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Paperless Office

I was reading "Random notes" http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=71582&ixReplies=13
when Exception Guy point to this interesting article on the paperless office, or why it isn't here.
http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=71582&ixReplies=13

I thought the author has some very interesting observations including the study done on what paper means to us.  As I see us as a forum of solutions people, I wonder if the issue may be:  Do we still have paper because it is simpler? 

I am really hoping that Tablet PCs take off.  Today, if I am working on something and want to go to a meeting, paper wins hands down.  It travels easy and I can mark it up and leaving it on my desk reminds me to take care of it.  You cannot really put notes in the margin of a word document.

So, are we getting close or is it really a part of a mental make up that will take generations of both people and technology to get past? 

MSHack
Wednesday, September 17, 2003

"As I see us as a forum of solutions people"

I thought it was about constant babble.

"Do we still have paper because it is simpler?"

No, it's because paper will still be there when the next blackout comes.

Still Unemployed
Wednesday, September 17, 2003

You can type faster than you can write and use up less CPU to boot.  The problem is that you can draw fastest with a pen, with great difficulty with a mouse, and not at all with the keyboard.  On top of all of this, commonly used applications (MS Office, etc) don't really give you very much ability to add impromptu drawings to a document.

The primary reason for why we use paper is covered by that article, yes.  It's easy, gives us a number of neat features "for free" and generall works well.

I suspect that the younger generations will get progressively more accustomed to paperless offices and be more able to not "resort" to paper.  Also, other attributes will improve, like screen size, screen resolution, user interfaces, etc.

I don't think that the Tablet PC is a perfect solution.  If we ever get a display technology better than the current LCDs (or at least be able to produce high resolution LCDs for less money with fewer defects) we'll start to see some devices that really start to work like a tablet.  I think that a 12-18 hour useful battery life (i.e. able to survive a workday without charging) would be another step towards having the good properties of paper while offering something new and powerful.

HP's whole book-like experience on a device isn't going to help, I'll say that, however.

Flamebait Sr.
Wednesday, September 17, 2003

You actually can make notes in the margin of a word document in Word XP. Check out the "comment" feature. It put's little post-it note style boxes in the margin of the document.

Matthew Lock
Wednesday, September 17, 2003

By the way, what is it with programmers and their almost religious aversion to using paper?

Matthew Lock
Wednesday, September 17, 2003

[looking around desk]
I must not be a programmer then.

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, September 17, 2003

What is it with managers and their almost religious aversion to listening to programmers? Same old fart.

Johnny Bravo
Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Aside from the things others have mentioned:

Paper has vastly higher resolution than displays, and is easier and less straining to read.

Paper has no battery-life restrictions and no boot time. Nor does it have compatibility issues: Copy it and anyone can read it.

Paper can be stacked and collected anywhere in the real world, versus the 16-by-14-inch-or-so desktop that a typical monitor provides. It can also be much bigger than any display: just tape a bunch of pieces together on the wall and you can get the big picture.

Paper has different failure modes than electronics: you can burn or mutilate it, but scratches or magnetic anomalies are not likely to cause readability problems.

Paper is highly portable and intrinsically low value. You can fold a sheet of paper into your wallet and barely know it's there. If someone steals it, you haven't lost anything valuable (except maybe the data on the paper).

Paper can be difficult to alter without detection, which is generally not true of electronic data (unless you are using hashes or crypto technology).

Writing on paper does not make noise, unlike typing on a keyboard.

Etc.

John C.
Thursday, September 18, 2003

The technology isn't here yet unfortunately.  I think once it is then paper use will decrease, but we've a long way yet to go.
For example, I'd like my paper replacement to be credit card size (maximum), so I can fit it into my wallet.  I want to be able to be able to scribble on it while it's credit card size, however that size is no good for reading, so I want to be able to fold it out to (at least) A4 size.  It must be able to work for at least 15-20 hours without charging, then fully recharge in a couple of minutes.  It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that it has wireless networking so I can stay up-do-date at all times.  (And the network infrastructure has to support and enable all of this.)  I could go on for ages about this!
Plus it's got to be cheap.  I'd personally pay a premium for a tool like this, but for joe public that isn't an option, until it gets as well supported and accepted as mobile phones are now.

ScottB
Thursday, September 18, 2003

I am surrounded by stacks of paper. When I look at what is there, almost none of it is handwritten. 99.5% is printouts. So why is it there?
a> Someone send me a paper copy
b> I wanted to read it and it was longer than a few papagraphs, so I printed it
c> I needed to take something to a meeting, conference, ... any place that does not have desks power outlets etc.

(a) is realy horrible. If I get something on paper I am bound to loose it. I also can not "search" paper and I am not one of those people that just loves to file all day. And if I want a duplicate, can you even think "photocopy" without twitching?
(b & c)) I need a tablet PC for this to go away, but I need the 4th generation ones: A4/Letter workspace, 300dpi+, both for output and input, extremely high contrast screen that works in direct sunlight, 18hr+ battery life, rugged, no noise, <1.5kg

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, September 18, 2003

Scribbling on stuff is a major affordance that paper does quite well for free.

