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My response to RJ Jacquez’s question: Will Tablets replace PCs?

Recently, due to the upcoming release of Microsoft’s Surface machine, RJ Jacquez released two blog posts promoting the idea that tablets, in time, will indeed replace the PC as we know it, and that Microsoft is going in the wrong direction with this Surface device. Between his post titled, “For the sake of ‘Mobile’ I hope Microsoft Windows 8 and the Surface Tablet fall short” and Tablets Will Replace PCs, But Not In The Way You Think, he says that he feels that Surface is not taking us forward because it embraces the idea of adapting our devices to old software, instead of moving forward with mobile devices and rethinking how to create new productivity software for these new tablets that can make users more productive.  After paraphrasing several articles that have been out in the press that claim that productivity apps such as Microsoft Office, Photoshop, and Final Cut Pro (to name a few) are items that need to be addressed by the tablet industry, he counter argues,

Personally I think that most of these articles miss the bigger point, namely the fact that most people think that Tablets replacing our PCs will require a 1:1 task-replacement approach. I don’t buy this argument….In other words, we are currently shaping our mobile tools and soon these amazing devices, along with the incredibly creative apps that accompany them, will shape us and redefine every single task we do from here on out, including learning design, image editing, web design and yes every productivity task as well.”

I understand what he’s saying. If I’m interpreting him correctly, his argument is that devices like Surface should not be adapted to run bloated “power” software that needs the extra storage and peripherals to work, thus making the devices less mobile, but rather software should be streamlined to become more efficient so it can run in a tablet like an iPad which doesn’t need extra storage because it relies on the Cloud nor does it need any other peripherals to function. Some of the other “power” apps that RJ mentioned that critics think would need PC power include Photoshop, Microsoft OneNote and Avid Studio.

Well, I do have to agree with RJ insofar as I think that mobile is the future, and it is forcing us to really look at software and its limitations, and it’s making us think about how to streamline processes and our needs. mLearning is in the midst of a huge revolution due to that mindset right now. And actually, there are tablet versions of Photoshop, MS OneNote, and Avid Studio available for tablets that cover most of what users need. So it’s not like these kinds of software can’t be adapted for most people’s uses.  The average user does not use Word or Excel or Photoshop or other apps the same way as a power user, so streamlined apps are fine.

However, I think there may be a need–at least for a little while longer–for PCs to still exist for other kinds of “power” uses. The first thing that comes to mind are apps that are not as mainstream as the ones mentioned so far. Tech comm apps like Framemaker, RoboHelp and Flare are the first ones that come to mind. Now I know that Adobe is working to put just about all of their major software products on the cloud, so that’s a move in the right direction. I have no idea if Flare or the other leading tech comm productivity software packages are moving that way as well. The same thing with e-learning software…again, Captivate is part of Adobe’s cloud-based Technical Communications Suite 4 right now, but what about Lectora or Articulate or other instructional design software packages?  These are all software programs that aren’t quite ready for tablet use yet, but for the sake of mobile productivity, it might not be a bad idea to move in that direction. But for now, staying as desktop apps is probably fine.

There’s an app called Cloud On that has the right idea. It’s an app that’s available for both iOS and Android use, and essentially it provides a means of accessing full versions of Microsoft Office on tablet devices, and then saving documents in a Dropbox, Box or Google Drive account. No short cuts here! Full functionality of the software, on the go!

So, why aren’t the all the big software companies jumping onto the bandwagon with this? Apple already has by creating tablet versions of their iWork and iLife apps, but what others? Some companies have taken baby steps, or are working on it, and others…well, I think they are not keeping up, or are in denial that having a lean version of their software is needed.

I can say, as I mentioned, that I’ve used Cloud On, but I’ve also used my iPad’s Notes app. I used the Microsoft OneNote app on my iPad heavily last year during grad school, as I would start my homework assignment on my iPad during my lunch hour, and then sync it in my SkyDrive account so I could access it from my laptop at home to finish an assignment. I recently used Photoshop Touch on my iPad when I was too lazy to power up my laptop one night to fix a photo for a friend.  When I’ve made movies or did any digital photography projects, they’ve been done more on my iPad than on my laptop due to more affordable choices that meet my basic needs for editing.

So, my answer to RJ’s question is that I feel there will still be some apps that will need a PC to do much bigger jobs. Desktops and laptops are our workhorses right now, and you wouldn’t ask a pony to do the work of a Clydesdale horse. The PC isn’t going away anytime soon, and it will remain the hub of business and other work for some time to come. But, I agree with what RJ said, that in looking forward to the future, we need to continue to think mobile and how we can make it work so that much of these workhorse products can be made more lithe and flexible to our needs.

One last thought to put the mobile/tablet point in perspective–if you are a Star Trek fan like I am, you will have noticed that everyone carries portable devices–the size of a tablet, e-book or smartphone– to access huge databases and information, and to do much of the “heavy” information lifting for anyone aboard a starship. This was depicted on the shows well as much as 25 years ago, before the advent of tablet devices and smartphones. Think about how the various characters on the show used their devices. They would tap into a main computer device on the ship–much like we would access a network or the Cloud–to obtain information and make various calculations as needed.

It would seem to me that we are getting closer to that kind of scenario in reality, but we’re not quite there yet. We’re getting close, though!

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A bold move into the wild blue yonder, aka the Cloud!

After my recent run-in with scammers, I’ve now come to better appreciate cloud computing and everything that is has to offer. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate it before, but in having to restore several items and back up others very recently, I was glad that I had several cloud storage accounts set up, and that much of my software could be restored easily because I had downloaded them from cloud accounts. Some of the programs on my laptop which I didn’t worry about included most of my Adobe software. Why? Most of the programs I use were downloaded through the Creative Cloud 6 subscription I have. I’m glad I made that move, instead of getting the disks. Not that the disks would be bad–they would do the job too, but at least I’d have the latest and greatest on my system, no matter what.

