Reflected Pensiveness

beneath the leaky pipe of thought.

User Guide = {Practicum, Theory}?

with one comment

The Fedora documentation team has an admirable set of articles and guides, to be sure.  But there’s something that I think is missing – something I didn’t think of until late last night.

The beginner Fedora user will almost certainly find what he needs to know for desktop usage in the User Guide. This is a good thing for we Linux proponents; once they can use the desktop properly, they will be comfortable using it as their everyday computing machine. But where in this day-to-day desktop usage is the magical superiority that these new users were promised in forums, blogs, and chat rooms?

Using OO Writer is little different than using Word; using Rhythmbox is little different than using iTunes.  So the “normal” user who has converted to Linux is now using free and open source programs which may be good for his karma, but are presumably no more functionally superior than their proprietary counterparts which – to be honest – many people don’t have to pay for anyway. (I refer not only to pirating, but mostly to how users can be licensed through their workplaces and such.)

But I think most long-time Linux users – like myself – would agree that Linux (or, at the very least, *nix-based systems) are grossly more powerful than a Windows box. So how do we teach this to the new user, rather than just proclaiming it like religious fanatics?

I think every open source group can manage this problem in their own way, but I think a good way for the Fedora Docs team to do this would be to introduce a new guide for this very purpose. I was thinking about it last night as an addition to the current User Guide, so I’ll write about it in the same context, although I’m unsure if that’s the best way to move forward.

My initial idea was that we split the User Guide into three parts.

Part I: Practicum

This part of the guide would fundamentally be the same as what the User Guide currently includes. It would be a practical guide – a cookbook, really – filled with common tasks and applications needed by a desktop user and easy to follow solutions for each of these tasks. This could include setting up email, playing music, or editing documents.

The idea is that the user can easily and quickly find the solution to a common task, just like I might quickly find a recipe in the Perl Cookbook. The guide would structure these tasks as recipes – selected, suggested methods to do something, even if other methods exist.

So effectively, the practicum would be a collection of well organized tutorials and how-tos for the most common desktop tasks, presented in an easy-to-browse manner.

Part II: Theory

The theory section of the guide is what I would propose to address the aforementioned problem with not properly introducing new users to Linux. The issue is that taking full advantage of Linux after moving from Windows involves the user making a paradigm shift in the way they use a computer. Easing the introduction of this new paradigm with examples, analogies, and metaphors is what I see to be the most effective way to help a new user truly understand what Linux is.

This part would focus on those learning devices, as well as exploring the radically different community structure surrounding open source software and detailing the ways in which users can get help or get involved. This section would written with more of an intent for reading front-to-back, as opposed to the isolated, browse-to-my-problem writing found in the practicum. Nevertheless, separate sections would ideally be readable without needing to read the entire thing.

Part III: Appendices & Glossary

Jargon tends to be at once both a huge deterrent to people learning a new topic and a useful tool in making writing clear and succinct to the already-initiated. Sometimes it really is just unavoidable, although we try our best to remove it as much as we can. To this end – as well as helping the user just be generally more comfortable around Linux documentation – I feel that a glossary could be helpful. Fedora already has one of these, presently titled the “Jargon Buster”. I volunteered last week to clean this up syntactically, so hopefully I’ll get a better idea of what we already have once I’ve finished that task.

That’s what I thought of initially for the guide. It may be better to split it up; we’ll see. 
Either way, comments are greatly appreciated. I’ll probably bring this up at the next Fedora docs meeting anyway.

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Written by Matthew Daniels

March 3, 2009 at 7:25 pm

Posted in Technology

Tagged with , ,

One Response

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  1. Great idea Matthew,

    Being new to linux I’m still having some problems that didn’t exist in window, mainly getting programs to install correctly using the command line, and everytime F10 gets a kernel update my wireless internet connection is no longer recognized so I have to go back to the cable. I’ve been removing Madwifi and re-installing it and was able to get the wireless working but this time this operation won’t work. I’m sure others have similar problems when they’re switching over, and this format could be really useful.


    Kirk Ziegler

    March 4, 2009 at 8:39 pm

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