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Subject:Re: WinHELP Philosophy From:Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET> Date:Thu, 1 Feb 1996 21:30:00 EST
>Tim Altom writes,
>"A manual is linear, not because it has to be read in a linear order, but
>because it CAN BE. Its intrinsic structure is a stack. Indexes and other
>search aids are to overcome the limitations of the stack, not to create
>faux hypertext links."
>Sorry, but many electronic documents can be read linearly as well. Whether
>a document is linear or hypertextual does not depend exclusively on its
>medium of presentation.
>Think of it as a continuum in which on one side you have linear documents
>and, on the other, pure hypertext. A novel is highly linear, a paper-based
>lies somewhere closer to the middle, and winhelp closer to being pure
>hypertext. Linear documents are read sequentially. Hypertextual documents
>are read dynamically. Have you ever flipped back a few dozen pages to check
>a "see also" reference in a paper manual? Congratulations! You just made a
>hypertext link. And without a computer.
>The reason most have so much trouble disconnecting hypertext with the PC is
>that hypertext can be so much more elegant and powerful in an electronic
>Let's not confine ourselves to the narrow view that hypertext is something
>you create with RoboHelp or Doc-to-Help.
>norton -at- mcs -dot- net
We're talking about two closely related concepts, James. You're seeking a
definition of hypertext, itself. That's a simple task: hypertext is
"nonlinear, or nonsequential, text" according to Philip Seyer in
_Understanding Hypertext, Concepts and Applications_. I think that's apt. As
Seyer points out, a newspaper is technically hypertext, because you don't
need to read the front page to read the sports section.
I, on the other hand, am not at all interested in definining the term, but
in implementing the concept. And there the complexities arise, especially on
computer. I'm not very interested in comparing newspapers and manuals,
actually. I am, however, vitally interested in how both newspapers and help
files organize materials for maximal usefulness. As you can see, they each
take quite different approaches to finding and using information.
Page-turners like Adobe Acrobat do allow browsing, of course, but that
browsing is of limited usefulness because you're basically substituting the
screen for the page.
An entirely different plan and a different development paradigm are
necessary in an application like WinHelp. There you don't want the user
browsing everything, and it's now up to the developer to lead the user. That
doesn't happen with novels, newspapers, or even Acrobat. Define hypertext as
you wish, but I stand by my answer that what you might call "hard-core"
hypertext applications are a breed apart, because you can't depend on the
user to fill in the gaps for a poorly designed and poorly executed app.