If you're like me, you think the manual is for cowards. Any good computer
hacker should not be afraid to open up the box and start feeding in disks
without any regard for the consequences. You tear open the box, yank out the
floppies, pop the first one in the drive, and start up the Software Manger
and happily go through the thankless task of installing the software.
After everything has been installed and your desktop icons have been created,
you double-click the icon and start your new multimedia Web viewer. But wait! It
doesn't work right. No matter how much you point and click and click again,
nothing happens. In frustration, you get on the phone and frantically dial the
800-number from the back of the manual (making this the first time you opened
When you finally get through to support after waiting for two hours (it was
actually only five minutes), you lash out at the poor tech support
representative who was unlucky enough to get your call. You spend more time
ranting about poorly written software than you spent on hold. When you finally
finish insulting this persons ancestry, he or she calmly points out that on page
2 in the manual, where it describes the installation procedure, it says that to
get the Web to work correctly, you have to have a network
installed. Because you decided not to install TCP/IP when you first loaded the
system, there is no way for the Web browser to work. You're embarrassed and the
whole situation is not a happy thing.
Some people might want to say that things are not the same with Linux support
as you don't have the same kind of support as with "commercial" products. Well, many
Linux vendors offer 30 day installation support, as well as have fee-based support
afterwards. So the issues are the same. Furthermore, just because you are posting
to a "free" mailing list instead of calling support. There are a a number of things
to do before you go looking for help.
One important aspect of solving problems yourself is actually trying to solve
the problem yourself. This might seem too obvious to mention, but what really is
not obvious is the extent to which you really should go to before turning to others for
help. This is not because others are annoyed with "stupid questions", but rather the
time is better spent working on the hard problems and not the ones that people
should be able to solve on their own.
A way to do that is to read the HOWTOs and other
documentation before, during, and after the installation. Doing so tends to
limit the embarrassing calls to tech support or posts to newsgroups, but the
world is not perfect and
eventually something will go wrong. Programs are (still) written by human beings
who can make mistakes, which we users call bugs. Perhaps the QA technician who
was checking your SCSI
host adapter sneezed at the very moment the monitor program
reported an incorrect voltage. Maybe the manufacturer never tested that one,
rare set of circumstances that causes the program to freeze the way it did on
your machine. The end result is that you've read the manual, checked and
rechecked the hardware, and it still does not behave the way it is supposed to.
You can't solve the problem yourself, so you need help.
If you ever find yourself in a situation where you cannot solve the problem
yourself and need to access any of the various resources on the Internet, there are
a few ground rules that you need to
adhere to. These are called "Netiquette" (net-etiquette). For a detailed
discussion on netiquette, I would
suggest the Netiquette
Home Page. This is essentially the online version of the book Netiquette by Virginia Shea.
There are, however, a few important points that I would like to make. First, do
your own research. In
the sections on Linux documentation and
Other linux resources we discussed many different
places you can look
for answers to your questions. You should always try these first before you go
to a newsgroup or
mailing list. Most of the time you will find the answer yourself. This is much
more beneficial to your
understanding of Linux than simply having someone spoon feed you your answer.
Also, if you do not
find your answer, or the answer is hard to understand, telling others where you
look and what you
found, keeps others from giving you the exact same answer, thereby saving time
What problems a person should be able to solve on their own is not as easy to
define as you might think. For example, I have read posts to mailing lists describing
problems and quote the error message they are getting. The user has never used the program
before and so the error is pretty meaningless (other than saying "something" is misconfigured
or not found).It might be reasonable to post such a question to news group. However, I
remember one case where the person posted the problem for the third time and no one had
answered. He was indignant that no one had a solution for him. Well, I took the exact error
message he was
getting and did a search on Google for it. The very first post was someone else
who posted months before and the reply was very specific steps to solve the problem. Had
this person searched google before the first post, they would have had a
I cannot tell you enough that Google is your friend. It might take a little practice on
phrasing your search text properly to get the answer you are looking for. However, it is
worth it. First, you may not always get the specific answer you want, but you find a lot of
cool and useful sites. I cannot begin to count the sites I have stored in my booksmarks that
I stumbled across when looking for something else. Second, there is a great chance
you will find something that will help, particularly if you have a specific error
message. Third, it's a great way of finding information, whether you have a problem or just
want to find more information.
