Online docs -- was RE: PDF vs HTML

Subject: Online docs -- was RE: PDF vs HTML
From: Shmuel Ben-Artzi <sba -at- NETMEDIA -dot- NET -dot- IL>
Date: Wed, 16 Oct 1996 11:44:18 +0200

John Lord says:

>BTW, the discussions of PDF vs. HTML are raising some very interesting and
>relevant issues, all of which are part of the larger issue of format choices
>for documentation. Almost all of the arguments I have heard recently on this
>topic end up with the summation that "the majority of our customers will be
>extremely unhappy if they don't get a printed manual."

Two years ago this could have been said with little argument forthcoming.
Today the first stirrings of a full-blown paradigm shift can already be
seen. The question is no longer one of whether the pendulum will swing full
tilt, but of when. Will there always be a market for printed docs? My own
read is that there will be, but that the curve will take a sharp downward
drop over the next three-to-five years and bottom out pretty far down on the
scale.

Think about the possibilities, some of which already exist and some of which
are just showing up on the drawing board today. Picture a doctor consulting
on a surgical procedure from 6,000 miles away with simultaneous online
access to twelve journals and the medical libraries of eight universities in
six different countries. Or a law clerk sitting in court, his laptop browser
pointed to an online law library, searching for a precedent that defense
counsel can use to counter the prosecutor's arguments as he makes them. Or a
sales rep for an engineering firm sitting in his client's office with
immediate access to his company's 8GB multimedia sales database, complete
mil spec library and the comprehensive QA history on every product in the line.

When these scenarios start to be commonplace, will the majority of our
customers continue to be
"extremely unhappy" if they don't get a printed manual? Not likely. Just the
opposite, in fact. And if the paradigm doesn't seem to be shifting quickly
enough, some enterprising Web entrepreneurs will find ways to speed up the
process. That's what Microsoft, Corel and a bunch of other major players did
to kick-start the movement to online docs in the first place. They put most
documentation on CD's, passed the savings (usually between $100 and $200 for
major products) on to the customers, and then made the printed docs
available to anyone who requested them as an extra-cost option. Though I
haven't done a comprehensive survey on this subject, I'd be willing to bet
that the number of clients who demand the redundant printed docs at an added
cost of at least $200 is pretty small.

The shift is definitely underway already, and it's going to gain a lot of
momentum in the next generation. And remember that in the computer world a
generation is, at most, 2-1/2 years.

Shmuel Ben-Artzi
Netanya, Israel
sba -at- netmedia -dot- net -dot- il


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