Another Linux Newbie’s Guide, Anyone?

Those who grew up with Windows or Mac, and tried their luck with Linux, should have this experience, at least once in their lifetime: desperately spending hours googling for ‘howto’, ‘error: blablabla’, when they stuck in corner trying to accomplish a certain task, either a complex or a simple one. This especially true for command-line interface utilities. The answer usually comes from a mailing-list archive or internet bulletin board (‘forum’) threads. Or on an unlucky occasion, they may find an unanswered question, where the thread starter desperately ‘bumped’ his own thread with no avail.

To my experience so far, very rarely, or almost never, the answer comes from an online copy of manual page or other kinds of documentation, although most likely the answer is actually there, if I read the documentation carefully.

Mmm…. how about setting up a Linux Howto’s site, covering a wide array of topics? The site can take form of a journal, in which the writer(s) records his/her successful attempts on accomplishing a certain objective, or something like Yahoo Answer or Wikihow. The topics can be anything from a simple task such as renaming file via CLI, to something as complex as setting up a mailserver. The only absolute criteria is that the articles should be a concrete step-by-step guide, with complete configuration file sample and all CLI commands and their arguments. Of course there must be clear explanations about how each commands, parameters and arguments taken will affect the final result. It is not a comprehensive and structured documentation, it is a collection of ‘cheat sheets’, dirty fixes and hacks to deal with certain situations.

As for now, I still feel that many Linux software docs (especially ones with CLI) are too cryptic for average users. It needs a lot of time, and trial-and-errors to slightly understand the usage of a tool. Those documentations are indeed useful, but after a user gains some amount of experience with the software.

An example is x264 help message. The user is presented with a long list of switches, but this list is only really helpful for someone with a considerable experience in digital video encoding. Mplayer’s manual page is better in explaining the options, but it comes as a single manpage instead of html docs or GNU infopage. One needs to press page up/down button many times to skip to the part of his interest.

The ultimate goal of this site is to help all Linux (and other open source OSes) users in getting their jobs done, so that they can fully rely on FOSS software to accomplish their personal or professional tasks. Well, it has been my dream to set up a commercial multimedia service – a distribution company with its own DVD/Blu-Ray mastering and voice over department – that uses FOSS software exclusively (seems to be unlikely since many tools still produces defective results under normal conditions).

The site I’ve described here maybe have already existed for a long time. I just haven’t searched and visited it yet.

Another Linux Newbie’s Guide, Anyone?

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