Re: Printed vs. Online: What mix?

Subject: Re: Printed vs. Online: What mix?
From: Matt Ion <mion -at- NEXTLEVEL -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 27 Sep 1995 19:41:02 PDT

On Tue, 26 Sep 1995 12:43:23 -0400 you wrote:

>I'd like to get a feel for how other companies out there blend printed
>and online software documentation. My own personal inclination is to
>develop a complete and thorough manual, then convert that same
>information into a complete and thorough help file.

Sounds viable. The biggest advantage to online documentation is that it can
be made context-sensitive - need help with a particular command of function,
call up specific help instead of having to look up a keyword in the index and
then flip through the dozen or so different pages that mention it.

>Some people feel that there should be a minimalist manual and a complete
>and thorough help file (the Microsoft approach);

It depends on the product itself. IBM takes the same approach with OS/2 - the
manual focusses mainly on installation and basic operation. After that one
can not only look through a number of different online references and perform
searches limited to that section, the index, the whole document, or all
documents within the help path, but call up context-sensitive help wherever
one is in the system (even if there isn't a "Help" button or menu, the F1 key
is almost universally the Help key), as well as pulling up help on every
device driver, every CONFIG.SYS parameter and setting, and every error message
by simply typing HELP <function> at a command line.

This amount of documentation would create a manual thicker than the Warp
packaging itself, and require an index as thick as the existing printed
documentation. Having it online not only makes it a lot more convenient, but
saves a bundle in printing costs and I'm sure, several thousand acres of

Again, of course, this is dependant on the product in question. A simple text
editor might have a thin manual that's just as easy to flip through as to have
to pull up a help window everytime one needs to look something up.

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