The Paperless Home Office

PDF IconThere’s a case to be made for the inherent clumsiness of the the Portable Document Format — better known as PDF, and most often associated with Adobe’s Acrobat software — but I really like it. At least in the interim, while the principal delivery medium for most documents is still paper, PDFs make a great replacement for stacks of letter-sized, stapled or paper-clipped documentation. Last night, while trying to figure out how to get my VCR to tape a show saved on my DVR, I suddenly realized that I could replace most all of the paper user manuals that ship with the consumer electronics devices I own with simple PDFs.

The Manual Scourge

These manuals have always been a hassle to manage, because they tend to get lost if they’re not filed away properly — and if properly filed, they’re bulky and unwieldy in aggregate. I’ve got a vertical file full of old, yellowing manuals for my television, my old VCR, several computer peripherals etc., and I almost never touch them. I’d just as soon throw them out, but once in a while — like last night — when I have to double-check on some device’s operational minutiae, they’re very handy to have lying around.

That’s why it’s so great to have PDF versions of them. This allows me to throw away the paper manuals, and conveniently and uniformly catalog their electronic versions on my hard drive. And if I really need an up-close look at one of the intricate diagrams in a manual, I can just print it out.

PDF Hunt

So I made a quick list of the major electronic appliances in the apartment and proceeded to hunt down electronic versions of their specific manuals, making a brief tour of the PDF resources available on many of the major manufacturers’ Web sites. I hit up Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, RCA, and Scientific Atlanta, among others.

By and large I was able to find what I was looking for, though in a few instances, like Sony’s, the path was incredibly convoluted (Sony, please let us redesign your site!). Samsung had the best-organized approach to helping its customers locate manuals, though unfortunately my device was too old for them to provide manuals in PDF form. Some companies, like Scientific Atlanta, require users to register with their product serial number first, which is onerous enough, but then I found that the manual was security protected and required some kind of password. That’s just downright unfriendly.

In a few instances, the text of the manuals was available, but only in HTML format, and with formatting bearing no real similarity to their printed form. That approach has its advantages, but it seems weird not to make the PDFs available as well, and it led me to conclude that PDFs are really an essential part of document archival from a consumer’s perspective. That is, we’re wedded, for better or worse, to paper as the authoritative form of any document, and when a site fails to offer a digital version of the paper original, it throws doubt on whether the site is really doing its job.


One Comment

  1. I remember reading an article about how when Acrobat came out, the PDF was to revolutionize the way offices and paper was handled. E-paper so to speak was to become the way everyone sent around hard copy. While I do indeed love PDF’s for their ability for making print work simpler and in my case with posters (converting everything to PDF), I haven’t seen the e-paper revolution. Sad really, because it is indeed a wonderful concept. We use so much pulp to make paper and while I think there are many things that deserve the use of paper (graphic novels, art prints, books) there are so many that do not (receipts, bills, and in some cases even CD sleeves).

    The manual idea is a good one, and there have been quite a few times I’ve looked up PDF manuals for ones that have been lost at work and at home.

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