Government

Open source software: What is holding back adoption by government?

Despite the potential benefits of using open source software, use of it by the government is slow to increase

Back in 2010 the UK government pledged that open source would be given equal consideration as proprietary software when choosing new technology.

And while this sounds like a forward thinking policy, almost identical aspirations were first expressed in a government policy document back in 2002, and have cropped up repeatedly since. Meanwhile adoption of open source by government remains slow.

So what went wrong? Liam Maxwell, the government’s director of ICT futures, admits there is still “not enough” open source being used within government- and that there is still a long road ahead before open source will truly be on a level footing with proprietary software in government.

The government is waking up to open source – it’s just that significant barriers remain: "Open source software is not three guys in a shed anymore. There are a lot of misconceptions about open source but open source is the future model for delivering IT,” said Maxwell at the recent Intellect Regent Annual Conference in London.

"That's where the future is moving. It's moving to a new model of service and delivery, it's big data and big data is going to be open source. If we move to being one common government we need open source," he said.

And yet, there’s plenty more to do. ”It’s going to take a long time to work through,” he told TechRepublic.

Maxwell said the biggest barrier is that public bodies are locked into long-term IT deals which limit their ability to choose new software.

”People are still tied into seven year contracts doing something else,” Maxwell said, adding “the previous government signed up to some very long deals, one of the deal runs until 2017”. In some cases public bodies will not be able to choose new software packages until these deals have run their course.

Increasing the use of open source software in government

The low take-up of open source software is also the result of the government choosing major suppliers instead of smaller companies to carry out its IT work, according to Mark Taylor, chief executive of Sirius and head of the New Suppliers to Government working group, which aims to help open up the market for public sector IT contracts to small and medium sized businesses.

Recent estimates are that 80 per cent of the £20bn or so worth of IT work carried out by government each year is performed by just five major tech suppliers.

”The amount of open source software in government is negligible,” Taylor said.

”The open source problem with government and the SME problem with government are related issues, because the majority of solutions in the open source space are coming from smaller and medium sized players."

About 12 per cent of public sector contracts are awarded to SMEs, compared to a government target to award them one quarter of contracts.

Maxwell argues that the uptake of open source software will increase once the government pushes open standards for software interoperability, data and document formats across government, which will help prevent public bodies being tied to using a particular proprietary software package.

”If you focus on open standards, and really fixate on having open standards that you base your development on, that then allows the best solution in the market to come through,” he said.

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

57 comments
nonimportantname
nonimportantname

Point blank, period. If the government has to rely on a free, support-by-committee model, it won't be able to hold water for long. That's not to disparage the self-motivated and highly talented open source community, but contracts, money, and reputation are what hold big business accountable--and the government is no different.

itadmin
itadmin

The first reason is that governments and public departments spend taxpayer money, not their own. There's no incentive to get the most bang per buck. Secondly, public servants all over the world are notoriously lazy. To find the best open source software entails research - that's work. Software corporations have sales people who go to your office and drop off colourful brochures explaining why their software is the best in the universe. This leads to our third reason. Thirdly, there are always politicians and public servants on sale all over the world. Open source doesn't pay bribes. Corporations have been known to do so. There you have it, nothing to do with the quality of the software or value for money. Just sad, everyday realities.

tarose.trevor
tarose.trevor

I saw a joke (but very true) that said: "how to start an argument on the internet: 1 - express an opinion, and 2 - wait" ...i mention this for a reason to do with this article. but let me first frame this a bit more. My dad is a family doctor, in Australia we call them GPs (General Practitioners - just in case you call them something else where you are from)... and he has been involved in a government program or two relating to the medical field... one of which is getting prescriptions electronically sent securely from GP to Chemist, and there have been others. These are all pilot projects to see what is the best way of going about introducing a new system, and the doctors are rewarded for their involvement since it is likely to be a disturbance to a busy medical practice, where they are already run off their feet all day long. Now, for those of you who are already reacting emotionally based on the idea that you believe doctors to be some kind of priviledged class of people... neither of my parents (both GPs) in their 70s, can afford to retire. My mother is out the door at 8am, and she doesnt get home from her surgery until 10pm - 3am the following morning, sleeps & then goes back again... because when they have finished seeing their patients, there is hours of paperwork to do... now, in my mothers case she works additional hours of this to desperately try to make up for her lost retirement savings from the GFC. OK... so now you have seen the background to this... here is my question to you that really resolves ONE of the big mysteries about ANYONE (government or otherwise) taking up open source software: "why the f--- would these people expose themselves to the kind of abuse they will get for asking a simple question of a techie?" ...because let's face it, the internet & many techies have a notoriously bad reputation for being rude & abusive when people ask them questions. This alone i think is one of the things holding back open source... with open source, you dont necessarily have a company who cares about their name in all transactions & interactions, so there is no accountability for behaviour... what needs to happen is for people within the community, while on the one hand allowing free & spirited debate, on the other hand coming down on senseless abuse where someone just asked a question. As the saying goes, there are no stupid questions... and while I also believe "no generalization is true, not even this one" and so there probably are stupid questions... still... much like the rest of "user friendliness" that needs to be worked on (particularly those cryptic MAN pages), we need to have more friendliness TO users... stop expecting everyone to be an expert at I.T. ffs... my parents went through 10 years of combined medical school & residency just to become doctors, and now they have been in constant education ever since then to remain registered over the last (almost) 50 years!!! ...so perhaps they are a bit busy to find out & get used to finding out for themselves the stuff that you think is simple. ...and definitely STOP having a go at people when they dont google something for themselves... is it really so hard to just HELP people?

