The downside of PDF

Subject: The downside of PDF
From: Thomas Quine <thomas -dot- quine -at- NCOMPASSLABS -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 16 Dec 1998 14:32:47 -0800

Remember that PDF is not online help. There are much better tools for
online help. PDF is a format that allows you to ensure that the
formatting of a document will be maintained when printed.

The assumption behind PDF is therefore that the user will print it. PDF
has nothing to do with saving trees - it's about passing the cost of
printing onto the customer, or, more charitably, allowing the customer
to print as many copies as they require.

Where PDF breaks down is that the user will usually choose to skip the

In my experience, if you put any tiny obstacle between the reader and
the reading, you lose a percentage of the readership. Printing out a PDF
document is rather a large obstacle to many readers.

Therefore, going the PDF route means you find it acceptable to lose a
segment of your readership.

We produce nine manuals and an online help system for our product. All
manuals are written in a Frame template tailored for offset printing.
Only the installation guide and step-by-step tutorials are actually
printed and bound, because we assume that a printed manual will be most
useful to those audiences. (Also, we can't afford to lose any readership
on these - they are vital to the success of the product!)

After writing is finished, the content of all nine manuals is then
ported to two other Frame templates: one for online viewing (includes
color, larger and more readable font, hyperlinks, etc.), and one for
printing to a standard 8.5x11 laser printer page. This gives the reader
their preference.

We will be conducting a user evaluation of this strategy early next year
- I'll keep the list posted.

- Thom

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