OpenOffice 2.4.0 packs a punch with new features, improvements  Clip to Evernote

If you’re using OpenOffice Writer to create your tech docs (and there’s no reason that you can’t), you’ll be happy to know that OpenOffice 2.4.0 is now available. This release packs a number of great new features and enhancements, documented over at OOONinja. Some of the highlights of the newest version of OpenOffice Writer include:

  • Enhanced PDF export to PDF/A-1 for future-proof document archival
  • Support for relative links within PDF files
  • Ability to import custom properties from Microsoft Word
  • Improved localization support (10 new languages included)

Will this latest release help OpenOffice gain a little market share from Microsoft? And how favorable will these changes measure up against Word in Bruce Byfield’s next comparison study? Let us know what you think.

Keep marketing away from the documentation  Clip to Evernote

Marketing and technical writing. They’re at two ends of a spectrum. As a former co-worker once said “We deal with facts. Marketing deals in hype.” That might seem a bit extreme, but that’s the way it sometimes feels.

But in some circles, there’s a feeling that marketing should be involved in the creation of user manuals. I’ve heard a number of people, notably Kathy Sierra, argue that marketing should play an integral role in the the documentation process.

Darren Barefoot (with whom Aaron and I will be appearing on a DocTrain panel in May), on the other hand, disagrees. This older post explains at length why documentation should be kept out of the hands of the marketing department.

Darren makes one really solid point:

The user has already bought the product. They want to know how it works, not why it’s good. Often the people using the product are not the people who bought it. They don’t care why it’s good. They just want to know how (not why) it will make their lives easier.

In a few instances in my experience, the documentation that I’ve worked on has been used as part of marketing and sales efforts. The folks involved in pushing the software didn’t have a hand in writing the docs, but they did use the manuals and help to do what Darren mentioned: show potential customers what the application can do. In a couple of cases, the documentation played a small role in making the sale.

A different way to look at procedures  Clip to Evernote

The way I look at procedures has evolved over the course of my career. Like many street-trained tyros, I first viewed procedures as being mere numbered lists. Perhaps broken up by the occasional nested bulleted list with a bit of indented text here and there. But then it dawned on me that I could make the procedures more useful and more usable by incorporating such elements as tables, task lists and topic maps.

This article from UXMatters looks at a number of ways in which you can enhance procedures, advice that works both for printed and online documentation. One cogent piece of advice is:

Put the critical information in the first three words of a sentence

Google Docs, updates, and the user  Clip to Evernote

Aaron and I use Google Docs (as well as other Google applications) quite extensively. We joke that we’ve quaffed a lot of Google’s Kool Aid, and like it so much that we always come back for more.

Our main reasons for using Google Docs are its ease of access and its simplicity. Wherever we are, we can work on notes and drafts and articles and more as long as we have a wireless Internet connection. If not, then we can work offline using Google Gears. On top of that, Google Docs is easy to use and has just the features we need.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve read complaints in various blogs about how Google Docs (and other Google apps) aren’t updated with big, splashy features — compared to, say, rivals like Yahoo! Mail or Zoho Office. Google handles changes to its applications in the right way: one that has little apparent impact on the user.

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Users want more usable software, fewer features  Clip to Evernote

This recent article in Information Week mentions a survey that reveals effective usage as a far more important factor for realizing value in a software deployment than features and functionality.

The report, Achieving Enterprise Software Success, found that usability is the most important factor in determining the overall value of enterprise software in terms of creating a competitive advantage, reducing costs, and growing revenue.

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Weekly link roundup  Clip to Evernote