Gisabun
Gisabun

Aside from the support issue, I think governments don't want to leave sensitive data to applications where you don't know where the source came from. Backdoor? Buggy? Amateur coding [in some cases]? Foreign developed? [Surely the US government doesn't want to use software developed by the Chinese, Iranians, .... At least if it came from [let's say] Microsoft, Oracle, Google, etc., they can be trusted [more].

Dyalect
Dyalect

Paying for support and contracts that rarely get honoured. Bottom line. With open source there is no pen to paper and thus no SLA. Has anyone ever opened a support call with MS???

apotheon
apotheon

. . . for ignoring most of what has been said here, much of it directly contradicting the erroneous assumptions that underlie your statements. The short version: There are no meaningful guarantees for closed source software, either. Have you ever tried to sue Microsoft for poor customer support?

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

All of your generalizations are, if not completely wrong, mostly wrong. [i]The first reason is that governments and public departments spend taxpayer money, not their own. There's no incentive to get the most bang per buck.[/i] In this day of shrinking government budgets, you can say that with a straight face? If a government agency wants to keep providing the same level of support with fewer resources, it [b]has to[/b] try to get the most bang for the buck. This means the people in that agency have to work that much harder or find a better way to do things without breaking any laws. Which leads us to your second statement. [i]Secondly, public servants all over the world are notoriously lazy. To find the best open source software entails research - that's work. Software corporations have sales people who go to your office and drop off colourful brochures explaining why their software is the best in the universe. [/i] Corporate managers all over the world are notoriously cheap. To find the best open source software entails research - that's money. Software corporations have sales people who go to your office and drop off colorful brochures explaining why their software is the best in the universe. (see how easy it is to generalize?) Now, stroll on down to your local police or fire station and ask them why they are so lazy. Ask an EMT why they are so lazy. Ask anybody in your country's military why they are so lazy. Accept any consequences. [i]Thirdly, there are always politicians and public servants on sale all over the world. Open source doesn't pay bribes. Corporations have been known to do so.[/i] Bribes? Not in any developed country that I'm aware of. Most of them require a competitive bidding process for major government purchases, including software. I'm more inclined to think that most companies offering open-source software options and support don't want to get involved in the government procurement group cluster. And corporate managers are just as (if not more) susceptible to 'bribery' as any other public servant. After all, they can accept gifts from vendors without breaking the law. And don't forget all those corporate twits who can't separate promises from performance or are susceptible to flattery; I believe most governments require a demonstration of the live software prior to purchase. Apparently, in your world, it's inconceivable that somebody might enter public service because they wanted to help or give back to their community, or even because they felt called to it. It would not surprise me to find that you think government workers are only there because they couldn't find jobs in the "real world." Yes, government workers have an attitude. Most of them got that attitude from dealing with members of the public who think public employees are stupid, lazy, incompetent, incapable of getting "real" jobs, or all of the above...and foolish enough to let it show while expecting stellar service.

paulfx1
paulfx1

I think you're right on all accounts too. Except I am under no illusions that those sales people are only dropping off colorful brochures.

apotheon
apotheon

"Help us help you by helping yourself."

