Re: On-line v. paper

Subject: Re: On-line v. paper
From: Max Wyss <prodok -at- PRODOK -dot- CH>
Date: Sun, 20 Dec 1998 15:30:13 +0100


I have followed not fully in-depth. Your comments do reveal some
misunderstandings, however.

First, in order to be shippable, any product needs appropriate
documentation (that is at least the law in Europe; in the US, it might be
different). If no documentation is shipped with something you get, you can
either send it back or ask for some money back.

Another point is that - as we all know - creating useable documentation
requires time and resources. As the beancounters are only up for the next
quarters profit, anything which requires time and resources is cut back to
an absolute minimum, and the development cycles are pushed shorter and
shorter. So, third party publications come in. I am not sure, but it could
very easily be that these third party publications are another source of
income for the software publishers ... you can be sure that they don't give
away the right to use product names etc. for free...

Another cost factor are in fact printing and shipping cost. The cost fo
producing and shipping a full set of documentation easily may become a
considerable part of the whole product selling price, so find a way to
avoid these costs turns into income / profit. And third party publications
do not appear as cost in the software manufacturer's books.

Now, if something is to be shipped with the product anyway, one has to look
for a suitable format. This format must ensure the content integrity, as
well as the appearance integrity. The contents integrity is obvious,
because the manufacturer can be made liable for errors (of course, no
reasonable judge would support such a case, but it simply would keep the
company's lawyers busy (usually another cost factor)). In any case, not
having that contents integrity guarantee could cause serious annoyances.
Similar reasoning counts for the appearance integrity. Again, formatting
can become an issue, and lack of may cause serious problems.

Which fomrats do ensure both integrities. They must be read-only in any
case, or - if they are editable - editable in a way that the modifications
are noticeable. Also, corruptions must be easily detectable. The most
obvious format fullfilling these conditions is ... paper. In electronic
form, there are a few products available, and the leading one of them is
the PDF format.

The so highly praised MS-Word format can not ensure either integrity. It is
editable in the wiever application, and depending on the selected printer
driver the appearance varies. All this also applies to other wordprocessor
or text formats. And yes, thanks to some wonderful features, the MS-Word
format is now one of the leading carriers for more or less nasty viruses.

This brings us to the usability. Here about the same amount of blame goes
to the publisher and to the user. It is way too often true that the
publisher does not use the additional features the PDF format offers, such
as articles, indexes, bookmarks, links etc. Features which are available
"for free" from most serious documentation creating tools. Could it be that
the manufacturer's documentation department does not know how to use these

On the other hand, the user also should know about the possibilities of the
PDF format. It is definitely worthwile to look at the options in the
Preferences > General menu of the Reader. If Exchange is available, and
certain documents are really often used, it could even be worthwile to add
articles on your own (this would not yet be a breach of the contents
integrity because the actual contents is not touched with the article
function ... for messing around with the contents, you would need other
tools). Or it would certainly be worthwile to use Catalog for indexing the
documents in order to create a very fast full text search system. Of
course, it would have been much better if the publisher already did that,
but ...

So, there are other reasons why the PDF format is chosen more and more
often. It is not because people don't like Microsoft, it is because the MS
Word format is not suitable for legally binding documentation. From the
message I must assume that it is assumed that MS Word is free (isn't it
anyway ???) As this is not the case, the user can not be forced to _buy_
software for reading the documentation; the viewer application must be
provided with the documentation itself.

Just my Zweiräppler...

Max Wyss
PRODOK Engineering AG
Technical documentation and translations, Electronic Publishing
CH-8906 Bonstetten, Switzerland

Fax: +41 1 700 20 37
e-mail: mailto:prodok -at- prodok -dot- ch

Bridging the Knowledge Gap


>Or when they run down to Barnes & Noble and buy a book as big or bigger
>than the one the software publisher didn't print or, as is increasingly
>the case, write. I have about six shelf feet of third-party books about
>Borland products because Inprise can't be bothered to document their
>development systems properly, online or otherwise.
>I want to bring up another point about PDF that I didn't see mentioned
>(although I confess to not having read every last paragraph of every
>last posting to this subject). It's not that I dislike PDF per se. My
>beef is that 99 times out of 100, the "PDF" file is just an image of
>what was or is meant to be a hardcopy manual. So it's in a completely
>stupid, unusable, migraine-inducing format for viewing online--for
>example, the pages are sized to fit an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper rather
>than a typical 600x800 computer screen. Unfortunately, there seems to be
>a growing number of companies who think that the only requirement for
>calling something "online documentation" is that it can be
>/*displayed*/--the requirement that it be /*viewable*/ doesn't seem to
>enter into the management decision. If these companies who have stopped
>shipping hardcopy would reformat their "online" documentation to make it
>somewhat more usable, I wouldn't be so miffed. But they're trying to
>have their cake and eat it to: i.e., not providing hardcopy docs, and
>not providing something suitable for online viewing either.
>Anothing thing. If they're just dumping page images into a PDF file
>/*meant for printing*/, I'd much really rather have them in Word format,
>thank you very much. I don't mind printing the occasional big
>job--that's why I invested in a fairly quick laser printer. The problem
>is, when it comes to printing, PDF stands for "You Could Have Bought An
>Inkjet For $2,000 Less And Never Noticed." Last week I had to print out
>a 600p manual on my 8ppm HP4M and it took nearly five hours, effectively
>reducing my laser printer to about the rate of my old Apple Imagewriter
>II (actually, the I-II might have been faster). Maybe if I had a 400Mhz
>PII instead of this little old P166 I could have speeded that up to all
>of 4ppm. A properly formatted Word file, on the other hand, would have
>printed out in the expected 1 hr. and 15 minutes (not counting
>paper-reloading/jam-clearing time) or not much more than that.
>So when it comes to shipping "online versions of hardcopy docs", I don't
>see it as being "online v. paper", but as PDF versus some printable
>format, like Word, that doesn't consume so much in the way of system
>resources. It /*used*/ to be that companies would put docs in Word
>format, then suddenly everybody jumped on the PDF bandwagon, for no
>reason I can think of other than Acrobat is "free" and everybody hates
>Bill Gates. I really wish they'd jump back off.
>Linda K. Sherman <linsherm -at- gte -dot- net>

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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