These days, electronic catalogues can solve common problems associated with access to data and are becoming essential tools in the modern office.

This CD-ROM from Pilkington presents detailed information on all of the manufacturer’s glass products, uses and specifications, as well as information on built examples. It does not autoload but this should not prove a problem – the Acrobat 3.01 reader will install it automatically if the target PC does not do it. The review disc loaded without problems on to a PC running Microsoft NT4.

How easy is it to use?

The title page contains a “product selector” link, but this only takes you to a second page, where the product selector is item three in a contents table.

Most of the pages in the document have a contents button, but annoyingly, it takes the user back to page one rather than the real contents page. This is a bit tiresome.

Being a beta copy rather than a final version of the CD-ROM, five of the 11 sections are incomplete. Item one, the Glass Guide, takes you into the body of the CD. The links for Building Regulations, British Standards, Glass Guide Introduction and Decoration lead to the wrong sections. Only Energy Management goes to the right section, and that is renamed Thermal Insulation. This mismatch between the headings on the contents page and those on the actual sections is frustrating. When this is corrected, browsing the CD will not be so difficult.

Even more confusion awaits on the next selection, where apparently obvious links actually lead to intermediary contents pages that link across whole sections.

The navigation buttons seem obvious: introduction, products, advantages, selection table, data sheets, technical bulletin and specialist application for product selector. Each section has several pages, but unless you use the Acrobat page forward buttons or keyboard arrow keys, you won’t find them. The “contents” tab and the Pilkington logo take you back to page one of the CD.

There are subject icons on the left side of most of the chapter headings, as on the web site, that take you to the relevant chapters or sections, where internal navigation is at the top of the page. Some chapters have page duplication, pages missing or huge tables that require a change in the Acrobat viewer set-up. And there is no page numbering.

Nothing is more frustrating than being six or seven levels down in an electronic document, breaking off to check out some other feature of the selected product, and not being able to get back to your place.

Part one

Even though the CD is not really divided into information and examples, it is worth considering it in terms of two sections. Part one contains pure data on glass and product selection. Items such as Building Regulations, noise, security and heat can be dealt with in great detail, and relevant items of specification copied from the CD into your own specification documents or drawings.

The data is all here, if you can find it. The CD allows quick and easy access to all of the products’ technical information, and the data search engine will provide a selection of answers from your specification parameters.

Overall, it does work, as long as you have the patience to learn which document navigation tools you should use and in which order.

Part two

Part two of the CD features case studies. It lets you browse through building types, colours, locations and so on, see how the requirements for heat, light, sound and security were dealt with, and how they influenced the final product selection. But more information is needed. The excellent photographs should have the building type and location, references back to the architects and engineers, what glass is used and why. I suspect the final version will have all the necessary cross-references.

The photographic library, although incomplete and with little information other than the building name, should at least have direct links to the glass specification section. A nice touch would be a link to the CD’s map of the UK to provide location information.

The next piece, “Glass and the Environment – the Clear Benefits Report”, is difficult to read on-screen, with its small, 9-point black font on yellow or white background. I doubt users would want to print it. The last item is the map with all Pilkington’s bases listed. This needs reformatting and the addition of arrows from each address to its location.

To modify the document now would probably be a major task, but this product is a screen search tool, so something has to be done. An Acrobat bookmark column would also ease navigation and cross-referencing. It would take a long time to read all the information packed on to this CD. All it needs is bullet-proof navigation tools and a broader understanding of on-screen browsing.

But despite its problems, I would certainly place a copy in the network CD stacker.