Has the documentation improved in SolidWorks 2009?

I’ve spent a fair amount of time yelling about the documentation in SolidWorks. Face it, it has really been getting worse – it has become sparse and they were removing images, especially interface images. When a picture is worth 1k words and are so easy to distribute with electronic help files, there really are no excuses any more.

So is it better in 2009? I think so.

I don’t have 2008 installed, so I can’t compare apples to apples, so I’ll just start looking around and see what I find.

The first thing I look at is in the Contents tab, User Interface, Graphics Area list. If you look through this section, everything is described with more than a single sentence, and usually with some sort of an image, even if it has words in it. There are still a few sections that are disappointingly sparse, but its not like before, where most of it was disappointing. Much of the new functionality is documented, so I know it’s new.

One of the details I see as I stroll through the help is that they have listed a lot of icons for toolbars and whatnot. Some of the icons are from the olderstyle with the four sided beveled appearance. I’m a little sensitive to this because Ricky kept my feet to the fire on the 2009 bible if an image had a previous version look to it, even if none of the details were incorrect, he pointed it out. In most cases I made the updates. Here and there I felt the differences were minor enough I could get away with it.

Anyway, I know what it takes to keep documentation up to date. It’s not easy. Especially when the software changes so frequently. You may not have even noticed it, but the buttons at the top of the PropertyManager changed between 07 and 09, which meant that every screen capture in the book had to be updated. SolidWorks wasn’t thorough about the update, but that’s ok with me. The content is what matters. I’m not too concerned with if the interface looks marginally different.

To get into some details, I looked through the Features section in the Help. Well, first of all, the way things are listed in the Help, they have listed what they consider to be the most important items at the top, and then started listing alphabetically. At the top of the list you find:

 

  • SolidWorks Help
  • FAQs
  • User Interface
  • SolidWorks Fundamentals
  • Moving from AutoCAD

 

I’ve noticed the Solid Edge help does exactly the same thing, at least with respect to the AutoCAD bit. Geez. I wish they’d get over AutoCAD.

So, anyway, back to the Features, it is hit and miss with examples. Not everything has an example. Some of the more confusing things do not, like Projected Curves in particular. Well, it does, but the example is hidden behind a link, which is not obvious as a link.

Another navigation issue is that when you click on the topic in the list on the left, the topic does not expand. You have to click the tiny “+” (or double click).  Also, when the cursor is over the main content window, the wheel should scroll the content, but it scrolls the list of topics unless you click in the main window.

I do like that they still have several video snippets. I saw a lot in particular in the Instant3D area.

So, with just this quick look through the Help, it does look as if it has improved for the new version. I wish we could get Jim Wilkinson to make a guest appearance here and tell us what was done, but I understand there is a moratorium on SW Corp communicating with me, so it’s not likely. It’s unclear what excommunicating me in secret accomplishes, but it does make me chuckle anyway.

The only question I asked as a member of the press at the Barcelona event was if SolidWorks was planning on using the 3Dvia product to create their own documentation. 3Dvia is a technical documentation creation software that is supposed to make it easier to translate and update your tech docs. This is exactly the problem that the documentation people at SW were complaining about – that they had to remove images from the Help because it cost too much to translate and update. Well, I’m sure when they start actually using 3Dvia that we will all hear about it. It makes sense to do it, from what I know, if you believe all of the rhetoric. If a software developer uses their own product, I think there is a good chance that the product will improve faster than other wise.

What are your experiences with the new Help?

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