For me, scribbling is 95% text, but I still refer to scribble than to type. I think there's some kind of brain modality at work here: typing seems to require my attention, scribbling lets me write 'stream-of-conciousness'.

I'm currently using a TabletPC, and I now 'print' most documents to disc and use the Journal to scribble on them with a Pen. The act of hilighting and scribbling notes helps me gronk the material.

OfficeXP does allow comments, and there's a free patch to allow hand-written comments. But it still doesn't work as smoothly as paper.

Office 2003 allows writing directly on the page right over word and Excel. Furthermore, your handwriting stays with the text as you edit the document. I like it.

http://www.braithwaite-lee.com/

Reginald Braithwaite-Lee
Thursday, September 18, 2003

This is a pretty good article about our attachment to paper (not written by a tech/programmer):

http://gladwell.com/2002/2002_03_25_a_paper.htm

Chris Winters
Thursday, September 18, 2003

I think tablets and Word 2003 (esp with more and more ink plug-ins) may actually be the first viable threat to paper.

I was going to use handouts at a meeting as an example of why paper won't go away, but then I started thinking about it - imagine being at a meeting where everyone's got tablets and can use them. If they're all connected via wi-fi, then you can do things like:
-Put your sketch up on the screen for everyone to see
-Send a private note to a colleague ("Should we tell the boss we've already done this?")
-Send a private note to the *speaker* ("You really need to backtrack and explain that feature X won't be ready for two quarters")
-Make notes. Tag some as private, some as public. At the end of the meeting, all the public notes can be gathered and reviewed by the presenter

And yes, you can check e-mail and to-do lists during a meeting. You know what? This INCREASES productivity. A dedicated employee will pay attention when there's info they need to know (most meetings are over-inclusive and waste some people's time). So if an engineer is suddenly caught in a marketing discussion about a project she's not working on, why not let her do a bit of work instead of twiddling her thumbs?

Philo

Philo
Thursday, September 18, 2003

I'm not so sure Philo, the technology needs to come on a bit, we have an electronic whiteboard and it's horrid (needs a projector to draw your scribbles). The best one I've used was one where it had a built in scanner and could scan the white board afterwards, printing out on paper.
When we've been doing our design work recently, I tried a few electronic versions and gave up and went with a real whiteboard in the end, it seems to flow better....

Peter Ibbotson
Thursday, September 18, 2003

Well, of course one thing to be mindful of is not looking at tablets/ink as a hammer where every problem is a nail. Sure there are still areas that pen/paper may be a better solution - the thing to do is recognize that not every meeting is the same, and for some meetings, tablets/ink *may* be better than paper.

Also, we're developers - I know Office 2003 is .Net-based and MS is *very* positive on tablets and ink - if things aren't working the way you want them to, build a solution that works. :-)

Sorry, but I started thinking about the applications of ink in meetings and collaboration and it *really* appeals to me. Granted, provided that it works unobtrusively, but I think the tools are really there to do it.

Philo

Philo
Thursday, September 18, 2003

The current tablets are definetly early adopter stuff IMHO, and do not have the specs for "general" acceptance outside of specific niches, but the concept is very promising. Give it another 24-36 months.

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, September 18, 2003

Check out OneNote from Microsoft: http://www.microsoft.com/office/preview/onenote/overview.asp

I got a copy (but no tablet) and it seems to go the right way.

Glenn. B. Hansen
Thursday, September 18, 2003

The article linked to "The Social Life of Paper", explains the matter better than anybody else can, and also makes it clear why tablet PC's will not replace paper - they simply do not have the same "affordance".

The point is that paper is the best temporary way of accessing information, What however is confusing things is that it has traditionally been seen as the bet permanent way of storing inrormation; and of course for storing and retrieving information the computer is  ideally suited, and various powers of ten better tnan paper.

I often print things out, and then make a point of throwing them away immedialtely afterwards so they don't clutter up the workspace. People who have been bought up not to waste paper or ink do not understand the reason for this, even though they will merrliy use paper cups and paper plates and never dream of putting them in the dishwasher.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, September 18, 2003

An observation on the affordances of paper in a meeting - that point of view requires that the person who called the meeting has a presumptive right to everyone's attention in the meeting.

How about the idea that each person in a meeting is an equal, and if Joe doesn't want to read the document right now, he doesn't have to?

Like I said - tablets provide affordances that democratize meetings; you can have sub-meetings going on, sidebar comments are less distracting, private suggestions can be passed back and forth, etc.

Of course, a company that recognizes the value of this probably won't be the kind of company that calls overinclusive meetings...

Also note that I explicitly said that it's a mistake to look at anything as the "one ring" to banish all paper. I pointed out the benefits of tablets in large meetings or briefings; that has no bearing on the usefulness of printing out documentation or scribbling notes on the phone or handing out packages of briefing documents - they should each be evaluated separately.

Philo

Philo
Friday, September 19, 2003

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