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this is not specific to debian, it's a unix/linux-wide 
situation: due to its broad heritage and years of development,
the documentation is hither and yon, and the newbies don't 
have the knowledge of which tools to use in order to find 
what they're looking for.

and this is why they ask the experts.

expert advice on mailing lists is often the simplest way for the
newbies to get their front-end aligned, so to speak, yet it's
frustrating for the experts to see the same simple questions
asked time after time.

that the information exists is not enough: the lost ark was
placed in the warehouse, but not even indiana jones would be
able to find it--even though it's right there! you only need
to know which box, and which aisle, to find it. for those
who do know which box and which aisle, it gets tedious
answering the same simple questions.


in an effort to help increase the ranks of debian users...

i volunteer to spend some of my free [sic] time to make it
easier for newbies to find their way around (so that the
experts can focus on answering more challenging questions
and devise more cool stuff for the rest of us to use in
the future) by launching a two-pronged attack:

1)tinker with the debian.org web pages to make it more
  difficult for newbies to NOT find what they're
  looking for. examples:
    a. search field, top left number one always always always.
        if searching the whole site is taboo, then add a
        menu for choosing whether to search mailing list
        archives, packages or bugs
    b. newbie links:
        - debian faq / faq-o-matic
        - debian / linux glossary
        - where/how to download debian
        - will debian work on my hardware? [ports]
            - i386
            - powerpc
            - sparc
        - how to upgrade to a newer debian [apt-get / apt]
            - have a cgi form to generate via Q&A
              apt-get sources.list items
            - show how to determine which debian they've got
        - how to upgrade a single package [apt-get]
        - manuals / documentation
        - ask other debian users [subscribe to debian-user]
    c. have the remainder of the left column contain
        - tip of the day (maybe make a fortune database for this?)
        - quick-start guide
        - debian mailing lists galore
        - why debian? [about the debian organization]
            - philosophy
            - contact
            - volunteer
            - donate
        - languages available (use nationality flag icons)
            [need to fix "??????? ?? (GB) ?? (Big5) 
            ??? ??? Dansk..." regardless]
    d. have the right column remain news-like

i think it's safe to assume that the more-knowledgeable
folk have less trouble navigating, so we can put their
stuff further down in the hierarchy or at least further
down on the page, giving ease-of-discovery precedence
to the new/prospective users of debian/linux.

online html documentation must be updated so that any 
reference to 'currently' is replaced with 'as of xx/yy/zz' 
to reduce misinformation--such as the outdated comment 
that "hamm (2.0) is the current debian release."

2) start on a script (perl? shell? locally-served cgi?) 
called, perhaps, "NEWBIE" that'll take any number of arguments 
and scan the local newbie's system for
        - locate <xyz>
        - apropos <xyz>
        - man <xyz>
        - info <xyz>
        - /usr/{share/,}doc/<xyz>{,-doc}/*
        - http://www.*.debian.org/doc/<xyz>
        - /var/cache/apt/*
        - dpkg -S / dpkg -L
        - iterate thru $PATH to find matching commands
        - other suggestions?
and display command options to display the documentation sought.

also should be aware of useful commands that may not be 
installed and tell the user about how to get/install them 
(e.g. mc, mutt, apt-cache, swat)

it may require its own flat/text database of sorts, perhaps
using an input value of english phrases describing what
a newbie might be looking for, and an output value of
a list of commands (or inf/man/http commands) that answer
that request.

        "file manage(rs?|ment)" -> "mc, ..."
        "receiv(e|ing) e-?mail" -> "fetchmail, mutt ..."
        "(upgrad(es|ing)?\s*packages?" -> "apt-get, dpkg ..."
        "help" -> "man, info, locate..."

2a) maybe create a TOTD to implement a tip-of-the-day,
once per login. such as
        "looking for help sending email? try 'newbie send email'."

        "to update from 2.1 (slink) to 2.2 (potato), ..."

        "to launch XWindows, try 'startx'; to install it,
        do 'apt-get install X'"

        "expect to be confused now and then; it's part of the
        learning process ..."
        [not intending that to be funny--maybe if we warn them that
        not everything will fall into their laps, the newbies may
        be less inclined to think that the gurus OWE them answers.]

        "to configure your domain name, see 'man named' or..."

        "if you use XWindows, try 'apt-cache search dotfile' or..."

perhaps we can find a way to distill answers from debian
lists into such a utility. the experts are of course free
to disable it.


if someone's already doing this, i volunteer to assist. if
not, any help would be great!

what's the procedure for getting started with something like
this in the debian world? (i'll be unavailable for a week, but
i could get started soon after u.s. memorial day, may 29.) i'm
new to the process, so start at the beginning.

comments and recruits are very welcome. newbies unite!

Their is five errers in this sentance.

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