KDE::Enterprise: Interview with TrustCommerce

I have added another interview to KDE::Enterprise, this time with Adam Wiggins from TrustCommerce. Adam recently wrote a report on their use of Open Source and KDE, and this interview was a chance to further explore the issue. "It's simple: KDE makes the UNIX desktop usable for non-IT workers. If it wasn't for KDE, we'd have to pay a lot of money for proprietary hardware (Apple) or software (Microsoft). More importantly, the machines are more stable and easier for our sysadmin to maintain. [...] I'd like to see a distribution that is entirely based around KDE. All configuration is done through the KDE control panel, and the system is designed from the ground up to never, ever need to access it at the shell level."


But there I beg to differ. Man pages were/are one of the most innovative ideas belonging to UNIX philosphy - right from its roots in the early seventies (and what is LINUX when not just a very good version of UNIX).
Man pages offer a unified, consistent, precise and concise format for documentation (somewhat like a corset).
The style of the "help center" offers a different, more verbose style of documentation - also valuable, but neither precise nor consistent. But sometimes in the server room I don't even have a screen cabable of running X/KDE.

"It is not KDE's fault that your distribution's packages are messed" and not mine either. Nor would I have found out why the distribution was messed up if I didn't have a bash command window where I could enter:

% ldd /opt/kde2/bin/meinproc
libxslt.so.1 => /usr/lib/libxslt.so.1 (0x40016000)
libxsltbreakpoint.so.1 => not found
libm.so.6 => /lib/libm.so.6 (0x4004d000)
to find out how my distribution "was messed up".

By Malcolm Agnew at Sun, 2002/02/10 - 6:00am

man pages are far from being a universal documentation source anymore. They rarely have all the information you need, they are slow to navigate and impossible to link between. The GNU tools already use the (IMHO absolutely awful) texinfo format instead of man pages, due to these limitaions. KDE is doing the same, only they are providing the help center, which integrates man pages, info pages, and KDE help files into a single interface where you can (in theory) get all the info you need.

Note that I am not denying the usefulness of the command line. I hear you when you say that you couldn't have found the problem without using bash. The command line is a useful tool, and KDE is taking advantage of it. But KDE need not have man pages, because you don't need to get your info about KDE from the command line. If you need info about a KDE app, it is because you are running KDE, in which case you have access to the help center, unless your packages are messed up, which KDE can do nothing about. If your "man" package was broken and man wouldn't run (happened to me before), would you blame program developers for not giving enough information when you type "program --help"?

By not me at Sun, 2002/02/10 - 6:00am

I disagree that kde does not need man pages. Ever get one of those errors in windows that said see the online help but you could not get the online help or even the windows gui actually running? It becomes one of those catch 22 things then. It is a really good idea for kde to have man pages for at least the things that can stop it from starting so if something goes wrong you can still read the docs to figure out what needs to be fixed. Now I have to admit I have never had that problem with KDE and hope I never do but I like having it there just in case.

OTOH I have had that problem way too often in windows.

By kosh at Sun, 2002/02/10 - 6:00am

The Debian maintainers are adding some man pages AFAIK, but it seems only to their packages and not to original KDE?

By Someone at Sun, 2002/02/10 - 6:00am

The KDE help center doesn't have any information on problems that would stop KDE from starting anyway, so there is no danger of there being any catch-22 (AFAIK, there is no documentation on problems like this - if there was, perhaps it would be best placed in man pages). However, the help center can be run without starting KDE, so even if KDE couldn't start, you could still see the help. Plus, if your GUI won't start, that's an XFree problem, which is not a KDE problem. XFree has its own documentation.

By not me at Sun, 2002/02/10 - 6:00am

"man pages are far from being a universal documentation source anymore"
Ay, there's the rub (as Hamlet would say).

"They rarely have all the information you need"
They should give you sufficient information as concisely as possible and also point to additional information - in particular the names of files that the program uses. I don't always want to go through a bloated 100 page tutorial.

"... impossible to link between"
There are bags of tools which do this, i.e. xman.