If you don't find an answer on Google or any other search engine, try searching an online
forum for the answer. On linuxnewbie.org is a great forum with tens of thousands of posts.
They have a search mechanism to dig through old posts. Maybe there is something there that
will help. If if is a common problem, you will probably find an answer. If it is uncommon,
then at least you have tried all the common solutions.
When you finally do post, list not only what you are trying to do, but how you expect it
to behave. Don't simply say "it doesn't work right." While working in tech
support, I have numerous calls from customers who assumed that something was
not working correctly, when it actually was. They had incorrect assumptions about the way
things were "supposed" to work. Since their assumptions were wrong, the expected
behaviour was not what was "correct".
Also, make sure you tell people what you have already tried and what the
results were, even if what you tried couldn't be correct. For example, I
had trouble connecting my DSL card because the instructions from
my ISP talked about an DSL modem and not an expansion card. Plus, I already had an
existing ISDN connection and
a switch-box to which all of my phones connected. When I posted to a mailing
list, I listed the various combinations
and locations of the cables and various boxes, indicating why I though each one
was incorrect. This got me more
detailed answers than in I simply asked "How do I connect my card?". Less than
20 minutes later I was on-line.
Whether you post to a newsgroup, mailing list, forum or to the owner of sites
like mine, remember that no one owes you an answer. We will do our
best to help, but sometimes we cannot. Maybe we don't have any experience
with a particular issue or maybe we just don't have the time at the moment.
Also, people will often
simply ignore messages when the answer is listed in a HOWTO, the man-page or
some other obvious place.
You may end up with someone who simply replies "man whatever", where "whatever"
is some command. Don't be annoyed at terse answers like that. If you already looked at
that man-page, then you should have already said so in your post. If not, then there is
probably something in that man-page which will help. Don't expect people to hand you
the answer on a silver platter, especially if you don't do any work yourself.
If the reponse does not answer your question, then be polite when telling them,
even if you feel that the
response would "obviously" not answer your question. Sometimes people respond
based on pre-conceptions that
you do not have. I find this to especially be the case when someone does not
provide details of the problem, like
error messages, things that were changed recently, and so on.
Another very polite (and useful) thing is to thank people for their efforts,
even if they did not solve your problem.
If you get a reputation for someone who simply asks the questions and never
responds to the solutions, you may
find that people stop answering you. Also, if the reponse solves your problem,
reply back to the newsgroup or mailing
list and add (SOLVED) (or something similar) to the end of the subject. That
way other people will know that the issue has been solved.
Also, when you reply, you should reply to the group and not to the individual
and certainly not to both the
group and individual. Since the person replied to your post, there is no
need to reply to both as he
or she will certainly see your message. If you reply just to the person, then
others in the group do not have the
benefit of knowing if the solution worked or any other information that was
Depending on what program you use when replying to a mailing list or
news group, you need to pay attention to the default behaviour when you simply
click "Reply". Some reply to
the group and some reply to the sender. I have been convinced that the proper
behaviour is to reply just to the
individual. This is because it is less dangerous to make a mistake and reply to
a single person when you wanted
to reply to the group, as compared to replying to the group when you ment to
only reply to the individual. Either
way, you need to be aware of the behaviour of your mail or news reader.
When starting a new subject (also called a "thread"), do not simply
reply to an existing message. The
advanced mail and news readers that come with Linux keep track of the messages
and can display them
hierarchically, based on who replied to whom. These are called "threaded"
readers as they properly manage
the various threads. They typically allow you to collapse or expand individual
threads, giving you a much better
overview than if each message was listed individually. If you start a new topic
by replying to an existing message,
you defeat the whole purpose of threaded readers and may end up having your
question go unaswered because
people simply do not see it.