I've done a fair amount of research lately in the Help files, and also
in the Customer Portal.
The writing of the help files has been contracted out. This is not
necessarily a bad thing, after all I make my living doing work that is
contracted out. I suspect that the folks who wrote the help did not have
much inside access to SW Corp technical expertise, and that there was
not a lot of oversight of the finished product. In many cases, the help
materials are incomplete, as you have pointed out, and in a few cases,
even incorrect. The biggest thing I notice about the help in the last
2-3 releases is that it looks to have been written in a big hurry. There
is very little elaboration on topics that really require it. Granted,
writing the SolidWorks Help document is an *immense*
task, and probably
the equivalent of a few hundred printed pages.
Help would be more helpful if it were written by a user instead of by a
technical writer. That's obviously just an opinion, but polished
sentence structure does not help me understand.
The Help tends to tell you what buttons to push, but not why you push
the buttons. Help is more about interface than functionality. Interface
should be a no brainer. You should be able to understand the interface
just by looking at it (although we all know it doesn't really work this
way in SW). I want the Help to help me understand mainly what sorts of
results I can expect, and maybe some secondary hints about using the
For all of that, though, one of the biggest lacks I find in the help is
screenshots of the interface. Many times the word description assumes
you access a command either through the menus or the toolbars or the RMB
menu. Really, a picture is worth a thousand words. Really.
Every year since 2001 I have done a detailed summary of the Tools
Options settings, and I usually have to note a few things for which the
help is either wrong or misleading. One thing that surprises me in a
positive way is how little outdated information you find in the help. As
fast as the software changes, you find very little obsolete data.
Sometimes you will come across terminology which is obsolete, but has
seemed to stick like "base feature", "base part", "derived part". Old
hacks know what these are, but the terminology and in some cases
concepts are missing from the new software.
One area of the software that seems well documented in help is
configurations. I was able to find a lot of detail on design tables and
what is and isn't configurable. There were some omissions on really
detailed and possibly obscure topics, but I thought it was well done. Of
course, some one will come along and disagree. On the other hand, the
info on Library Features was scant, and on Toolbox non-existent. They
didn't even try.
Some topics such as Smart Fasteners actually go to the extent to tell
you situations under which you shouldn't expect something to work, but I
think this one function is soooo bad they had to say something about it,
and a self-critical view is clearly not the norm for SolidWorks.
Sometimes you get different results in Search which you don't see in the
Index. I've run into topics that are not listed in the Index at all, and
can only be found by going one by one through the Search results. I find
the Search side of it very difficult to get useful information from, so
I usually stick with Index unless I run into a wall. The Contents tab is
useless. I hate huge non-alphabetized lists of general data.
I used to always send in problems I found in the documentation, but
there are so many problems, and frankly, it doesn't pay very well. I
wish I kept a list of everything just for my own purposes, because I
never remember all of the details.
I think it would be useful if the tutorials were integrated into the
Help. There are several nice little tutorials that I had completely
I do see that they took one of my crticisms to heart and replaced the
"vertical market design tools" with "industry-specific design tools".
There is little more annoying than marketing jargon in technical documents.
Depending on what you are looking for, the Customer Portal may be the
place to look. The interface for it scores in the lower 60% range, but
the content is in many cases very good. You may have to wade through
some obsolete entries and off-topic items that are not clearly marked
(such as an obscure Cosmos function being discussed with no indication
that it is a Cosmos function - leaves you scratching your head), but to
me its worth it because you can find truly useful information here. This
is where SW talks about reality. This is where the tech support guys
talk. No polished grammar (in fact, they don't seem to be proof-read at
all), but you can read about SPRs and limitations, which you don't find
in the Help. So much of the supposed problems you read here on the NG
are superstition, poor description and observation, not verified or
verifiable. Customer portal is immune from that junk because the SW tech
guys (not resellers) write it. I give those guys some credit for knowing
stuff. They might not be so good with various applications of the tools
or sometimes you can catch them on an obscure function, but they know
the hell out of most of the stuff.