Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




Software to view document on ANY Windows PC?

Hi,

I'd like to be able to distribute a document and have my customers be able to read it, regardless of what software is installed?

(NOTE: PDF is not an option because not all customers have PDF readers. And the customers who are so behind that they do NOT have readers are the very ones who need doucumentation)

E.g., I have a manual, written in MS Publisher. I'd like to distirbute it on our trial CD so I don't need to include a paper manual with every trial CD. Basically, I'd like this to work like a printable help file, but I don't want to have to rewrite the document as a help file (and then maintain two documents!)


SOME OPTIONS
1. Distribute it as an RTF document to read in WordPad.
Publisher won't convert it's files to RTF

2.  Print to PDF and get a very lightweight PDF reader (or better yet, one that can create a self-executing reader so you distribute the document as an exe).

Any other ideas?

The real Entrepreneur
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

HTML

Michael H. Pryor
Fog Creek Software
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

HTML, or ASCII test?

Christopher Wells
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Publisher 2003 will save as RTF. Alternately, if you can get the file into Word, you can save as RTF from there.

Caliban Tiresias Darklock
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Text Text Baby!

Mike
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Assuming a Windows client, if you don't want them to install *anything*, pretty much your only choices are plain text or WinHelp 1.0.

WordPad isn't installed by default on WinXP, so RTF is out.

IE isn't installed by default on Win95, so HTML is out.

Everybody's got winhelp.exe and notepad, though. Although you don't want your manual to be bigger than 64k if it's plain text, since the Win9x notepad can't deal with more text than that.

Basically, you need to relax your requirements a bit. :-)

Chris Tavares
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

It's no fun, but Office-compatible XHTML might be the way to go.

Li-fan Chen
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Are you sure Wordpad is not installed by default on XP? Could it be a manufacturer thing?

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Print to PDF.

Ship Acrobat Reader on the trial CD.

Alex.ro
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

are your customers so behind they don't even have web browsers?

mb
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

I'm reasonably sure. The last time I did an XP install, wordpad was not one of the default selected accessories. That was from an MSDN disk, so manufacturers don't enter into it.

I may be totally wrong, but that's pretty much what I remember. I'm not about to repave a machine just to verify my assertion, though. :-)

Chris Tavares
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

"are your customers so behind they don't even have web browsers? "

Yes. Our typical customer is 75 year old grandmother.

Probalby 90% of our customers have a web browser, but there's not guarantee of that.

The real Entrepreneur
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

What I meant was that there's no guarantee that they'll have a web browser on thier computer.

Also, repurposing a document to HTML requires some massaging. That means we then have to maintain TWO versions of the document (HTML and original format for  the paper manual).

If you've ever tried to maintain seperate, dual copies of something you know what a pain that can be.

The real Entrepreneur
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Windows help.  Not the ideal media, but from my experience, any windows flavor can handle it.

Elephant
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

This might be a good candidate for one of those programs that takes a web page or other text and compiles it into an executable that just displays the original text.

Come to think of it, for a one-off project like this, you could probably just throw something like that together yourself, no?

Kevin
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Re. the repurposing issue, you could use XML as your native format and then use XSLT stylesheets to transform it into separate HTML and plain text versions.  That way you wouldn't have to worry about keeping the HTML and plain text versions in sync -- just make edits to the master XML document and reapply the stylesheets.

You could also use stylesheets to transform it to other formats, like PDF or RTF.  (There are various commercial converter tools available.)

This is probably overkill, but I had to suggest it at least.  <g>

Robert Jacobson
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Windows help assumes that IE 4+ is installed. This is a bad assumption for Win 95

pdq
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Print to an image format, e.g. TIFF or something

Write a little image viewer that views/prints the TIFFs in a directory in the right order, e.g. page1.tif, page2.tif, page3.tif include it on the CD

I think the image viewer should be fairly trivial.  There are plenty of image viewing programs with source and generous source licenses. 
1. Just remove all the options other than those you want.
2. And add a page up/down option.
3. In fact, you may not even need to do 2, if you use multipage TIFF to start with.

S.Tanna
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

75-year-old grandmothers?

I stand corrected. Go with the standalone exe viewer thingy.

I'm curious -- and seriously -- what are the chances this 'class' of customers will read the docs? Even able-bodied men in their prime rarely do.

Do they have some incentive to "RTFM"? I.e., is the software complex, etc.?

Alex.ro
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

>Yes. Our typical customer is 75 year old grandmother.

What makes you think that a 75 year old would want to read through pages of manual in 6 point text anyway...no matter whether is PDF. TXT, JPEG or anything else?

If your customers are so cluless about even using technology like the internet just print a frigging 1-900 support number on your box, sell your software for free  and watch as the money rolls in as they light up your support line.

Code Monkey
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

i would expect 75 year old grandmothers to want to read the documentation--computers are not second nature to them, so documentation is helpful.
But I'd still expect most to have a web browser, (win95 osr2 and later) so HTML is good enough. even if they almost never go online.
if not, use RTF. there must be a VB OCX which can read RTF, they can use your app to read it or find the doc itself and use WordPad/etc.
or use acrobat like everyone says and make them install it from the CD.

self-running-apps are rare now because the industry has tried to move to the 'application and data are separate' model. for lots of reasons, security being the most pressing right now. you sign the application once then let everyone in the world create data for it.

mb
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

"Windows help assumes that IE 4+ is installed. This is a bad assumption for Win 95"

I think you're confusing Windows Help and HTML Help. The latter requires a fairly up-to-date system (by the standard of 75 year old grandmothers) but Windows Help was definitely around before IE4 was even released. The format dates back to 16-bit Windows.

Chris Nahr
Thursday, February 12, 2004

Send them a printed manual, preferably in large type.

GuyIncognito
Thursday, February 12, 2004

Or better yet, send over a young gentleman to read it to them, clean their gutters, and rescue their cat from their tree.

GuyIncognito
Thursday, February 12, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home