seanferd
seanferd

Never mind, because why would a GP be asking in a public forum for help with such a system? That's the job of the people who maintain and operate the system. Going to the wrong place looking for answers when you didn't bother to educate yourself at all in the first place with respect to some system you use daily for your business is a good way to elicit derisive replies. Another is to ask the same basic knowledge question which has already been answered six times in just the visible list of topics. Because you didn't even look at the page, never mind the knowledge base/FAQ/Wiki/documentation at all before you waltzed in demanding things from people you don't know. That's why. If you are paying for remedial to advanced support, then that is a whole other thing. The provider needs to respond and honor their contract.

apotheon
apotheon

Manpages are not cryptic. They are extremely clear, when even moderately well written (which is usually), for certain purposes. If you think they're cryptic, you either aren't bothering to read them or are misusing them. As for the Google thing . . . consider this: "I need help with this." "Look it up on Google. That's what I'd have to do to answer your question for you -- and finding the answer would be easy, but that doesn't mean it's my job to do it for you." . . . then you throw a tantrum because people won't help you. Yes, there are cases where open source community members should be more helpful and friendly. No, that doesn't mean that open source community members are your dedicated tutors, or worse, your IT department so you can just get other people to do the work for you rather than actually learning anything. There are people with legitimate gripes about how they have been treated, but from what you've said here I kinda doubt you're one of them. Consider it triage: the community members who are donating their time to help people have only so much time to donate. Do you think they'd rather donate it to the person who goes to the effort of spending five minutes trying to figure something out, thus demonstrating that they're likely to learn from the experience even when they get help from those helpful community members, and who ask nicely for information in a manner calculated to make it easy to help them -- or do you think they'd rather donate that time to someone who doesn't bother spending that five minutes, can't be bothered to explain their problems well enough to give people a sense of how to help them, demand help with an obvious sense of entitlement, and indicate by their laziness and disinterest in learning that they'll probably come back and do the exact same thing all over again a week later, thus wasting more of their time? I know which I'd rather help.

Bruce Epper
Bruce Epper

There are some really stupid questions that people will ask. Many times we will try to actually figure out the question that they want answered because they really do not want us to answer the question that they asked. For example, "Can you set up a Debian Stable server?" In most cases, I will send a one word reply: "Yes". After all, I did answer the question that they asked. The best way to get the response they want, is to ask the question they want answered.

ITassasin
ITassasin

Not only can they be trusted, but if anything was to go wrong(bugs, holes etc.) the company can be held accountable. I don't think that is possible with pen source software. I wouldn't feel comfortable the knowing the government was using open source.

apotheon
apotheon

The most interesting thing about them is that you seem to think they're points in favor of major closed source vendors, when many of them are actually points in favor of open source software.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Why? None of these with the possible exception of Google has a Stellar Security Record. With M$ it's a great month if there are only 8 Hot Fixes to apply and quite often many more that can have been reported up to 5 years previously and M$ has never got around to fixing till now. With all Closed Source you have no idea what [i]"Backdoor? Buggy? Amateur coding [in some cases]? Foreign developed?"[/i] problems exist or what Holes are already known and we are not told about. Security through Obscurity is no security at all. ;) Col

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Sure there is, but it's usually third-party. How do you think Red Hat stays in business? However, there aren't too many outfits that provide third-party support for open source products that are big enough to handle a customer the size of a national government.

itadmin
itadmin

The science of statistics is based on generalization. When one generalizes one doesn't say every last one of such and such. One says "the biggest number of." That may be only 30% if there are many groups, the biggest of them 30%. Bribes in developed countries are just more subtle and often don't take the form of cash or a bank deposit. Few days go past without news of someone getting caught out being bribed. Where I live the full-sized public buses are frequently empty and rarely have more than five passengers. They tell me the state finances them. That's just one of many instances of public money being poorly spent I see every day.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

at an agency and those that are elected and make a sideline of developing "relationships" both financial and professional. I was in the trenches, but I saw questionable activity by my comrades and the politicians. At least in the trench our actions (or lack thereof) were the result of being beaten about the head and shoulders when we tried to do the right thing. I'm not certain why the politicians do what they do, but as they often exempt themselves from their decisions, forgive me if I don't trust them...

paulfx1
paulfx1

and be for real. People enter public service to further their own agendas. Stop paying them all and see how many stick around. I'm sure some still will but I chalk those cases up to extreme stupidity, laziness, incompetence, and incapability. Increase your awareness: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_federal_political_scandals_in_the_United_States Don't call us, we won't call you either. I'm really getting fed up with you personally. I got your number scumbag!

