Creating a library of FLOSS Manuals (Network World)

Creating a library of FLOSS Manuals

With so little documentation on most FLOSS, one site aims to help us help ourselves. But why do so few applications have manuals to start with?

By Amy Vernon on Fri, 05/14/10 - 7:03pm.

The work by FLOSS Manuals to develop gather and develop "free manuals for free software" continues apace, but some continue to wonder just why documentation for open source software has been so relatively rare

I read a few posts about this over the last few days, but no one touched on what I think has got to be a big piece of the puzzle.

When's the last time you read a user manual?

Occasionally, I'll look at a manual briefly when I'm setting up hardware or electronics, to get the basic layout. But the last time I read a user manual for software? Pfft.

And I'd imagine many people who actively use open source are far more technically adept than I am, and have even less need than I do for the instructions on how to use Firefox, OpenOffice, Audacity or GIMP.

To be sure, there are plenty of other reasons for the lack of solid documentation, such as developers who are proprietary (ah, irony) about creating the "official" documentation of their program or, simply, the time and resources involved in putting together a comprehensive, understandable user manual.

The thing is, most people are not very technically adept. Even the simplest program needs a user manual to enable the average person to figure out how to use it. For open source to become the default software rather than a free (or less expensive) alternative, "regular people" need to be able to use it.

The manuals developed so far on FLOSS Manuals seem rather comprehensive and are the result of teamwork. While there's a bookstore on the site where you can buy professionally bound and printed copies of the manuals, you can also simply print them out as a PDF file or refer to them online.

People are encouraged to edit the manuals, to print them out and to share them, as one might expect with an open source project. And they're not telling people how to work the software, they're telling people how to work the Internet freely (i.e., bypass Internet censors) in spots where there isn't the same sort of online freedom as in the United States and much of Europe.

In the nearly two years since FLOSS Manuals started, it's developed into a pretty handy library.

Useful enough that even I might take advantage of it sometime.