With recent releases of OS/400 operating system, beginning with Version 2 Release 1, IBM offers a CD-ROM (Compact Disk-Read Only Memory) option to read manuals which can be used via a PC with an attached CD drive. IBM continues to offer paper manuals; however, the pricing strategy is such that the cost of even two or three manuals easily justifies the price of one CD drive. I do not like to be forced into a decision, but the idea of spending upwards of $2500 for manuals with each new release practically forces me to accept the CD feature. I believe that if IBM is going to offer manuals on CD, then it should offer CD drives for the AS/400 and price them competitively with the CD drives for the PC.
If IBM wanted to push the CD-ROM option on us, ease of access by all AS/400 users should have been a prime consideration before adopting this strategy. A manual on a PC-based CD does not provide this versatility. An AS/400-based CD, on the other hand, could enable every AS/400 terminal to access the manuals-a real improvement over both the book format and the PC-based CD format.
With IBM's existing PC-based CD-ROM manual, having everything on one CD is an ideal situation if only one person is using the manuals. However, for multiple users to access the manuals on CD, the situation is not as ideal. It entails one of several courses of action:
Transporting the disk itself to another PC and purchasing multiple CD drives.
Moving one CD drive to various locations.
Installing a PC network.
The users who have dumb terminals have to rely on those who do have PCs. Remote sites pose a unique problem in that the AS/400 may be hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Providing users at remote locations with copies of the manuals means incurring long distance phone charges and possibly some shipping charges. Remote users would also require a PC and a CD-ROM drive.
Manuals can be copied to a diskette, but many would require more than one. Of course, we could copy the manuals onto a hard disk but this takes vast amounts of disk space on your PC. Some users have even gone as far as copying the manuals on a shared folder, taking up precious disk space on the AS/400. Then the users must start a PC Support session in order to use the shared folder function-and a PC Support session is not easy on memory.
With paper manuals, if a second copy was needed, the cost was minimal. With the CD-ROM option, the cost of a second copy is more substantial. These costs may include the addition of more PCs and CD-ROM drives, networking, additional disk space, additional PC-time accrued by users, the aggravation caused by copying manuals...the list is endless.
The strategy of offering CD drives for the AS/400 certainly overcomes the issue of multiple-user access to manuals, but one rather dramatic wrench is thrown into the machinery. IBM would have to investigate the lack of high resolution graphics-capable workstations for the AS/400. How would this impede the effectiveness and quality of the manuals? Those of us who use the BookManager software and a
PC know that the graphical displays are used extensively. IBM would have to seriously consider it in the redesign.
The ideas behind pushing the CD, as I view them, are excellent. It saves on IBM's expenses of producing the manuals, a cost that was not visible to the average customer. With the advent of manuals on CD, IBM has greatly reduced the amount spent on shipping those manuals-shipping one small CD is definitely less expensive. I do hope that IBM is passing some of those savings on to its customers.
The CD idea is also more ecologically sound. Using less paper means cutting down fewer trees to produce those millions of pages which are outdated in less than one year, the average life of a new release on the AS/400. Cutting down fewer trees means an improved atmosphere. It also aids with the nation's lack of landfill space.
Of course, users who have gone the CD route now have ample shelf and desk space. Now I need to find something else to occupy the shelves I had to build to house all those manuals.
I submit that if the wave of the future for IBM is manuals on CD-ROM, then let's make that CD accessible to all users. Make a CD drive for the AS/400. This would enable all users to have access to the manuals, not just selected individuals.
To make an AS/400 CD drive even more attractive, make the CDs erasable and make it a read/write drive so that we can use the drive for backup purposes, as an alternate IPL source, and many other uses.