apotheon
apotheon

QUOTE: In this day of shrinking government budgets, you can say that with a straight face? Easily. Do you know how a government agency competes with other agencies who are all trying to avoid having their budgets cut? It's a simple system, but one that turns the whole concept of good money management on its head: make sure you spend your entire budget, every red cent, even if it's utterly wasted, so that when the accountants look at the numbers they don't think "Well, this department obviously didn't need the whole budget. Cut the budget for next year." In particularly lean times, when someone up the chain might actually take the time to look at how the money was spent (rather than just where it was spent), the motivation becomes spending as much money as possible on as few, and as critical, a set of expenses as possible -- because otherwise the higher-ups will decide that your budget can be cut if you just stop spending on the expenses that look less important. As a result, where an agency was spending $4,000,000 dollars a quarter last year for some key expense, it might spend $6,000,000 a quarter this year by getting it from a less cost-effective source, just to protect more of the departmental budget from cuts. QUOTE: If a government agency wants to keep providing the same level of support with fewer resources, it has to try to get the most bang for the buck. Mostly, governmental bureaucracies don't care about providing the same level of support. They care about inflating (or at least maintaining) budgeting levels, because in governmental bureaucracies, budget is status and job security. In fact, providing less complete and effective service when the budget gets cut can be a strategic advantage toward getting the budget bumped back up, by making people panic over the fact that a budget cut apparently caused a service failure. QUOTE: Now, stroll on down to your local police or fire station and ask them why they are so lazy. The statement, from what I saw, seemed targeted at bureaucrats who make purchasing decisions -- not public servants like police and fire department personnel. In my experience, laziness is not the primary flaw of police officers or firefighters, but it is definitely a common flaw amongst desk-bound paper-pushing bureaucrats whose biggest worries are their agency budgets. As for the military . . . well, yeah, a lot of us were in fact pretty lazy when I was in. It wasn't in a bad way, though; it was in a way that involved trying to avoid having to work on pointless BS ordered by lazy, career-minded bureaucrats trying to get promotions and/or budget increases. QUOTE: Bribes? Not in any developed country that I'm aware of. Have you not heard of nations like the US, Canada, and the UK? Of course, the bribes are hidden under layers of official sanction, as in the case of lobbyists back-dooring money through fourth-party campaign donations -- which is the form most bribes take when dealing with elected politicians, for instance. High-level bureaucrats and appointees tend to get their bribes in the form of job offers for when they're on their way out of office in two or three years. QUOTE: Most of them require a competitive bidding process for major government purchases, including software. It's amazing that you aren't aware of how such systems can be rigged. QUOTE: I'm more inclined to think that most companies offering open-source software options and support don't want to get involved in the government procurement group cluster. Ahhh . . . now that is a strong argument, and I suspect you are right about that. QUOTE: I believe most governments require a demonstration of the live software prior to purchase. I'm not aware of such requirements being any kind of commonality, but I could easily be unaware of it, so I'll take your word for it until I hear otherwise. QUOTE: Apparently, in your world, it's inconceivable that somebody might enter public service because they wanted to help or give back to their community, or even because they felt called to it. I don't know what itadmin@'s world is like, but in my world about the same number of people go into "public service" because they want to help or give back, or feel called, as take up tailoring, hospitality management, automobile painting, hairdressing, administrative assistance, laser printer repair, armored car security, or just about any other common profession. 98% of people are not doing their jobs for any kind of idealistic or altruistic motives, by my estimation, and that applies just as much to governmental petty bureaucrats as anyone else -- because they may be seeking other benefits such as job security, good retirement benefits, family tradition, and a desire to feel important. If you think most such people (especially those with the ability to jockey their way up the hierarchy) are in it for the idealism of the job, you probably haven't been to the post office recently. QUOTE: Yes, government workers have an attitude. Most of them got that attitude from dealing with members of the public who think public employees are stupid, lazy, incompetent, incapable of getting "real" jobs, or all of the above...and foolish enough to let it show while expecting stellar service. It doesn't really matter where they got the attitude. If they let it affect the way they work, the point stands. I try to treat everyone like a human being who may be a good person, at first, if there's no reason to do otherwise. The fact that reason to do otherwise very quickly arises every time I deal with a "public servant" is a pretty good indicator that corruption is at least as rampant in governmental bureaucracies as in nongovernmental corporate bureaucracies.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I've often thought they are good references if you already know what you're doing, but want a refresher on a command you don't use often or discover parameters you didn't know about. But for a grass-green beginner, they don't stack up to a decent printed manual; something from O'Reilly or even Dummies. On the other hand, there are plenty of distributions out there now that let newbies be effective users right out of the box, with minimal or no command line skills or post-installtion configuration needed. If one is looking to advance beyond user to administrator, a familiarity with MAN pages is MANdatory.

