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Re: finding and using applications

On Tue, May 04, 1999 at 07:14:53AM -0400, Tommy Malloy wrote:
> 	Suppose you have a Debian Gnu/Linux system set up and fully loaded with
> applications.  A new user appears who is going to use the system. The
> new user is a unix novice. He/she knows enough basic commands to get
> by.  

Good start :)

> Is there a simple way for that user to find every available application
> on the system, what the application does, and how to use it? 

No :)  dselect will tell you what packages it knows about and whether
they have been installed through dselect.  You (or the SysAdmin) are
the only one who knows _everything_ that has been installed unless
you _never_ install anything except using dselect.

dselect will also (usually) give you a fair idea of the purpose of the

man foo or info foo will give details (normally) of how to use the
particular programme.

>  	I really don't think so.  Remember apropos only scans man pages. 

Well, I think you'd have to be looking to do something esoteric indeed
if apropros couldn't come up with _something_ to do the job :)

> Looking in /usr/bin isn't much help for finding a tool to do a specific
> job unless you already know about it.  I really believe that any user

BUT : if /usr/bin has files foo,bar,baz then man foo, man bar, man baz
will normally quickly give you the missing information.

Do this for every file there ... do it NOW :)  (I have and I learned
a lot of interesting things in the process !)

When you have finished there, check out /etc and subdirectories and

This will take, on a basic system, less than a day.  At the end of it
you will have a _very_ good idea of what is possible even if you don't
memorise every command as you go.

> should be able to step up to the machine and quickly and easily find if
> an application to do what they want is available.  Yes this is available
> for many applications, but not for all.

Actually, you confused me for a while there with that statement but what I
think you are saying is that: if an application is installed and doesn't
have man pages then apropos can't tell the user about that application.
And furthermore, if no other package that is documented can do the same
job then the user forever remains unaware of this application.

Well that's true but my experience has been that the undocumented
applications are _normally_ lesser used duplications of other
documented applications or perform some specialised function.  IMHO,
in the first case, apropos would point your hypothetical user towards
a documented application to achieve the same effect and in the second
case, your hypothetical user wouldn't even need to know about that

> 	I believe that this  serious problem, which is an impediment to Linuxes
> mass acceptance  could easily be fixed.  Debian should not include
> application that are not fully documented ie have manpages, info pages
> etc

It is true that _some_ applications are not fully documented.  Remember
that most of the software is written by volunteers simply because it
solved a problem that they (the author) had and therefore there was no
need for that author to document the application.  These applications
have subsequently been released to the public under a variety of
licenses.  Sometimes the author and sometimes a user of an application
later on decides to add documentation so that the rest of us don't have
go poking around in the source code to discover every little intricacy.
When that happens it's great ... when it doesn't you, the user, are
left with two choices : don't use the application until someone else
has put in the hard work or put in the hard work and write your own
documentation and give back to the community that supplied the programme
in the first place.

Sometimes if you make the first choice you could be depriving yourself
and many others _just_like_you_ of a fine application for a _very_long_time_

> Also some frontend  appliction for finding applicatons would be helpful
> Somethnig based on he code for dselect would probably work fine. 
> 	Please don't suggest that I write it.  I can't.  I am  only commenting

You _can_ write it but, for a variety of reasons you _won't_ :)  The
reasons may include that you hadn't seen a computer until 2 days ago
or your wife only allows you 10 minutes/day on the computer etc... but
there is no such thing as _can't_ :)

> on a feature I would like to see. Please don't ask what type of
> applicaton I am looking for so you can help me find it.  I am not
> looking for an application.  But I would like to be able, and have any
> users be able, to know what applications are available on my system and
> how to use them.
> 	  I would like to be able to get that informantion  exclusivly from my
> computer and not depend on this list, irc, usenet, my big pile of tech
> books, or any external source.  I am root for heavens sake.

root, God or plain jane doesn't make any difference whatsoever.  Nobody
who uses any computer or OS wakes up on the first day that they are
going to use that computer knowing everything about it.

If your hypothetical new user hasn't got that little bit of time required
to actually learn something then you must ask them what they want to do
and tell them how and write the instructions down for them if necessary.
They are certainly not going to be using the computer for long enough
even to write a simple programme of their own.

> 	Strictly from a System administration perspective,  There should be a
> simple way for users to know what apps are available to them.  If you
> know one please let me know it

I think I have described the most simple and cheap method available.
OTOH, I paid AU$60 for a Linux book that describes commands that I
still haven't used 3 years later.  Anyone who wants to use my computer
is given the book and access to the guest account.

I have never used a Frozzbozz2000 with the G-Whizzer OS and even though
I am _very_ familiar with computers I would not expect to be able to
sit down in front of that machine and be instantly productive.  I
would expect to be reading manuals, looking at system documentation and
asking questions for _at_least_ 1 to 2 weeks if you and/or your
hypothetical user have only used the windows OS then you can expect a
learning period stretching into months or even years.  THERE IS NO
SHORTCUT ON __ANY__ OS.  Trust me, even windows takes weeks and months
to learn.


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