Evolution of the Finale Manuals

The Finale 1.0 box (which held three manuals and more) and the Finale 2011 Quick Reference Guide

Finale has had many different user manuals in the course of the last 22 years. As I’m looking at the new Finale 2011 Quick Reference Guides (Mac and Windows in a small back-to-back booklet), I am amazed at how far Finale has come, not only in its maturity and depth, but also in its ease of use.

Back in 1988 Finale 1.0 included three books that rivaled the Manhattan Yellow Pages in size and weight. Like the program, they were a bit dense and complex: Their bulk certainly didn’t create an impression of being easy to use. They did, however, contain a lot of helpful information. The “Tutorial” volume walked you though sample projects to get you started. The “Reference” volume let you look up any item you encountered in a menu or a dialog box and learn exactly what it did. The “Encyclopedia” volume was my favorite – it listed musical terms alphabetically (so you’d find “crescendos under “C”) and explained how to achieve them.

A new set of manuals was created for Finale 3.0, and these were written by David Pogue, who has since become a technology columnist for The New York Times, a tech correspondent for CBS News Sunday Morning and CNBC, and the author of many For Dummies books. (Finale trivia: Some say characters in his novel Hard Drive resembled members of the Finale team…)

The 3.0 manuals were, in my opinion, much better written and organized than their predecessors, but they still came in three large volumes which must have represented a significant percentage of the worldwide paper industry output in those years.  Further complicating matters was that we continued to update the software faster than we could update the manuals, so we would create additional printed “addendums” for our users to lug around.

The next phase occurred with the release of Finale 97, when the User Manual became electronic and integrated within the program, so even when you were on your laptop at the coffee shop, you had access to the entire user manual. The electronic version was also searchable AND easily updated. At the same time the printed materials were reduced to one slim Installation and Tutorial Guide.

Finale 97 clearly represented several steps in the right direction (especially from the perspective of trees), and over the years the electronic component has become more and more refined and augmented by our web-based Knowledge Base, QuickStart Videos,  and a world of support offered on-line. I like the fact that when I invoke the user manual from within Finale today, Finale looks to the web (to access the latest version) but if web access is not available it will automatically reference a locally installed version without any action on my part. This seems like a great implementation, allowing users to be connected to, but not dependant on, the web. Updated Tutorial, Reference, and Encyclopedia information can all be found electronically these days – they can be searched individually or all at once – and they are always up to date.

Finale 2011 represents the next sea change in documentation in the form of the new Finale 2011 Quick Reference Guide. Different than a tutorial, it offers quick answers for how to complete common tasks, and as such is more likely to be referenced again and again, instead of just in the first few weeks of use. The information is presented in a graphic format so you can see at a glance how to do things without reading a lengthy text description, and everything is presented in an amazingly easy-to-understand manner.

If you haven’t seen the Quick Reference Guide you can get a quick peek here, or you can order Finale 2011 or a Finale 2011 upgrade today; both the upgrade and the full version include this handy guide. I think it’s a great way to learn to use software, but then I’m not holding any paper industry stock.

Let us know what you think of the new Quick Reference Guide – or anything else – by clicking on “Comments” below.

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