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Ximian GNOME 1.4: The Monkey Has Landed: The Ximian Desktop Experience - page 3

What You Get With Ximian GNOME

  • May 3, 2001
  • By Michael Hall

The Help Menu provides access to the Ximian FAQ, the more general GNOME User's Manual, Bug Buddy, and MonkeyTalk.

The Ximian FAQ offers a rundown of basic questions (including explanations of some vexations users face from time to time in the form of startling messages), while the GNOME User's Manual provides a thorough guide to the entire environment. BugBuddy is a tool for filing bug reports against various GNOME components.

MonkeyTalk, however, is the real innovation of the Help menu.

By clicking on the MonkeyTalk icon, users invoke a small, stripped-down version of xchat designed to provide live support. The initial help area is general, but additional chat rooms are available for Red Carpet, Evolution, and gnumeric.

MonkeyTalk presents a very basic environment. Initially it doesn't even list other users in a given room, though a userlist can be toggled. It includes provisions for one-on-one chat and file transfer (both by right-clicking on a user's name).

We stopped in on MonkeyTalk a few times (and under a few names) while preparing this review to get a sense for how well it was handled. What appear to be moderators or aides of some sort are designated by a Ximian logo next to their name (which we assume means they've got ops status). Discussions were fairly freewheeling, but confined to Linux computing of some sort or another, and the operators didn't tend to get involved much as there were plenty of helpful users loitering about.

We created an alter-ego at one point, setting out to behave in as obtuse a manner as possible over a missing Netscape icon, which drew no reaction from the operators but did net us some great help from another user in the room who patiently walked us through a variety of remedies until one worked.

Monkey Talk doesn't stop at the Help menu on the primary desktop, though. Ximian has extended it into the Help menus of many of the programs it's shipped in this release. Consequently, users can open the help menu of an app and either follow any options for written documentation, or choose to click on a yellow 'Help Chat' icon and be taken to MonkeyTalk.

The whole idea is fairly clever, and it's also, based on our observations, a good way to tap a lot of the natural helpfulness you can still find among Linux users. Though IRC isn't the most difficult mode of communication to grasp, by stripping out a lot of unneeded choices to fulfill their mission of connecting confused users with helpful people in as direct a manner as possible, Ximian's done a good thing. You can't get much easier than "click an icon and type a question when the window comes up." The fact that the operators are happy to let a little unrestrained and constructive babble take place actually provides people the opportunity to learn something besides what they arrived for should they decide to stick around.

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