RE: HTML vs PDF for online manuals

Subject: RE: HTML vs PDF for online manuals
From: "Higgins, Lisa" <LHiggins -at- carrieraccess -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 10 Sep 1999 10:23:01 -0600

> Our technical writing department was asked by the higher powers of the
> company :) to change our online manuals from PDF to HTML. <...>
> Does anyone know any studies or articles on this subject that could
> help us justify our disapproval?

You don't say why it is that you are against the move to HTML, and looking
for studies to justify your disapproval isn't exactly the most even-handed
tactic.

I have written up some comparisons on PDF vs. HTML, but HTML's always won
pretty resoundingly. The benefits of PDF are that it's easy to print and
requires little, if any, training and rampup time for someone without much
online experience.

On the other hand, it's not portable (Acrobat isn't available for every
platform), it's very tied to monitor size and is often almost unreadable on
laptops, it often requires the user to download software to view, it's
linear and thus doesn't take full advantage of the capabilities of hypertext
and information reuse, and it wheezes compared to many browsers.

The most important factor you need to take into account is your users. Look
at the situation with an open mind. You may find that they *do* indeed
prefer PDF over HTML, especially if a very specific layout is important to
them. HTML looks different in different browsers, while PDF is more like a
snapshot of a page.

However, if you do find evidence that HTML better serves the needs of your
users, I do hope that you'll go with that. It's really not that painful a
transition. You can pick up very basic HTML in less than half an hour, and
you can add fancier stuff as you go along. And if you write nice, clean,
compliant code, it should be fairly trivial to maintain and 'upgrade' later,
to future HTML versions or XML or some other SGML thing.

Lisa.





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