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Prime Time Freeware Manual: the Dossier Series

timothy posted more than 11 years ago | from the libre-not-gratis dept.

GNU is Not Unix 66

doom writes "There seems to be some interest just now in technical books based on freely licensed content, so I thought I would discuss the Dossier series from Rich Morin's Prime Time Freeware project." Doom has provided an overview of this series; read on below to find out for yourself why he says man pages and other free documentation are worth paying for in dead-tree format.

You're all of course aware that there's a huge quantity of excellent technical material on-line about the free/open software that you use ... but how much of it have you actually read? Computer's being what they are -- noisy glowing bulky contraptions with awkward physical controls and displays with a resolution a fraction of paper publications -- most of us aren't inclined to read long works on line. So the next step is where you resolve to do printouts of some of the manuals... and then you discover how long they really are. Many a project can fill multiple looseleaf binders with a single-sided printout of its docs. But if you spend about half a day on it you can probably figure out how to get a nice double-sided printout in a smallish typeface and squeeze it all into a single looseleaf binder... which turns out to *still* be too bulky to want to carry around with you. RTFM is easier said ...

The solution to this is of course professionally printed editions of the manuals. These have been easy to get for GNU software for some time -- the GNU Project standardized on documentation in 'texinfo' format which they use to generate both their online documentation and a very good series of books.

But all that is free is not GNU, and filling that gap is one of the goals of the Dossier series, which uses some semi-automated procedures to generate high-quality, up-to-date hardcopy-on-demand publication.

Thus far they've got books out on the following topics (available on-line through the BSD Mall):

  • C, etc.: Essential Tools
  • Email: Exim 3
  • Email: Mail and Sendmail
  • File Systems: FreeBSD
  • File Systems: RedHat
  • Kernel: FreeBSD
  • PostgreSQL: Programming
  • PostgreSQL: Reference Manual
  • PostgreSQL: Use and Administration
  • Processes: FreeBSD
  • Processes: RedHat
  • Python: Library Reference
  • Python: Miscellanea
  • Security: Local System
  • Security: Remote Access
  • Text Processing: Essential Tools
  • User Commands: FreeBSD
  • User Commands: RedHat

Some of the prices might seem a little high for works based on free content (usually $30 to $35 per volume), but on the other hand these are for small press runs without much in the way of economies of scale going for them. And it certainly beats messing with doing print-outs yourself. (Though if you want to go that route, Dossier can help take the sting out of that process: they offer online access to PDF versions of these works, which is much more inexpensive than paying them to ship you bound volumes.)

When I first heard about Prime Time Freeware/Dossier, I immediately ordered the Postgresql documentation, a set which fills three volumes. At that time the only Postgresql book out was Bruce Momjian's which only covered up to version 7.0. At the speed the postgresql development team was working, having docs more than one release behind was definitely a problem (outer joins weren't even supported in 7.0!). I really appreciated having some books I could flip through that discussed the actual state of the software (and man, there are some weird features in there I didn't know about ... graphical data types so that you can try and use postgres as a backend to a CAD system?).

Next I started looking at the volume on "Text" (now renamed "Text Processing" ... which is a shame, in my opinion. I thought it was really funny putting "Text" on the same level as "C" and "Python"). This is a book I would have liked to have some years ago when I needed to understand troff/nroff for man-page hacking (the only time I ever bought one of those 4-inch-wide junk books the 80s were buried under was to get a copy of "UNIX UNLEASHED" because it had a table of *roff commands ... it still bugs me that I had to do that).

One of the things that struck me immediately about this "Text" volume though, was that there were some utilities discussed here that I'd never heard of before, e.g. a2ps which has some decent features for formatting docs for postscript printers. I'd never run across it before, in part because it wasn't installed by default on my RedHat 7.x box. It's a pretty funky command that does a bunch of things automagically that are sometimes hard to predict, but if you need printouts of some docs, I recommend giving a2ps a try for double-column duplex output -- but only if you can't get them from some place like Dossier (yet).

Rich Morin has been working on the problem of making it easier for users of open systems to get information about them for some time, hence The Meta Project, which thus far has resulted in "Meta Demo," aka the FreeBSD Browser. The Dossier series is a spin-off of this research in documenting open systems... check-out the Meta Project sometime. (I'd like to see that system browser extended to cover Linux, myself).

Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Excuse me? (5, Insightful)

gazbo (517111) | more than 11 years ago | (#5231683)

How is this a book review? Saying that there is a series of books available doth not a review make.

Question: (-1, Flamebait)

Faggot (614416) | more than 11 years ago | (#5231705)

Do you think that Slashdot-run book reviews are worth reading in the first place?

In my experience, no.

Re:Question: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5231800)

You need to understand the review system to find it worthwhile. Here goes:

Rating 9: Above average book, read it.

