February 21, 2019

Is Linux Difficult to Use? - page 4


  • May 29, 1999
  • By James Andrews

Another important usability issue is what to do when you have a problem. Whether the problem is not knowing the right way to go about how to do something or a catastrophic hardware failure, the effect is the same. The time taken to resolve problems is time you could be spending in doing productive work. So access to help in all its forms is a key aspect of usability.

Internet Support

Linux does not have the expensive and time consuming telephone support lines that other operating system makers are keen on. Instead from the outset Linux provided and continues to provide all its help as comprehensive documentation with the products (more of this later), and via Internet services. Linux software is supported via a system of email lists and newsgroups. These operate on a 24 hours, seven days week basis. Somewhere in the world there are always some experts around who know how to solve your user problems and can point you in the right direction.

Just why such experts provide this support is no mystery. Firstly, everyone gets support in the same way so participation seems natural and normal. Secondly, to become an expert on a particular product does not require going on officially sanctioned courses. To become an expert on a particular software system of Linux you need to read the available documentation, and then apply it in the real world. A good way to gain this experience is (again) the Internet forums. Once someone has a certain level of expertise in Linux then like any other software system they can hire themselves out as consultants. The primary training ground / workshops are the Internet forums and that is why they are so excellent for support.

There are many different formats for documentation for Linux. First off is the


command (short for manual). For instance, to look at the 'man page' for the


command, you type

man sort

man -k keyword

will search all 'man pages' for a keyword. Another good place to look is in the /usr/doc directories. These contain documentation either in Postscript (ready to laser print), HTML (Web ready) or plain text formats.

Documentation is key to understanding any product. Even simple products with simple GUIs need some documentation. The complex and powerful systems that Linux provides often come with a LOT of documentation. Besides the provided online text files you can find many books on Linux topics.

The Advantage of Open Source

It is easy to write documentation on Linux products because much of it is 'open source'. Briefly, Open Source means that the 'source code' used to build the program in the first place is available for inspection. So the program has no secrets from the people writing the documentation.

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