apotheon
apotheon

"Yes, I can set up a Debian Stable server." I might sometimes add "You probably can, too."

apotheon
apotheon

Check out my other response to you: http://www.techrepublic.com/forum/discussions/102-385648-3641875 You're going to find it at least as difficult to meaningfully hold any major corporate vendor responsible for problems as you are any open source project. Even if you could reasonably sue, though, without a court throwing it out immediately, you'd then end up spending far more money on the lawsuit (probably just to lose the case anyway) than what you might have lost due to software failure. Honestly, if Microsoft could be held accountable for the failures of its software offerings, the company would have been sued into the ground and picked clean in the late '90s. You're living in a fantasy world if you think it's at all reasonable to expect to be able to hold a major corporate software vendor accountable for the quality of its software. The only accountability you're likely to get for software quality is the kind of accountability you get when its source code is available for review.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

because many governments at a variety of levels are already using it in various departments and capacities. You can't hold a closed source company accountable. Read any software license; commercial software isn't warranted to do anything. At least with open source, you can pay someone to fix the source code.

ITassasin
ITassasin

But at least we could nail google to the cross should anything go wrong, but with open source, who is gonna take the fall/be held accountable?

apotheon
apotheon

There are some that are big enough, to be sure. Actually, I wonder if there may be as many as there are for any given closed source option. The difference is that the closed source option has the same name as the support provider, whereas third party support providers for open source software don't have the same name as what they're supporting. That, and they don't tend to lobby on behalf of open source software very much.

apotheon
apotheon

As long as they make the rules, and as long as people get elected based on parties with no principles, you're going to get more of the same, only worsening as time goes on. Period.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

That's what I thought during the recent ridiculous passage of a law explicitly stating federal elected officials couldn't engage in insider trading. It was already illegal; it was only under discussion so Congress could give the appearance of caring about ethics. If they really wanted to show the people that ethics were important, they'd stop exempting themselves from so much of their legislation. Let's start with autodialers during campaign season, then move on to their use of military medical facilities that other civilians can't access.

apotheon
apotheon

I think a reasonable definition of "bureaucracy" is "institutionalized mandates to do the wrong thing at all times".

apotheon
apotheon

If I wanted to take discussion off to some dusty nook, I'd take it to email.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

letting topics wander where they will is a long-defended hallmark of this forum. This has sometimes taken the form of dozens of posts at the seventh level, as you well know. I'll continue to stand on that tradition, respectfully decline your friendly request, and continue my disdain for the 'Take Offline' button. :-)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

paulfx1 seems unable to differentiate between elected officials, political appointees, and regular workday civil servants.

apotheon
apotheon

I don't think anyone thinks mortgage bankers and Facebook are being altruistic. I think that, to the extent they "trust" such entities, people just believe it's in their best interests to provide good customer service. There's a difference between misjudging the extent to which a customer's best interests actually matches the interests of the organization providing service, on one hand, and believing someone is an altruistic "public servant" on the other.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

that the everyday government employee that makes sure you get your social security check is only in it for the money, you provide a list of scandals relating to elected and appointed officials, [u]none of whom[/u] are the everyday employee you excoriate above.. Fail.

Darryl~
Darryl~

How about starting a new discussion Charlie...tag me on it with an email.....I want in :) With over 25 years as a private sector manager & 5+ years working as a public employee....well, ya konow what, I know both sides of the fence quite well. In either case, we are getting way off topic for this discussion....let's start a new one. D

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"...millions of US citizens don't place a foolish trust in your mythic altruism in pursuit of their goals as a representative of "their" government." Millions placed foolish trust in mortgage bankers to represent their best financial interests. Millions place foolish trust in trade associations and labor unions to represent their best professional interests. Hell, millions still think Facebook is acting in their best personal interests. Nope, sorry; I'm still not seeing any discernible difference :-)

apotheon
apotheon

QUOTE: How does this differ from the private sector? If my employer stopped paying me, I wouldn't stick around either. Yeah . . . but millions of US citizens don't place a foolish trust in your mythic altruism in pursuit of their goals as a representative of "their" government. The difference is the perception. (Just pointing out that there is a difference. The difference is that many people differentiate between public and private sector in an irrational way, and the fact the people in each of these sectors are not so different needs to be pointed out to many people.)

