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Throwing the Book at You – Digitally

By Jim Bray

Have you ever wanted to look up something in an owner’s manual, only to discover that the booklet you’d put away in a safe place seems to have crawled off somewhere to die?

On the other hand, even if you can find the manual for some piece of high tech equipment whose operation been bamboozling you, have you ever found your eyes glazing over at pages that appear to have been written by pointy-headed intellectuals incapable of communicating with we great unwashed – or by someone for whom English is perhaps only the fourth or fifth language? Assuming you can even find what you're looking for in the book in the first place?

What if you could call up a tech-savvy friend or relative who could download the same owner’s manual you have, right from the company's website, and then walk you through it over the phone? Wouldn’t that be loverly?

You can, depending on the company – and it’s a wonderful idea that could even save you from having to call customer service – if there still is such a thing. A couple of electronics manufacturers with whom I'm familiar – Rotel and Panasonic – already offer this service with at least some of their inventory, and there are probably many other companies doing it as well. And good for them!

I’ve found it a great help in my personal life on more than one occasion. Once, I couldn’t find one of my Rotel manuals – the darn thing’s probably still hiding in plain sight on my ultra-messy desk – so I sallied forth to Rotel’s website ( and downloaded an Adobe Acrobat version of the manual instead. Problem solved!

Well, there was a downside: I wasn’t forced to clean up my office after all, despite the obvious hint I had received. Or is that another upside?

Anyway, another example is when my Dad, who lives thousands of miles away from me, received a Panasonic TV/DVD/VCR combination as a gift. Once you take these critters out of the box you have to set them up, and the last time he unpacked a TV there were no big setup menus to go through, no clocks to set, etc. etc.

So he phoned me up to ask for my advice in setting it up properly. Naturally, I couldn’t see the TV’s menus over the phone, so the only way I could help him was to get my own copy of the owners manual. I didn't know at the time that Panasonic made these beasties available on their website, but after my Rotel experience I figured it was worth a try. So I pointed my Browser to and – sure enough – was able to download the Acrobat version of the manual, after which I could walk him through the setup procedure.

I've since downloaded a manual for a Panasonic cordless phone I have as well, the manual for which is probably sitting right underneath the Rotel one that's still undoubtedly sitting happily somewhere on my desk. Heck, if this keeps up I'll not only never have to clean my desk, I'll be able to throw away all the printed owners manuals I can find, replacing them with handy digital versions.

Another great thing about having the manuals as Adobe Acrobat files is that you can use Acrobat’s search function to find words and phrases that might otherwise be difficult to track down if you only had the table of contents (which are often about as helpful as a government bureaucrat) to rely on.

And what a great way for a company to enhance its customer service – quickly, easily and cheaply! Heck, manufacturers might even be able to save some warehouse space and maybe even some extra printing costs down the road, since an Acrobat file is a paperless document that can be created from the manual’s original digital file. The money they save could even lead to lower retail prices!

Okay, maybe that's a bit much to expect, but I can dream, can't I?

Now, some people undoubtedly prefer a booklet they can hold on their lap while bending the gadget to their will, and not everyone has Internet access yet. Fortunately, Acrobat files can be printed out in a pinch, either at the consumer’s home or at the dealer.

Now there's a plan!

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

We welcome your comments!