documentation on the WWW

Subject: documentation on the WWW
From: John Engler <spillman!jengler -at- UUNET -dot- UU -dot- NET>
Date: Wed, 2 Oct 1996 14:32:38 -0600

We're a software company, currently producing a Unix-based software
package. We've been distributing one copy of paper documentation to
clients, along with a copy on diskette in .PDF format for them to load
on as many machines as they want. (We had been sending multiple copies
of paper documentation, but every-day users didn't seem to have easy
access to them.) We've recently been considering making the documentation
available on the WWW (we found out about half our clients have WWW access).

My question is this: Are there any opinions about whether users, in general,
would prefer to down-load a .PDF copy of user documentation to read in
Acrobat Reader (similar to what they do now) or whether we should convert
to HTML and put the text itself online?

We've thought that accessing the WWW every time you want to read documentation
could be annoying. But it could be equally annoying to have to use up computer
memory for a copy of documentation (even though that's what we expect them to
do now). Part of the point is that we think that many of the every-day users
still don't have access to the documentation for that very reason--it takes up
too much memory on their machines. We're wondering if more users would have
access to documentation--and if they would use it--if we made the text available
on the WWW (and if it would be worth all the time, effort, and trouble to
convert to HTML). We've never done HTML conversions so the learning curve could
be pretty steep.

Also, might different kinds of documentation elicit different answers to
this question. For example, would it make sense to convert support
documentation to HTML and leave users documentation in .PDF format?

Any takers?

John Engler
jengler -at- spillman -dot- com
Technical Writer
Spillman Data Systems, Inc.
Logan, UT

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