Re: Electronic books/PDF drawbacks

Subject: Re: Electronic books/PDF drawbacks
From: Elna Tymes <etymes -at- LTS -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 11 Jul 1996 22:27:44 -0700

> beth_staats -at- ARTISOFT -dot- COM wrote:

> Tech writers,
> At first we thought Adobe Acrobat was really neat, but I should tell
> you about the conclusions we've drawn from our last big project.

> We provided a bunch of detailed reference files in Adobe Acrobat PDF
> format on a CD and also posted them on our BBS, the WWW, FTP and
> CompuServe for downloading by users who don't have a CD-ROM drive.
> We've heard these complaints from users:

> - The PDF files aren't linked to each other, or to any other online
> info. Sometimes when I want to search for a topic, I end up
> repeating that process in each of the PDF docs. This is really
> inconvenient. I want all the online docs linked so I can search
> just once.

> - I don't have a CD-ROM drive so I tried to download. The Reader itself
> took a very long time to download, which bothered me. And then each of
> the files took too long to download. I don't like this.

> - PDF files take too long to navigate online. All the pauses waste my time.
> My machine is too slow or something. I might as well print them out.

> As a result of these comments, we've decided never again to give users
> files in PDF format ONLY. Chances are we'll move everything into HTML so
> that all docs can be searched at once. Meanwhile, we're putting the same
> info we have in those PDF files into:
> > TXT files for DOS users
> > the Windows online Help
> We hope that giving people three choices of documentation sources
> (in addition to the printed manuals) will help for now.

> Positive comments: PDF files print out beautifully, and they're fun to
> navigate online if you have the time.

I think the basic problem here is not one of a technical/technology
problem, but more one of information

1. Acrobat reader is available in quite a few different formats. On CDs,
on floppy, and on the web. A number
of companies that we work with are starting to ship copies of the reader
as part of their standard install
package. Yes, it takes a while to download - depending on the download
speed. I can pull the entire Acrobat
reader to my system in just a couple minutes, but that's via an ISDN
line. If you're providing online doc in
PDF, it is worth your while to consider bundling the reader with the
standard install. Adobe sure doesn't
2. Size of the downloadable is very much an information design issue. I
would suggest that putting the same
amount of information into HTML or WinHelp will result in a file package
that, in total, is just as large as
the PDF file. In WinHelp, you're going to spend just as long downloading
each file. In HTML, you'll spend the
same amount of time, spread out in penny-packets. Also, note that with
the 3.0 readers now in testing, you
will be able to download 1 page at a time. Which gets you into the same
ballpark as those HTML penny-packets.
3. Not linking the PDF files is, simply put, bad information design.
Putting them into HTML or WinHelp won't
solve that problem. If each "manual" that's in a PDF file is put into a
WinHelp file, you'll have the same
cross-file searching problem. It gets even worse in HTML -- you can only
search in the current file, and your
file now only covers part of the content, not all of it. (Note: we're
working on a solution to this particular
4. Depending on your software, WinHelp can either be useful or a complete
bust. Either way, it isn't designed
for online doc. Don't expect to get "best" results from pouring docs into

Charles Prael
Los Trancos Systems

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