I suppose I could have titled this post as “A Resolution for 2011” but the reality is, the changes I will describe started last year.
We introduced CDs bundled in some of our books nearly 10 years ago, around the same time we switched our paper forms kits from floppy disks to CDs. We initially experimented with compressing the files on our floppy disks using the widely used ZIP compression method. That was a disaster in customer service terms: a stunning number of people had no idea how to “unzip” those compressed files. Self-extracting files were equally alien to far too many customers.
When we moved to CDs, we opted to use software installers. The forms and related instructions were bundled into an executable file which, when launched by the user, led her through the steps to install the kit and then placed links to the files and instructions where the user could find them. That cut telephone and email support requests by better than 80 percent.
We experimented with software which allowed installation on both Windows and Macintosh computers. That proved expensive. Adding the Macintosh installer more than doubled the production cost of the CDs, pushing both forms kit and book-plus-CD bundle prices up. Our retail partners were underwhelmed, and we quickly moved to Windows-only installers.
Last year, it became apparent there was a genuine change happening in our customer base. Questions about support for Macintosh computers were suddenly increasing. Traffic to our web site was indicating a similar change. We were (and are) seeing much more traffic where OSX is the user operating system — around 11 to 12 percent of visitors by late last year.
The New Approach
We have started to produce CDs to go with our books which will work with computers using Windows, Macintosh, Sun Solaris, and GNU/Linux operating systems. No software installer is required. A PDF file on the CD describes (with pictures) how to move the data from the CD to the user’s hard drive.
We made this change quietly in the last quarter of 2010. I wanted to see if there were customer problems with the new approach. The telephones and email in-boxes have been quiet enough, I am now formally announcing the change.
A small number of forms kits and book-plus-CD combinations will continue to use Windows-only installers because the CD content is just too complicated to handle any other way. I expect it will take two to three years before the great majority of our books and forms kits use the new system, because we will only be updating existing books and kits when we reprint them or produce new editions.
The Product Information tab for each book, CD kit, and download kit in our web store describes whether that item works with Windows only, or with the range of operating systems described earlier. The back cover of books and forms kits also contains this information.
Our books and forms kits mostly use the following formats:
- PDF — Adobe’s format which can be read on almost any computer.
- DOC — Microsoft’s dominant Word word-processor format
- XLS — Microsoft’s dominant Excel spreadsheet format
Apple’s iWork applications can open and work with Word and Excel files; WordPerfect Office and IBM Lotus Symphony are generally compatible with Word and Excel files. Most Gnu/Linux distributions include at least one office suite (many include OpenOffice.org).
If you use an office suite other than Microsoft’s, look for changes in pagination and tables in .DOC files (we always supply a PDF of our .DOC files so you can make this comparison). I personally use OpenOffice.org a lot and have not seen problems with opening, editing, and saving the .DOC and .XLS files from our kits.