Take Control News/15-Aug-05
Take Control of Now Up-to-Date & Contact Released — Late last year, around the time I was finishing up "Take Control of iKey 2," our first manual in the form of a Take Control ebook, Randy Murray of Now Software contacted me to see if we were interested in writing the manual for the next version of Now Up-to-Date & Contact. I’ve used the software for over 10 years and have known John and Sheila Wallace of Now Software for ages (they and Randy were responsible for creating my action figure during the Power On Software incarnation of their company), but I knew I didn’t have the time to write it. My thoughts then turned to Joe Kissell, who has done a bang-up job on five Take Control ebooks. Joe was interested, so we worked out the business details and once Now Software started delivering betas, Joe jumped into the project. Randy had provided us with the previous manual, an overly wordy tome that checked in at nearly 500 pages, but as Joe and I started to go through it, we realized that it would be easier and more effective to work from scratch.
To make a long story short, Joe did a fabulous job at documenting the ins and outs of Now Up-to-Date & Contact. Unlike our ebooks, manuals have to be (or at least should be) comprehensive, and by the time Joe was done, "Take Control of Now Up-to-Date & Contact" had hit 249 pages. That’s nearly 100 pages longer than our longest ebook, but it’s still far more concise and focused than the previous manual. Despite the size, the large number of links and bookmarks make the manual easy to navigate. But don’t take my word for it – you can download "Take Control of Now Up-to-Date & Contact" for free from our Web site.
In part because of the expected size of the manual, we decided to do a few things differently than in the past. Most notably, Joe used Microsoft Word 2004’s fields to provide automatic numbering of figure and automatic internal reference links. Word’s fields are fragile and persnickety – I had to update many of the figure reference fields manually, and in several situations, a field simply wouldn’t work, forcing me to revert to a hyperlink. Unsurprisingly, Word’s interface for creating fields and bookmarks is terrible; the entire process wouldn’t have been possible at all without some macros that Matt Neuburg wrote for us. Nevertheless, it was the right decision in the end, in large part because we ended up swapping two major sections around at the last minute, and the fields mostly updated properly. It makes one long for an updated version of FrameMaker, not that FrameMaker didn’t suffer from other deal-breaking problems.
As an aside, I had to drop back to Word X to be able to finish editing and production on "Take Control of Now Up-to-Date & Contact." With 249 pages, 103 screenshots, and numerous inline graphics, the file ballooned to 7.3 MB, and Word 2004 slowed to a crawl in Page Layout mode on my dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4, thanks to the constant repaginating. I don’t know what Word X does differently, but it was downright snappy in comparison. Plus, Word 2004 suffers from a known crashing bug related to generating a table of contents within a table; that one bit me once before I gave up on Word 2004 for the duration of the project.
We’re also trying to make it easier for readers to comment on the manual and see what others have said about it as well, thanks to a service called QuickTopic Document Review. In essence, I uploaded an HTML version of "Take Control of Now Up-to-Date & Contact" (exported from Word and heavily munged via a BBEdit Text Factory that I’ve developed), and QuickTopic Document Review put a "comment dot" after each paragraph. Click a comment dot and you can leave a note about the associated paragraph, and everyone else who comes in can see your comments in one of three views: inline in the document, in a forum-like display, or in a comment review mode that shows an excerpt of the original text before the comment. QuickTopic Document Review is brilliant, and we rely on it heavily for group technical editing. Although we’ve subscribed to QuickTopic Document Review Pro so we can password-protect drafts about NDA products (normally, randomly generated URLs provide only security by obscurity), this document review is open to everyone, so feel free to check it out at the second link below.
Of course, we’ll be doing updates to the manual along with a Windows version (nearly identical other than screenshots) to keep pace with new releases of Now Up-to-Date & Contact from Now Software, so be sure to click the Check for Updates button and sign up for notifications if you want to keep your copy current.