"The GNU tools already use the (IMHO absolutely awful) texinfo format"
Yes they are absolutely awful - Richard Stallman's "not invented by me" paronia.

"... unless your packages are messed up, which KDE can do nothing about"
For those interested (searching on google shows that other folk are having the same problems - at least on the latest versions of REDHAT aand SuSE):

"/opt/kde2/bin/meinproc" (part of KDE if I am not very much mistaken) is linked to both libxslt.so l. But libxsltbreakpoint.so does not exist anymore, at least not in SuSE 7.3. The kludge (which works for me) is to make a symbolic link:

% ln -s /usr/lib/ibxslt.so /usr/lib/libxsltbreakpoint.so

and KDE help center works quite sweetly.

By Malcolm Agnew at Sun, 2002/02/10 - 6:00am

Oops! missed out a word here "..linked to both libxslt.so l" should read ".linked to both libxslt.so and libxsltbreakpoint.so"

By Malcolm Agnew at Sun, 2002/02/10 - 6:00am

:: They should give you sufficient information as concisely as possible and also point to additional information - in particular the names of files that the program uses. I don't always want to go through a bloated 100 page tutorial.

Well, I'd agree with that, but I'll point out two semi solutions. The first is the rumor I've heard that debian packagers make man pages for KDE apps. They may just consist of "This is what it does and see the help file for more", but they exist.

Second, I just poked for a minute, and it seems reasonable to think that man files (albiet large, bulky ones) should be able to be autogenerated. After all, that's the point of docbook - flexability). You might look into the Jade Wrapper utility docbook2man as a starting point. I'd agree that man pages would be nice. If you do it, tell me. :)

On the other hand, it's not a big enough deal for me to write the scripts to generate the man pages.


By Evan "JabberWok... at Sun, 2002/02/10 - 6:00am

xman hardly makes it easier to navigate man pages. xman can't solve problems like the lack of hyperlinks and the fact that man pages are one continuous page of text. The problem is that the man format is outdated for large, complex systems such as KDE.

I think the problem we have here is that the KDE documentation stinks in general. You mention not wanting to have to go through a 100 page tutorial - Nobody does. There should not be any such thing in the help anyway. Nobody uses that. The help should be easy to navigate and include such things as command line arguments and environment variables in an easy to access way, along with help for less experienced users. Right now, this documentation doesn't even exist for most programs.

There is a certain kind of documentation that, if it existed, would probably be best placed in man pages - documentation on problems starting KDE or the help center. This documentation doesn't exist. Until such documentation exists, KDE has no need for man pages.

By not me at Sun, 2002/02/10 - 6:00am

Lycoris Desktop Linux (D/LX) is a KDE only distro based on Caldera and works wonderfully well. It's been on my main production box since late summer last year. Lycoris is at http://www.lycoris.com and the Lycoris Community at http://www.lycoris.org . I think it will be worth your time to check this distro out.

By TuxAir at Mon, 2002/02/11 - 6:00am

The problem with kde is obtaining information!
For instance, HOW does one use the kde help center?!?
As near as I can tell -- after trying for an hour -- it is useless!

On the other hand "man ... " seems to actually work (I am not saying
that kde help center doesn't work, the point is HOW ?!?... at least
with man all you need to know is the three letters: "man").

By dpaddy at Thu, 2006/12/14 - 6:00am

I thought unifying the linux experience was for the creators of distributions (Redhat, SuSE, Mandrake, ad infinitum). KDE seems to have its hands full as it is with streamlining and keeping up with library changes, without going real deep into hardware configuration. I love KSysVInit. I love the formatted information in the control center. I love process manager. Those things aid in troubleshooting and doing what you otherwise would have to do commandline. Now you have an easier time doing things commandline to change hardware configuration. Heck, KDE even has its choice of text editors (Advanced, Kate, or no frills Text-Editor) so you don't have to dive into Vi(m), emacs, or the rest. My point is, the tools are there already for those who want to link GUI and configuration. For those who are not expert enough, there are configurators available from your favorite distro. To the developers, please focus on streamlining and bug removal instead of spreading too thin with a "Klinux".

By greg at Sun, 2002/03/03 - 6:00am