Re: Online & paper?

Subject: Re: Online & paper?
From: mpriestley -at- VNET -dot- IBM -dot- COM
Date: Fri, 22 Apr 1994 12:50:01 EDT

I think most information will be online in the near future. When you get
a new application, the installation and basic troubleshooting info will
be hardcopy; everything else will be online help, reference, or tutorial
(these distinctions will probably blur).

As far as I'm concerned, the larger the documentation set, the more
important that it be online. That way, I can search it more easily; there
can be animated or interactive explanations; related information is a "click"
away, rather than a volume away (or a walk to the library away).

I think people still want hardcopy manuals because a) it's what they're
used to, and b) they've been put off by poor examples of online info.
IMHO, online info blows away manuals, as far as usefulness and usability go.
However, there are more good manuals out there than there are good online
info sets. So it's easy to think that manuals are more useful, inherently.
I don't think this is the case: I think, if the online information is
as carefully structured for online as the hardcopy is structured for paper,
then online is inherently more useful.

I think users will always want to print out some of the info, but there's
no reason to ship the whole manual. What if the user prints the whole
manual anyway? Well, gee - shame about the trees, but from the
software company's point of view, they've still saved a ton on printing
costs. This is, I think, unfortunately the main motivation for the
current popularity of online: it's cheaper to produce and maintain. I
happen to think it's also more usable, if done properly, but I don't
think that's a motivating factor the way cost is.

As far as users feeling ripped off by an application that ships as disks
with no manual, look at OS/2. Nearly all of the information is online.
The reaction has been pretty positive. I remember some of the early
reviews of OS/2 making that same point: "Twenty disks, and only a slim
paper pamphlet in the way of documentation!" But the same review gave OS/2
bonus marks for the completeness and usability of its online information.
Even though I think the OS/2 info could be better, it evidently works:
they get pretty good reviews, and they're selling well. Online vs.
paper may be an argument already resolved in the market place.

Michael Priestley
mpriestley -at- vnet -dot- ibm -dot- com
Disclaimer: I'm speaking on my own behalf, not on behalf of my employer.

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