Gold'en Rant : Poor help is a real security threat

Installing new software is always a traumatic time, as most of us are time-poor, even if we're not cash-rich, in our day-to-day jobs. Why then, do software companies insist on giving users a one-size-fits-all installation manual these days?

A decade ago, admittedly when software profit margins were higher, you used to get a `quick start' manual (for the more experienced amongst us) and the `full' manual for the novices.

IBM was best in this regard - it even went to the lengths of supplying three manuals for its products: quick start, experienced user and novice.

Today, you're lucky to get a complete manual. The other day I got a mobile phone prototype, complete with - no manual. The manual for the handset will be downloadable from the Internet, as and when the phone actually ships.

That's all find and dandy, but whilst you're at it, why not offer a quick start/experienced user version alongside the full manual? The cost of distribution on the Internet is minimal.

What many readers may not be be aware is that most software houses produce quick start/experienced user manuals for their products on an internal basis, so making those manuals available on the Internet or on CD is no big deal.

It's also amazing how many times a new software product ships and, gleaming alongside it on the shelves of PC World, is a helpful guide written by an independent author, selling for a tenner or more.

This is particularly true for the security sector where applications often fail to provide even the most basic help, let alone a paper manual, to their users, especially when they are novices or if the software has undergone a major update on-the-fly. Wrongly configuring your firewall for example can have devastating effects on your computer's performance.

If I were a cynic, I'd say the lack of manuals and publication of independent books were related in some way...