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Is online documentation (2023) a terrible idea?

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I am probably old fashioned, but separating MATLAB's documentation from the installation seems like a terrible idea. Obviously there is a savings in disk space and initial download, but it assumes perpetual (and consistent) internet access. One of the best arguments for using MATLAB has always been it's tightly integrated documentation. Release 2023a breaks that feature by default.
Mathworks is obviously sensitive to this problem because there is a mechanism for separately downloading the documentation. This will be crucial to anyone that:
  1. uses MATLAB without constant Internet access.
  2. uses MATLAB behind a corporate firewall. Proxy settings sometimes allow the online documentation to work, but this usually breaks whenever the IT department changes something.
  3. uses MATLAB on a standalone (air gapped) machine.
My own work involves all three scenarios. Although the documentation install can be applied in each scenarior, #3 is a real pain.
Is anyone else annoyed by this change?
  14 Comments
Paul
Paul on 1 Jun 2023
How does this new policy affect examples?
If I'm working witth online documentation, do I still get the Live Scripts for "Featured Examples." I have that now with my locally installed documentation.
Suppose I'm using the online documentation and want to play with some code from the doc page.
It looks like I can still load the 'patients' file, as from splitapply doc page
load patients
but this code from readtable doc page now fails.
filename = 'myCsvTable.dat';
try
T = readtable(filename);
catch
disp('file not found')
end
file not found
Do I need to download the entire doc if I want to learn how to use readtable (assuming that myCsvTable.dat comes with the doc)? Or does myCsvTable.dat no longer exist and the doc page is just using a bad example?
On my 2021b installation, that file can be found at:
C:\Program Files\MATLAB\R2021b\examples\matlab\data\myCsvTable.dat
patients.mat is here
which('patients.mat')
/MATLAB/toolbox/matlab/demos/patients.mat
Is there distinction between examples and demos?

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Accepted Answer

Benjamin Thompson
Benjamin Thompson on 6 Nov 2023
A lot of people in the defense community work on air gapped networks or computers. When Microsoft changed their Visual Studio documentation to online only it makes it difficult to get questions answered. Hopefully Mathworks will continue to provide a great product in the standalone documentation and not follow the route that Microsoft took.

More Answers (2)

Walter Roberson
Walter Roberson on 29 Apr 2023
Edited: Walter Roberson on 29 Apr 2023
Is it a terrible idea? NO. It works well for many people.
The fraction of people who ask about installing MATLAB for offline use is much smaller than the fraction that install for online use.
For that matter, the fraction of people who ask about installing MATLAB for offline use is notably lower than the fraction that are asking to install without a graphics interface (such as wanting to do a scripted installation for corporate machines.)
Meanwhile, when the online documentation changes, such as better search engine, or a correction or update to a page, the online version reflects the change the very next time the user looks at that documentation.
I for one use MATLAB a lot, and a lot of the time I am googling the documentation anyhow (google has better inclusion / exclusion control.)
In over 30 years of using MATLAB, the number of times I have needed to install it on an offline system has been precisely zero.
(I used to have it installed on a laptop that did not have internet access while I was in flight for a couple of hours, but that was an insignificant portion of the time, and I had full internet access before leaving so I could have easily downloaded the documentation before-hand.)
  8 Comments
Paul
Paul on 30 Apr 2023
Sometimes I run across some code, often on this forum, that uses a toolbox that I don't have (or have but don't use) and, if my interest is piqued, I'll poke around in the documentation for that toolbox. Maybe I'll learn something and realize I should be using that toolbox. I wonder if anyone has decided to purchase a toolbox license after reading its documentation.
dpb
dpb on 30 Apr 2023
@Paul, that would seem a time/place for the online (although if TMW has followed through with the threat of not letting one have access to even the doc if not a license, that could be an issue), rather than the local copy (unless, of course, you're on the air-gapped machine). Even I can get to the online doc when desire to; it's generally not too bad of an access time.
My main complaint still is the lack of being able to restart failed downloads when it takes multiple hours; I don't have the issue of havng to download and then burn media to sneaker-net it to another machine; just one that isn't always connected and that it is painful at times when is to use.
The pro bono work I've been doing for the local community college foundation has had need just recently to use an online accounting system as an intermediate step in the process of switching from the spreadsheets to a commerical nonprofit accounting system that is cloud based. It has been a real nightmare to try to do things with it owing to the connection bandwidth and reliability. It wouldn't be usable as a production system in my situation; the ladies in the office do have much better connections so it is at least tolerable for them. But, if MATLAB were that way and only that way, I'd have to find something else; it would just be too painful. Fortunately, having retired from the consulting gig, my livelihood is no longer tied in with having MATLAB so it would just be painful, but not livelihood threatening.

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Daniel Dolan
Daniel Dolan on 30 Apr 2023
(This is not an answer, but rather a summary of discussion in the comments.)
Some, and perhaps many, MATLAB users are unaffected by the online default documenation in release 2023a. However, there are several concerns the Mathworks should consider. Not every user has perpetual and reliable Internet access, and the current solution for restoring local documentation does not fully address these problems.
  • Distribution bloat is a recurring concern, and there a strong need to be able to resume interrupted downloads.
  • Separating the documentation worsens the release/update cycle for offline install. Now I have download an image for update X of 20YY plus the revised documentation for that update. This is now pain for every standalone machine and possibly anyone behind a corporate firewall.
(Now my opinion...)
Documentation is a key selling point for using commercial language like MATLAB. Any friction from not being able to access documentation immediately is an argument for using another language. Convincing a company to pay license fees is not easy. This specific change may not seem like a big deal, but it might be the final straw for someone already fighting against the "Why aren't you using Python/Julia/etc.?". Release 2023a makes that argument a little bit more difficult.
Why not make the decision online/local documentation decision part of the main installer? Presumably there is disk image size limit (maybe Docker related?), but then why not separate MATLAB and Simulink installations?
  4 Comments
Walter Roberson
Walter Roberson on 30 Apr 2023
A user who has an unreliable internet connection can access the online documentation before even downloading MATLAB, connection permitting. If connection is not permitting then they probably do not have a connection reliable enough to download MATLAB.
A user who is air-gapped might not be able to access online documentation. However in such cases, the user probably has to go through some corporate IT procedures to ensure that the software is installed in a safe manner, and those take as long as they take -- the difference in installation time between downloading two .iso or three .iso is unlikely to be significant. (Air-gapped systems are not going to be using the online installer, and probably are not using the "download to install later" feature; they are more likely to download the .iso .)
The .iso was already split several releases ago as it no longer fits on a single double-sided double-layer DVD
DGM
DGM on 1 May 2023
Edited: DGM on 1 May 2023
Maybe this is a bit tangential, but I think we're well beyond the age where fragile package downloaders are acceptable. I've moved terabytes at less than 300kbps, but not with utilities that are incapable of resuming, and not without file integrity checks. I reserve my patience for solutions which actually have plausible potential to work if given time.

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