What about minimalism?

Subject: What about minimalism?
From: Mark Levinson <mark -at- SD -dot- CO -dot- IL>
Date: Tue, 4 Oct 1994 09:16:52 IST

The appeal that keeps my 14-year-old transfixed for hour upon hour of
computer games even though they're pira-- er, even though the cat ate
the documentation-- is much of the appeal that drives minimalist
documentation: finding it out yourself makes you feel better about
yourself, and it makes for better remembering.

My problem is that I don't have hour upon hour to go exploring. I'll stick
with what I know because I need to meet a deadline. So yes, just as
Gwen said, I'll do without complex features or use unnecessary workarounds;
and yes, when I find out about something that could have saved me time I
think "why didn't someone tell me?" I looked through the presentation of
new features for Microsoft Word 6, and found out about all the things the
marketing people thought I'd like-- most of which, like unsolicited spelling
correction, I automatically turned off-- and then I went back to Word for
Windows 2 because I thought there was nothing extra in Word 6 that I wanted.
Only gradually did I learn of the new features and fixes that I do find
useful. (Some of the features were even in version 2, unbeknownst to me...)

Microsoft products now include random tips that show up when you invoke
the program, they're there to provide some scattershot information about
features the user might not know of. (Are the tips like "It's never too
late to learn the piano" deliberate facetiousness, or in-house subversion?)

Now, my great ignorance of the tool I spend most of my time using is
despite the existence of fairly thorough written documentation. I never
sat down to read it; never had the time. I'm using Word 6 for Windows
on carry-over familiarity from Word 3 on Mac. The question is, if I'd
received a minimalist manual, would I have said "Aha, this I can read,"
and wound up better informed? Certainly not if the people who wrote the
flashy but nitless-gritless introduction for the latest upgrade had
written the minimalist manual...

Mark L. Levinson | E-mail: mark -at- sd -dot- co -dot- il
Summit EDA Technologies | Voice: +972-9-507102, ext. 230 (work),
Box 544 | +972-9-552411 (home)
46105 Herzlia, ISRAEL | Fax: +972-9-509118
"Graphics are especially useful for drawing readers into the book."
- STC Intercom

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