Re: PDF v paper

Subject: Re: PDF v paper
From: Peter Collins <peter -dot- collins -at- BIGFOOT -dot- COM>
Date: Sun, 20 Dec 1998 08:29:41 +1100

Which is 'best' documentation on paper or PDF? I hope we can talk about
other on-line formats, too, not just PDF.

I try to avoid reading the paper, it's nowhere as easy to jump round as
hypertext. but the indexing quality is crucial in both meida.

I love reading on-line if I can set up the font size and word wrap to suit
myself, and turn off the stupid background images and colours, otherwise
it's not much chop.

I admit that screen real estate is also crucial. I got myself set up with a
huge monitor as well as the usual size, so I can read on the small, and
work (with a marginal help window as well) on the large. Manuals take up
soooo much shelf and cupboard space. And I usually have so many books
stacked on my desk, and in piles around me on the floor, when I'm working,
that adding those for the software tools as well would mostly br

On-line reading needs smart displays or ferget-it-mac! I want to squeeze
the on-line text into a word-wrapped, at-the-side column AND set the font
size to suit my crazy choice of resolution. I can do that with Winhelp,
HTML, raw Word or RTF docs and TXT files to name a few. I CANNOT DO IT WITH

I abhor being fobbed off with a PDF as an excuse for on-line documentation.
That is the WORST of both worlds. Lacks the bathroom portability of paper.
Lacks the flexibility of a genuine on-line format. PDF is about as near a
scanned-in reproduction of a book as you could get, to all extents and

If the only alternatives are PDF and paper, I would go for the paper, too.
But I much prefer the on-line version when it comes with good on-line
flexibility of format, well chosen hypertext links and indices, good
context help links, full explanation - somewhere - of absolutely everthing,
decent structure, 'intelligent' help links from error messages, and so on.

Many people, including me, throw stones at Microsoft. But we must remember
they have done (or bought in) some great quality at times. One of my
favourite examples is the Word6 macro language help file. I learnt macro
writing by assuming the 'record macro' function worked like the old Windows
Recorder. Then I saw the 'Edit' button (the lack of which so exasperated me
in Recorder). I pressed it. Wow. And the button tips on the macro tool-bar
were genuinely instructional. Just on the off-chance I pressed F1. It gave
me help for the macro word under the cursor. And most every help screen has
several examples. And they teach you other language components and
techniques - IN CONTEXT! Wow. Just using Record One Instruction, F1 and the
hypertext within the help file I could get inter-related facts to learn
every bit as fast as my mind could store and exploit them. I am now an
adequate macro programmer. I have thought about buying a book on the macro
language, but until I have stopped learning so well on-line, why bother?
(But I should admit that this is on a Windows machine - I gather that the
help system may not be quite so friendly on a mac)

Just a thought.
Peter Collins, VIVID Management Pty Ltd,
26 Bradleys Head Road, MOSMAN NSW 2088, Australia
+61 2 9968 3308, fax +61 2 9968 3026, mobile +61 (0)18 419 571
Management Consultants and Technical Writers
email: peter -dot- collins -at- bigfoot -dot- com ICQ#: 10981283
Short stories and CV:

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