10 May 2009

Podcasts and online tutorials

Less and less companies and software developers are including manuals or any form of documentation with their products. Personally, I think this is a big mistake. How on earth anyone is supposed to actually learn the software or research something they have a question about is a complete mystery. For the prices they are charging for software these days, the least they can do is include a book telling you how to use it! If you do get a book (even a small “quickstart quide”) you’ll find as a rule, they are no help at all. Often they are poorly written or merely excuses to sell you additional software, which you won’t be able to figure out how to use either.

Luckily for those of us not able to hire private tutors or pay for extended and expensive courses provided by some software companies, the internet has been filling in the learning gaps with forums, online tutorials done by users and podcasts. These are great resources for information, to ask questions and to connect with fellow, frustrated end users struggling to find out what/how and when to use certain features in their preferred computer programs.

Podcasts require the free i-tunes program from Apple and that you make an account, but a vast majority of podcasts are free. Not all are created equal... some are terrible some are wonderful.. some are just ego venues for people who think they know more than they do so take what you hear with a grain of salt.

Forums, can easily be given the same cautions and offer additional interactivity and resources. You can actually ask specific questions on things that are making you pull your hair out. Another benefit of forums is you tend to find out which problems are really lack of knowledge and which are merely limitations in the software or worse... undocumented bugs. I can’t say how many times I’ve discovered in forums crippling bugs and work arounds to avoid them. Some forum members are quite generous with their programming skills and will even offer fixes they’ve made free to anyone who wants to risk using them. Virtually all the major companies have user forums now and they are usually not monitored so as a rule, you can get good, information without marketing spin.

Online tutorials give in depth, function specific instruction. Sometimes they are downloadable for free, sometimes you have to buy a dvd (which can be quite pricey). It’s hard to assess how helpful they might be before you buy them. Forums can help as fellow members are more than happy to share problems they had with things they wasted money on.

Some podcasts I use:
Photoshop User TV
Creative Cow

A couple of forums I use:
C4D cafe
C4D portal

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