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Just How Important is a Printed Manual?

Not so long ago, Bible software packages (in fact most software packages) included a printed user manual. Today, the vast majority of software companies do not publish any manual at all. Supposedly it's all found in the online Help so, they say, there is no need to duplicate efforts. I could give you dozens of examples, but let's take just one:

Zondervan states that "in the interest of being environmentally responsible, there is no print manual with this software", in reference to their Bible Study Library line of products. And then they add, "The entire manual is included under the Help Menu in the program. You are welcome to print it from there if you desire." I beg your pardon! Do you mean to say that you want to be "environmentally responsible" but that it is okay if I, the user, spend hundreds of pages of paper and a good bit of ink printing the online help? Doesn't seem to make much sense to me! I know that different people have different tastes and study habits, but I for one deeply regret the fact that most Bible software vendors (with some notable exceptions!) are no longer providing detailed printed manuals. I can think of a good number of reasons why printed manuals are valuable:

a) Reading from a book is a lot easier on your eyes than reading from your screen, particularly when you reach a certain age ;-)
b) Most online helps aren't very complete anyway, to say the least. While ideally a printed manual should be comprehensive.
c) Printed manuals should offer, IMO, a good deal of information about the tagging/hypertexting philosophy that's being followed, as well as the rationale of the search engine (i.e., why do we get the results we get when we do what we do). d) Considering the price of most commercial applications, expecting to receive a manual seems quite reasonable.
e) I like reading books... Any problem with that? ;-))
f) There are many more, no doubt, but I have to go now...

And yes, the fact that many users don't bother to read the manual (any manual) and keep calling or writing tech support doesn't mean that manuals are useless. In fact, reading a good manual will go a long way towards mastering any software and overcoming the much-feared "learning curve".

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 29, 2004 8:32 PM.

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