It's almost a battle cry for the open source community. Before you go to mailing lists or forums for help, you are expected to RTFM (I think we all know what that acronym stands for right?) But there are situations where RTFMing simply doesn't help. Case in point: Packetfence.
Recently, I was asked by my editor to do an article on the open source NAC Packetfence. I jumped on the change to learn something new and cover it for TechRepublic. So I did some reading about what it was and set out to install the system. I RTFMed and thought, this sounds very do-able. Well the FM was simply off the mark. In fact, in my 10 years of dealing with Linux and open source, I had never come across an "FM" that was so lacking in the actual "how to" area.
So I had to do some research of my own. This research sent me digging through configuration files and googling -- you name it. Finally, I got the system set up and running.
And that covered an entire article.
But now - what do I do? I had an article that was over 2,000 words that only covered setting up the system. Looks like another piece was in store. So I then had to figure out how to use the system. Easier said than done. RTFMing once again didn't help. I could get certain aspects of the system working but no more. So I wrote about those certain aspects of the system.
Two weeks down trying to cover one piece of software. I knew there was more to come.
It was at the end of the third week I had a HUGE AH-HA moment and set out to write about using the system again. The AH-HA moment was right on and I got my third article (only to find out there was a fourth ready and waiting).
Oh, and in the middle of all of this, I had sent an e-mail to the creators of Packetfence only to NEVER hear back from them. I had told them I was a writer for TechRepublic covering their system. Nada.
So after all of the time and energy I put into getting this system covered, I had to think about what so many of the open source community would say before they would offer one word of help.
Well I did, and it offered me very little help.
I have to wonder: Why is it the open source community doesn't reach out to people like myself who do this sort of thing for a living? Oh wait, actually I have reached out to certain projects offering my help with documentation only to get snubbed. To their snubbery I want to say, "I have been translated in blah blah languages and published in blah blah blah and so on ad nauseum...." But I do not. I figure if they want my help (or the help of others like me), they'll seek it out.
Until then, the FMs will continue to be subpar how-tos that, in many cases, do not show us "how to."
This sort of ties into one of my last articles (on Guru'ing). There is a lot of help out there for Linux and open source. Some of that help will come from people who frequent this site. And I would like to think the wonderful people here (people who many of us have all grown to know and trust) would never say RTFM to someone obviously in need of help. So if you are ever looking for help with Linux or open source, and you hear the phrase RTFM, know that most likely that is either someone too lazy to type or help or someone wanting to make sure you understand exactly what kind of help you are looking for before you look.
Either way RTFM is just not right. In the open source community the FM IS the community in most instances. And when we reach out for help we ARE RingTFingM.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.