Ubuntu 10.04 Gets Free Manual
Anti-populist geeks often respond to complaints about Ubuntu being poorly documented by insisting that man pages will tell you all you could ever want to know about how your computer works. That may be true, if you’re a geek. But normal people need more than a command-line interface for understanding Ubuntu. That’s where the Ubuntu Manual project comes in.Accompanying the recent release of Ubuntu 10.04 was a new Ubuntu Manual written by volunteers. Here’s a look at this great publication.
The endeavor, begun in 2009 by Benjamin Humphrey, caters to new users, not geeks who have already crossed the Linux divide. And it does a very good job explaining how Ubuntu works in terms that everyone can understand.
The manual, which can be downloaded as a PDF or purchased in ink-and-paper form from Lulu, covers everything from downloading Ubuntu and burning a CD to printing. It even has a chapter on using the command line that explains CLI principles in exceedingly simple and straightforward terms.
Catering to Non-Geeks
I like the Manual for several reasons–it’s well written, filled with useful screenshots, and available in an impressive variety of languages (even the screenshots are localized, thanks to the Quickshot utility that the project engineered). But most of all, it’s remarkably in touch with the world of non-geeks.
For example, in the chapter on the desktop, the authors deal only with GNOME. Less pragmatic writers might feel a need to write instructions for each of the three-dozen alternative desktop environments that users could choose to install, rather than coming to terms with the reality that only geeks are going to use something other than what comes with Ubuntu by default.
It’s true that one of Ubuntu’s greatest strengths is its customizability and the diversity of its community. But many a Linux distribution has floundered on its heterogeneity, and on its users’ refusal to acknowledge that, at a point, equally supporting every possible configuration of everything becomes impossible. The authors of the Ubuntu Manual should be commended for sticking to the “mainstream”–at least as the Ubuntu developers have chosen to define it–and in so doing, remaining true to the needs of normal people.
The publication’s presentation, organization and grammar are also commendable. Unlike the Ubuntu Wiki, which has many well written pages but a number of others that are in desperate need of cleanup, the Manual is consistently professional and straight-forward.
Granted, the book is not nearly as comprehensive as the Wiki–it won’t tell you how to bond your network interfaces, or how to write an init script. But it does cover almost everything that I could imagine a non-geek wanting to know in order to get started with Ubuntu. I wish I’d had this four years ago.
The next time someone on the Ubuntu forums asks if I know of any good publications for getting started with Ubuntu, I will now have an excellent resource to point to. As a bonus, it will be free, and probably available in the user’s native language. As such, the Manual is clearly a valuable asset for the community, and represents the kind of work that we should do more of to help bring non-geeks into the open-source fold.