RTFM Is Pretty Useful

Recently I announced that I was going to try using PC-BSD as a desktop operating system and that I would read the manual. It’s been pretty insightful so far, I really have been reading it and following up on small tidbits from the manual with more research. I didn’t do this much research before diving into Windows XP or 7. I also did virtually zerZorin to the world of tough love that is Arch.

I’m much more experienced with all desktop operating systems now than I was when I found out what GNU Linux was back in 2004/2005. Still, I don’t want to rest on my laurels here and dive straight into PC-BSD thinking that I’m going to be able to just route it. I want to actually learn something here, I want to understand my experience in a new os just as much as I eventually began to understand Arch and Mint.

It does help that PC-BSD has great documentation available online, but according to that documentation they include it in PDF form with each new installation of the system. That will be incredibly useful (I hope) and it seems like an idea that everyone should borrow. It’s difficult to fault someone for not trying if they don’t have a resource easily available. It’s also difficult to to fault a person if that resource is no good to them. A lot of documentation that I’ve read for software and hardware over the years is filled with too much jargon and assumptions.

It may seem reasonable to expect people to know that they need to disable their network adapter and then re-enable it to perform a quick IP refresh without using the command line but it’s definitely not phrased well for new users. By new users I don’t mean new to a particular release but new to performing any sort of maintaining/repairing function on their computer outside of turning it off then on again. Many would argue that users should read manuals and shouldn’t be using things that they don’t understand. I understand you and I’m with you but the reality is that many people don’t read or understand their manuals and don’t care. It never helps to attack them either, no matter how much you believe that they deserved it.

They just want it to perform any function that they decided to buy it for and only try to learn how to use it for that purpose. On some level, every business and job is a service and the service of assisting users needs to handled with care and patience. This service can start with the manual, the first piece of documentation that should be available to the user of your operating system/distro. You shouldn’t be condescending but neither should you assume that they know what an ethernet port is until you’ve shown them. Treat your manual like a video game by providing the core lexicon of the experience simply and immediately then build upon it in ways that allows for the users to learn.

It’s 2012 but not enough people know the difference between a web browser and an operating system. Too few understand what a binary is or how to make it executable, stop handing them .bin files without explaining how to install them. Don’t type “navigate to your root folder” without showing them how to do so. It was insanely frustrating dealing with desktop linux distro’s and anything not Windows when I wanted to do anything that wasn’t a Synaptic Search or Right-Click away from resolving. I will admit that it was my fault for not researching as much as I could have in the beginning but the behavior of users is very difficult to change without them investing themselves greatly into the change.

Does Frankie from down the street really need ravage Google and any random forum to determine how to install the 64 bit version of Flash from Adobe so that it can used in Midori on Fedora? RTFM is a great way to learn how to do something but it’s a poor resource for anyone not already within the insulated world of FOSS.

I can understand if I’ve lost you or bored you here but this is an exciting opportunity for a techie. It’s like diving into the deep world of honest Pokemon Breeding or understanding all of the nuances in Virtua Fighters latest upgrade. Nearly anyone can use a desktop interface to open a browser and surf and to type up a few lines for a college paper in office software. What I’m seeing here is the thrill of going into a system that from the outside looks very seductive.

I’m going to share my experiences here and track my progress so that the path to enlightenment can be known. You see right now, I’m viewing BSD as a stable, cohesive, desktop linux distro that keeps a persistent set of utilities and design. I’m hoping that my sound or wifi won’t bork themselves after an update. I know just how horribly general and wrong that some of this sounds, but that’s the point that I’m at now. Despite how similar BSD looks on the surface, there are serious differences under the hood that make this a different beast to tame.

Besides the choice of utilities (erm, looks like those can be swapped too but it doesn’t seem like it would sense to do that with BSD in most cases), I’d like to discover first hand why there aren’t many distro’s (err, releases) based upon BSD for the desktop OS? If it solves some of the problems of linux than what problems does it bring? RTFM and eventually diving in seem much more promising than endlessly reading forums and books. Eventually, you need practical experience and I’m going to get it.

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