[TUHS] [OT] Re: earliest Unix roff

KatolaZ katolaz at freaknet.org
Tue Sep 17 04:09:43 AEST 2019

On Mon, Sep 16, 2019 at 10:37:03AM -0700, Jon Steinhart wrote:


> It seems to me that you're missing the point here.  It's not a question of
> whether or not GNU programs have good documentation.  It's the fact that
> GNU made it hard to find documentation because they took one pile and split
> it into two with no guide to what was in each pile.  It's not that their
> documentation was good or bad, it's that they made it hard to find any
> documentation.
> Maybe it's because I'm a child of the 60s, but I'm with Arlo Guthrie on this
> one (from Alice's Restaurant): "And we decided that one big pile is better
> than two little piles, and rather than bring that one up we decided to throw
> ours down."

Dear Jon, I am a child of the 70s, so I know the drill ;)

What I am saying is that the vast majority of the software from the
GNU project actually has a good-quality manpage acoompanying it. And
it also has the same documentation in info format. Hence I see no
point in vomiting on info (which I mostly dislike anyway, as I said),
as on any other document format, as long as the same information is
made available via manpages as well, as it is the case for most of the
software present in current Unix systems, wherever it comes from. The
split caused by the introduction of info has mainly been cured by the
community, maybe too late, but still.

We can discuss whether the split was necessary or "right" in the first
instance, as we could discuss whether it was good or not for cat(1) to
leave Murray Hill in 1979 with no options and come back from Berkley
with a source code doubled in size and 9 options in 1982. We could do
that, but perhaps we shouldn't get too partisan, since the history of
Unix is not a simple single-threaded and linear one, as the many
insightful contributions posted in this ML show. It's a continuum,
where it is difficult to find any single element which is totally
right or totally wrong.

I honestly see more danger in the recent trend that avoids
documentation altogether, except for a scant README.md file at the top
of the sources. There is an entire generation of developers who see
little value in producing (and using) online documentation, where by
online I mean manpage-like or info-like docs. For the simple reason
that the main way in which documentation is produced and distributed
has changed a lot in the last 25 years. Now it's all about googling
the right words, unfortunately.

We can keep blaming RMS, info, or the GNU project, but indeed blaming
them for the Web would be a bit too much ;)

And this is perhaps becoming OT anyway.


Enzo Nicosia

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