Well, I was just reading on Twitter from @saibalb79, @maxwellhoffmann and @AdobeTCS that the Adobe Technical Communications Suite 4 is cloud-bound! I think that’s awesome, really, and rather forward thinking. It supports mobile initiatives for some computers, like the impending Microsoft Surface, to be able to access the information more easily, but also for the rest of us as well. It appears that the subscription is offered either monthly at US$99.00 per month, or when signing up for a one-year plan, it would be US$69.00 per month. That seems like a pretty good deal if you ask me! Since I already have a copy of TCS4, I won’t need to subscribe for a while, but for those who have not upgraded yet, this seems like a great opportunity.

I think what’s also great about this is the fact that it works well with the idea of using Creative Cloud 6 apps in conjunction with the apps in TCS4. Imagine…always being up-to-date because you have subscriptions. I know that Microsoft is starting to promote this concept more as well, but knowing that Adobe is trying to stay on the cutting edge and keep up with technological needs and taking advantage of the cloud more and more is rather proactive thinking, in my opinion.

You can find out more by checking out Adobe’s website at this link:

Now tell me, do Flare or Doc-To-Help, or any of those other tech comm software suites offer cloud services like this? Let me know if I’m missing something…I’ll gladly present those to my tech comm readers as well, but I haven’t heard anything as of yet…

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Tools? We don’t need tools. (Or do we?)

One of the things that is highly debatable in the tech comm world, as well as the e-learning and m-learning world, has to do with software.  It’s always the eternal question.


I’m here to tell you….I have no idea.


I’m not joking.

One of the regrets I have about the Masters program in technical communications I’ve been in is that while we were introduced to several different types of software, most software applications used were either free or low cost, or we’d have to use the free trial version as quickly as possible, but they were not necessarily the industry standards employers use.  If it weren’t for the fact that I would read industry magazines and look at plenty of “help wanted” ads, I wouldn’t have any idea what these software packages werethat many tech comm and e-learning professionals use. The arguments that my school made for not teaching us some of these software packages was a) it was too expensive, and b) upgrades on packages are made so often that they’d never be able to keep up with the constant upgrades.  While I understand both arguments–and they are valid ones–I don’t agree that they are doing us any favors.  I am taking classes through a technical institution, and it seems unfair that many types of similar or more expensive software packages are being purchased and licensed for the engineering students, but not for tech comm students. We can access MS Office products…and that’s about it. No Adobe. No MadCap. Nothing like that. And yet, that’s what prospective employers ask for–not only technical communication know-how, but experience using “X” software or something similar.

I know that it can be expensive, but it’s more expensive long-term not to help us learn the basics of these packages.  I’ll use the example that I’ve mentioned to some most recently. The first version of MS Word that I ever used was the very first one–Word 1.0. Yes, it was a long time ago, and I know I’m old, thanks. But the point is, I haven’t taken a training session or class on how to use Word since learning that first version. I’ve just figured out the upgrades through trial and error, like most people, but I already understood the basic concepts.  If I was taught from an “old” version of Flare, Robohelp, FrameMaker, etc. I’m sure that I would figure out the upgrade pretty quickly, since I already understand how the software program works generally. See my point?  The software packages that I just listed, and more of them, are a technical communicator’s bread and butter.  While exposure to using MS Office in a creative way, and using free products is good to understand concepts, it’s not what will help burgeoning technical communicators like myself find work. I can write storyboards, and I understand the basic principles of instructional design, but if I can’t use Captivate, Lectora or Articulate to expedite those things, then none of that matters unless there is an employer willing to either train me or let me figure out how the software works.

As I just mentioned, this applies to the e-learning and m-learning world too. If you don’t know how to use Captivate, Lectora, Articulate, or one of the other great instructional design software packages, you are up a creek.  Add the mobile factor in it, and considering that not all software packages– for e-learning or tech comm– have kept up with the mobile revolution…it really makes things difficult, to say the least.

My main argument is that if you learn one package, more than likely you can figure out the others–there’s just a slight learning curve.  Bringing back that MS Word example again, up until the time that I started using MS Word, I was a diehard WordPerfect user, and had used that for many, many years. (Okay, you can stop with the old jokes now!) Because I understood how to use WordPerfect, I understood how to do word processing, and it was just a matter of learning which types of buttons or commands were the same, and which ones were different. I haven’t used WordPerfect for many years, but I’d bet you that I could figure out whatever the latest version is, simple because I know how to use a word processor in general.

I’m not promoting any specific product here–I mean, I’m willing to learn any of them! Part of what holds me back is the cost. It’s expensive to try to buy these packages, even with my student discount when applicable. I was looking at one of these software packages just today, and for a single license it was $1000.00! Really? I supposed if I was in business for myself and I already knew the software, I could consider it an investment and make it a business write-off in my taxes the following year. But a thirty-day trial isn’t long enough in most cases, or they are limited as they will only allow you to use the product, but not save your work. Or, let’s say you have one of those thirty-day trials with full access, and you get hooked, but then you can’t afford the software. What good is any of that? You can see why this would be incredibly frustrating to a fledgling technical communicator.

So, if I am to learn any software products, and I can’t spend a fortune to buy all of them, which ones are the best to learn that would allow me to adapt to other software packages easily? Should I learn Flare, or should I learn Framemaker and Robohelp? Should I learn Captivate, Lectora or Articulate? These are all industry leaders. But for all I know, some other product might work better and be the best at teaching me how to be adaptable to all of these.

Any suggestions? Please comment!

This topic totally exhausts me.