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My company is just starting to offer online help for some of its products.
These help systems are sent out along with printed documentation, and
in fact the systems are really just converted manuals. The help systems
tend to be a bit more complete, though, since they're created later and
have the benefit of more customer feedback.
I'm all in favour of online documentation, because I think it's easier to
find material (our systems offer full text search, as well as an index and
contents), and it tends to be more concise. However, a lot of our customers
insist on printed documentation because they use a variety of different
operating environments. For those who have Windows, our help systems
are great. But if they use unix or OS/2, the help systems are useless.
Because of our customers' needs, I guess I'd vote for both comprehensive
printed and online documentation. But I also feel that the printed docs
should be derived from the online help, not the other way around (sorry,
Mike). Online documentation tends to be clearer, less redundant, and far
better organized. It's easier to convert files with these qualities to
form than it is to convert redundant, scattered, and (often) wordy printed
information to online help.