicated doc tool?
> >
> > Many vendors offer fully-functional demo versions that either garble
> > output or watermark it. Most of these are 30 day demos.
> >
> > Look for beta testing opportunities (requires paying
> attention in the
> > right places at the right times, or knowing the right people). You
> > will be given a full version to use, and for the price of your time
> > and feedback you get to learn a new tool.
> Look into reviewing opportunities--we (TECHWR-L) are looking for
> reviewers for a number of different software packages, and that
> gives you a real license (in most cases) for the cost of writing
> up a review. Not too bad.
> Ping me directly for details.

Do you provide very detailed reviewer guidelines (like the test plans
used by product verification and QA people)? Or is the review expected
to be more subjective and however-the-reviewer-chooses-to-approach-it?

I'm sure it's of value to readers to know how easy or hard a software
package was to learn at a basic level, by somebody with no previous
experience in that software or its nearest neighbors.
But don't you need to provide commentary by somebody who is accustomed
to using the various features (in previous versions or in very similar
competitors), and who knows what s/he is trying to accomplish with each
feature and command, and what should have come before, and what should
be coming next? In other words, doesn't a thorough and widely valuable
review kinda demand a power user?

As an example, even though I've been using MadCap Flare for a couple of
years, and have V4.2, I would not be a good choice to review version 5.
I've been producing only stand-alone WebHelp, and my company still
hasn't instituted a GUI to which my Help could be made
context-sensitive. So that whole aspect (making it fit and work with/in
the actual app that I document) is outside my experience. Moreover, I
work in writerly isolation (surrounded by engineers, but the nearest
other writer is a thousand miles away) and I am untrained with the tool
(having just picked it up and run with it when we switched from
RoboHelp... in which I was similarly untrained and learned-by-doing
against a deadline). So, I don't make any use of most of the program.
My review would be ... um... thin and lacking in meaty flavor.

The question then is, if you had anybody more experienced available,
would you really be paying a free multi-hundred-dollar license to
somebody who had limited (or no) previous exposure and was looking to
learn it as a new-to-them tool?

Of course, if you or the vendor provides detailed guidance - these are
points that you must cover, and here is how you can do much of that -
then a person could learn a LOT in a short time AND give good review.

Inquiring minds. :-)

- Kevin (I'm just sayin')
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getting experience with expensive tools: From: Becky Edmondson
Re: getting experience with expensive tools: From: Bill Swallow
Re: getting experience with expensive tools: From: TECHWR-L Administrator

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