Re: Editorial Against PDFs

Subject: Re: Editorial Against PDFs
From: Ronni Geist <ronni -at- GEISTWRITERS -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 6 Mar 1998 11:25:58 -0500

Regarding PDFs...

As the former documentation manager for an internationally recognized PC
software/hardware company, I'd like to add my two-cents to the
discussion on PDFs...

> > In the case of vendors, I'm at a complete loss as to why they supply =
> > their manuals in PDF. Is it laziness? Is it because they can print their =
> > documentation that is laid out for paper directly to the PDF driver =
> > rather than go to the trouble of creating a specifically electronic =
> > version?=20

Why supply manuals in PDF format? Lots of reasons...and, no, "laziness"
certainly was not one of them!

At the company where I was employed, we would prepare a "traditional"
(print) manual first, to be boxed with the full version of the product.
Then, we would address different channels (marketing needs) with PDFs.
For example, if an OEM wanted an "LE" or "SE" edition of the software to
bundle with a specific PC, we could take that same manual, adapt it
accordingly, and provide a PDF so the end-user would be getting all of
the appropriate documentation in a format that s/he could view on-screen
-- complete with proper layout, callouts, screen grabs, TOC, Index,
Appendices, whatever -- and print, if so desired. Laziness, no!
Cost-savings, yes! Time-savings, absolutely (considering that the
turn-around on a print manual can be a month or more)!

For so-called value CDs -- those $12.95 or $14.95 CD-ROMs that sell
without a box, just a shrink-wrapped jewel case -- a printed manual was
inappropriate, but a full manual in PDF format gave the user a means of
having access to all of the documentation if needed. The Acrobat Reader
can be distributed on disc, is easy to use, and provides access to the
complete documentation -- screen grabs, graphics, charts, tables,
whatever -- in its orginal format.

> > Of course, it may be that vendors figure that their deathless prose has =
> > such great intrinsic value that the hoi polloi shouldn't be able to cut =
> > and paste it.

Where I was employed, it was not a question of not wanting users to
arbitrarily cut-and-paste sections of the manual because of the "great
intrinsic value" of the text; rather, there were security concerns. To
provide a fully-formatted Word file, for example, was akin to unlocking
the door to piracy and low-cost knock-offs. There's an enormous world of
phony software out there, made to look amazingly like the "real thing."

> Or it may be that vendors realize their product is protected by
> copyright and don't feel the need to make easier for anyone to violate
> that copyright.

Certainly copyright is a concern...but so is fraud and sabotage. The
idea that someone can get an editable file, screw around with it (change
instructions, add or delete references to features, make it difficult or
impossible for users to install the product, or provide instructions
that will ultimately wreak havoc with their systems), and then
distribute it as "official" documentation is scary. The consequences of
such are enormous and could potentially bring down a software company.
That's why we used PDFs.

Ms. Ronni Geist
Director, Editorial Services
ronni -at- geistwriters -dot- com

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