Darryl~
Darryl~

I think you would find that much of what Nick stated is very true, at least it is where I'm employed, but I must be one of those cases of "extreme stupidity, laziness, incompetence, and incapability" as I'm a public employee that is paid much less than if I had a similar position in the private sector. ;)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"People enter public service to further their own agendas. Stop paying them all and see how many stick around." How does this differ from the private sector? If my employer stopped paying me, I wouldn't stick around either. The private sector isn't scandal-free either. Do the names Madoff, Enron, or Halliburton ring any bells? If you're fed up with Nick, or any one of us, don't hesitate to ignore or not respond to us. It's a big Internet; you should be able to find a corner with fewer scumbags.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

When it comes to budgets, most government agencies operate on the 'Use it or lose it' principle. There are usually spending orgies during the last month of a fiscal year; that's often when the new furniture get ordered.

apotheon
apotheon

There should definitely be a manpage explaining metasyntactic variables, available on all open source Unix-like OSes. I think I'll write one, and get it included with as many OSes as will accept it.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

You get it, I get it, but that's the kind of response that drives less experienced users like tarose up the wall. I've seen forum responses to greenhorns that toss the word around with no explanation, like newbies should innately understand it's just a generic placeholder. Your response definitely isn't an example of this, since you were responding to me and I know from experience that you can relate concepts in a way that's clear to newbies. I'm just making an observation.

apotheon
apotheon

Stick to "man foo". There's also "man -k foo" or "apropos foo", if you want to get fancy. Unfortunately, some Linux distributions are letting themselves get encroached on by the Info menace, so that some common tools are only really documented by GNU Info pages. This is, of course, just one more reason I prefer FreeBSD over Linux-based systems in general.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I'm not going to use a help system that requires a tutorial and help system of its own. Louisiana bayou are easier to navigate.

apotheon
apotheon

GNU Info pages are baskets of runny crap. In most cases, they're just manpages reformatted to make them hard to use. In cases where they're designed specifically for the Info format, they're worse. From what I've seen, Linux-specific manpages tend to be of generally lower quality than manpages that were just made with general use in mind rather than made by people who think Linux is the only OS in the world. Maybe your poor experiences have mostly been with Linux-specific manpages (such as the underwhelming descriptiveness of Richard Stallman's manpage for ls, which he seems to have written primarily as an advertisement for GNU Info). I remember MS-DOS help. Don't forget that when you're writing help documents for tools that only have two or three options, and you only have a couple dozen tools total, it's a lot easier to make the help documentation look good. The same functionality on FreeBSD is exceedingly well documented in manpages, plus a lot more; it's when you get out to the obscure stuff at the edges that things start falling apart. Anyway, you aren't complaining about the manpage system; you're complaining about specific developers who can't (or won't) document their way out of a wet paper bag. The manpage system itself is pretty well designed.

paulfx1
paulfx1

It was an extra add on install but the stuff was pretty helpful. I found the format more useful than man pages. MS-DOS help entries would include examples with explanations, a feature many man pages I've read seem to lack. In typical UNIX fashion man page authors seem to take perverse pleasure in making entries as terse and cryptic as possible. If I am struggling with a command I will read the man entry, but I don't expect it to help me much. Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised, not often though. Not often enough to cancel my Internet subscription, that's for sure! BTW info is the current GNU replacement for man. Though navigating that gives me headaches.

apotheon
apotheon

QUOTE: But for a grass-green beginner, they don't stack up to a decent printed manual; something from O'Reilly or even Dummies. Any non-printed documentation is going to suffer from the fact it lacks the benefits of printed documentation. I'm not sure stating a broad tautology, but artificially narrowed to apply to manpages in particular, really means much. You make a pretty good point about administration and manpages, though. I think part of that is the fact that Unix admins are expected to be more knowledgeable, or at least able to use the tools available on the system to greater effect, than is the case for MS Windows admins. That strikes me as a natural consequence of a pair of facts: 1. The tools on MS Windows systems tend to fall short of those on Unix systems in terms of flexibility and broad capabilities. 2. MS Windows lacks manpages. It's difficult to claim ignorance as an administrator when you have the Unix manual to fall back on.

apotheon
apotheon

Why hasn't Microsoft been "nailed to the cross", then? Oh, right -- because the way liability protection works for corporations, it's more difficult to hold any corporation or its officers accountable for poor product quality than it is to nail 140 pounds of gelatin to the cross, especially with all the disclaimers of warranty attached to their licenses.