After a day of fucking with software documentation, I’ve got my knickers in a bit of a twist and have a modest proposal for corporate-scale software manufacturers. You need to put all of your product documentation online (in either PDF or HTML format, it doesn’t really matter to me), and you need to be taxed 1/10 of a percent of your retail price (payable back to the poor system administrator who is trying to implement the multi-thousand dollar package his company just bought) for every error this individual finds in your documentation.
It’s the only way they’re ever going to care to get this shit right. I spent eight hours today vetting a pre-installation checklist and, in that time, found four errors in the documentation that cost me about an hour each time. Now I’m just trying to install the basic foundation of the package, I’m not even to the configuration stage. I’m barely off the shelf here.
The best one? “You need to install the Stroke-Counting Interface before you install the Ass-Paddling Module. The SCI is part of the basic Home Pleasure Dome installation. Please launch the Universal Interface Selection to install the HPD. For more information, refer to the section of this document about installing the SCI.” [see page 14]
[page 14] “The Stroke-Counting Interface is installed as part of the basic Home Pleasure Dome installation.”
Other than the names being changed, I shit you not. This was their documentation. The UIS made no mention of the SCI in either its custom installation options or in its inventory of installed components. We had to log on to the company’s support area (available only to those who pay more than my salary a year as “maintenance”) to find out where and how the SCI was installed because, you know what? Yeah, it wasn’t installed during our “basic” installation that we did a week ago.
I don’t get this. You ship a product. You put your “documentation” for that product online, and yet, to actually accomplish tasks, a user has to log to Tech Support and get clarification. How hard can it be to UPDATE YOUR FUCKING ONLINE DOCUMENTATATION INSTEAD? I mean, you’re already not printing manuals so you can’t say, “Oh, well that documentation was written for rev 1.0 and we’re on 1.3 now.” Back in the day, when I was doing QA, we had a UI Lock a month or more before ship for the very reason that documentation was being written. What happened to that step (and, yeah, Oracle, I am talking about you*)?
See, the basic problem is that you spend way too much fucking money for a piece of software (and let’s not start with the “maintenance” contracts) and you’re not going to ditch it immediately because it’s poorly annotated, you’re going to make it work. Which means you hire a consultant (read someone’s who has forced their way through this maze once or twice already). Does the software company care? No, they’ve already been paid. Are they ever going to care? No, because you’ve spend the additional funds to ensure that the thing works for you, and it’s probably a big enough part of your infrastructure that you’re never going to change it again, which means you’ll keep sending them that maintenance fee every year just in case the thing breaks so badly that you really need a specialist’s help.
This is why no one wants to walk away from Microsoft, because of the investment in infrastructure. We’ve spend God knows how many hours and years getting it to work for us because it sure as hell didn’t out of the box, and we’re certainly not going to ditch all of that now for something else. Regardless of how easy and simple and functional it is.
Me? I’m drawing the line. Vista is never coming in my house. When this machine that I’m writing this on gets so grotty that it becomes unfunctional, I’m reformatting it and putting Ubuntu on it. And I’m moving to OpenOffice. Actually, I’ve been going through my software list these last few weeks, trying to figure out if I have a killer app that is keeping me on Windows. Turns out I don’t. OS X or Ubuntu will do everything I need. The only reason I’m not bailing today is that I’ve got writing things to do, and reformatting drives and reloading apps is really just writer procrastination.
*And to be fair here, I did have a pretty big say in picking Oracle and I knew, at that time, that it would be a monster but I also knew that once the monster was caged, it would be my bitch for a long time. It’s just turning out to have more unruly tentacles than I had anticipated.