Re: why manuals?

Subject: Re: why manuals?
From: Chuck Martin <techwriter -at- VNET -dot- IBM -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 23 Sep 1994 15:06:47 PDT

I'm afraid I must disagree with Richard, who proclaimed that paper manuals
are dead, adding that no one learned major software packages by reading
the books.

Well I do. And I'm sure I'm not alone. Although to be fair, my learning
comes from a combination of reading the paper manual(s), using the
program, using the online Help, and third-party books. If a book is
nearby, I can usually find information faster than by using online Help.

With the product I'm currently documenting, we were attempting an
online-only strategy for reference and task material. Beta users
screamed for printed manuals. Are they all dinosaurs, or do many users
find printed books advantageous?

Will online information replace print? I like the way William Horton
put it in his book _Designing and Writing Online Information_:

"Online documents have not replaced paper documents and probably will
not until we have online documents as efficient as this one:

"High-density, lap-top information display device. Nonvolatile memory
with zero power consumption. Able to display text and graphics at
1250 dots per inch resolution in monochrome or up to 32,000 colors on
a 100 mega-pixel display. Features simple, intuitive, direct-
manipulation user-interface with both sequential and random access
mechanisms. Functional at temperatures from -120 to +451 degrees F."

A book. (Longtime listreaders remember this quote from several months

Online is very good for large reference libraries, or where there are
many users of software over a wide area. And you can do a lot of neat
things with online; I like what Microsoft did with its WordBasic online
Help: using secondary Help windows to show programming examples and
using Help components to allow me to copy pieces of the code into
my own macros.

But online isn't always convenient or complete. I can't take it home
or to the beach or park or coffeehouse. I've only seen one or two cases
of third-party Help files that claim to be better than the original.
Contrast that with the computer section in your local bookstore. The
funny thing about that is that, in general, the people that write the
books that everyone complains about are the same people that write the
Help that everyone cherishes. Go figure.

Many companies that make large, complex software products are adopting
a strategy of providing basic printed books with the product, in some
cases even just one set for a multiple-license network version. Then
charging extra for the rest of the printed library, which might be
provided free online. That mixed strategy seems to make the most people
happy. But it's a strategy that will never eliminate printed manuals

Chuck Martin
Information Developer, IBM
techwriter -at- vnet -dot- ibm -dot- com
techwriter -at- aol -dot- com
74170,2462 -at- compuserve -dot- com

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