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VI, standards, politics and all that
Pardon a new lurker jumping in, but it does seem like people are getting
stuck on minor issues here and forgetting about what we're aiming at.
Perhaps it's because we're building on top of Red Hat 5.2 and have to keep
some of the things in that, I don't know.
For a start, renaming `vi' is a bit pointless. Call a spade a spade: if it's
vi, call it vi, if it's not, call it something else like `edit'. Yes, I
agree that `vi' is a horrible thing to present a new user with. And yes,
despite being a non-vi-user myself, I agree that it should be kept because
it's a "standard editor". Plus it's handy for rescue disks and the like.
If documentation refers to `vi', eg "edit the config file with `vi foo.cf'",
then the documentation is broken. What if I don't like vi? Or can't use it?
Just say "edit the config file, `/etc/foo.cf'" instead.
Ideally there should be a central "knowledge base", which would be easily
searchable, something like the Windows Help system (*) for Windows itself.
Then if a user comes across a phrase like "edit the config file", they can
look it up and get an explanation and thus learn how to do it in general.
(*) - before the flames come rolling in, no, I'm not an MS serf. I just
happen to be able to recognise a useful idea when I see it, no matter
how poorly executed it happens to be...
We can then replace "edit with `vi foo.cf'" with just "edit the file", which
although it gives less information is more helpful because it doesn't
-assume- anything about the user (like they can use `vi').
I realise that both rewriting documentation and building a "knowledge base"
are potentially large tasks. I'd be willing to do at least part of it,
bearing in mind that I don't have Red Hat and that my connection to the net
is slow and charged by the minute.
Certainly I'd be interested in writing a searchable knowledge base / FAQ
repository to be installed on the user's machine as a GTK+ application or
something, if some such thing doesn't already exist. A desktop "how do I?"
app, for topics less involved than the HOWTOs, is vital in my opinion.
Personally I feel that the key to writing a system usable by non-technical
users lies in explaining things properly and not assuming anything.
Don't assume that the user has time to read all the documentation.
Don't assume that the user knows what X is.
Don't assume they use `vi'.
Don't assume they can easily pop off to a web page to look something up.
Explain the minimum necessary in the shortest space, without dumbing down or
oversimplifying. Writing like this can be tricky, but when it's done
properly it works very well.
- alias vi=pico
- From: Donovan Rebbechi <firstname.lastname@example.org>