Here's the real version (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5231825)

You need to understand the review system to find it worthwhile. Here goes:

Rating less than 9: Bad book, don't bother.

Rating equals 9: Average book, read it if you are particularly interested in the subject.

Rating greater than 9: Above average book, read it.

Re:Excuse me? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5231715)

Shhh... you'll hurt his feelings.

Re:Excuse me? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5231807)

Maybe you should appoint yourself to be an official critic's critic. And then we can have critics of critic's critics.

how to eat my shit in three easy steps (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5231685)

  1. eat my shit
  2. ???
  3. FP!!!

piss froth? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5231687)


Oh hell First post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5231689)

You sporks are slackin' off!

I like it (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5231695)

Reading a paper medium fior a long time is always best than on screen.

dead tree is bad (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5231724)

Efforts to encourage people to read paper books that are available and useful in electronc formats are environmentally irresponsible. Wasting paper is bad enough, but encouraging people to waste paper when the electronic form is economically as well as environmentally more advantageous is despicable.

Get with the program. Instead, donate your money to something useful, like a palm pilot, or a pocket or tablet pc. That way you are saving the environment as well as supporting a good cause (namely yourself).

Re:dead tree is bad (4, Insightful)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 11 years ago | (#5231758)

It's more environmentally sound to produce paper than microchips. And paper books dont consume the ~150watts my PC and CRT do.

The paper industry by and large farms the trees they use, and ever larger portions are recycled. It really is time to update the Greenpeace pamphlets.

Re:dead tree is bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5233080)

But a book is only ever a book, and as far as tech docs go, not a very useful thing after a few months of version changes. I have a proud shelf full of Java 1.0 and pre-ANSI C++ books.

And how many watts are you using for ample reading light? And what about LCDs?

I've read several ebooks (for pleasure, all fiction), sometimes a PDA is a lot more convenient than a thick paperback. Try it!

Re:dead tree is bad (1)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 11 years ago | (#5236495)

>> And how many watts are you using for ample reading light?

Mother sun!

>> But a book is only ever a book

That big blue bin marked paper is for recycling. That obsolete tech manual can be a Playboy magazine within a few weeks!

Re:dead tree is bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5231766)

Get with the program. Instead, donate your money to something useful, like a palm pilot, or a pocket or tablet pc. That way you are saving the environment as well as supporting a good cause (namely yourself).

If I read as much online as what I did in dead tree format, I'd have to donate lots of money to my optometrist, and my shrink as well.

Take your tree hugging hippie spiel somewhere else, will you?

Re:dead tree is bad, but... (4, Interesting)

FuzzyDaddy (584528) | more than 11 years ago | (#5231771)

While I agree that it is preferable not to make printouts when possible, I find the book format much more readable than the screen. I usually end up only printing out the pieces of interest (table of content, chapter I need, etc.) But I am bothered with the amount of paper I produce.

Perhaps the test is hpow long you're going to use the book.

Does anyone out there read books on PDA's? How do you find it compared to reading from the computer or reading from a dead-tree book?

Re:dead tree is bad, but... (1)

andfarm (534655) | more than 11 years ago | (#5231888)

I've actually found that reading on a PDA with a good screen can be almost as good as having a book. With a good, readable font and a backlit screen, my Pilot (excuse me, Palm computing device) is almost as good as a book for quick reads I have text for. Just as portable, too -- almost even better, because it's smaller than one.

Re:dead tree is bad, but... (4, Interesting)

Jason Earl (1894) | more than 11 years ago | (#5231931)

I have nearly switched 100% to reading on my Sony Clie, and I prefer my trusty PDA for most reading tasks. For one thing you can fit a pile of books onto a 128M Media Stick. I also like being able to read in the dark, and I really like the fact that as long as I have my PDA I always have a book to read. I am convinced that for casual reading there is no better way to go than a PDA.

Computer documentation, on the other hand, is somewhat more difficult. I have several computer textbooks on my PDA including: "Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs," "The Emacs Lisp Manual," and "The Zope Book" to name a few. In fact, most everything available at the Linux Documentation Project is available in Plucker format. However, with computer text you generally have to be at least somewhat careful with line wrapping. A lisp function that looks fine formatted at 80 chars a line probably doesn't look so hot when you only have 40 characters per line, and if the book includes pictures then you are even worse off. PDA screens (at least Palm-based PDA screens) are still too narrow and offer too poor of a resolution for books with pictures or source code listings (IMHO).

Go to Baen's web site [] and download David Drake and Eric Flint's Belisaurius series and read that instead.

Re:dead tree is bad, but... (1)

sysadmn (29788) | more than 11 years ago | (#5231974)

Does anyone out there read books on PDA's? How do you find it compared to reading from the computer or reading from a dead-tree book?
How do I find it? Come on, my pda is small, but it's not that small!

In my experience, the PalmOS 160x160 screen ok for fiction, particularly short stories or other fare you can read in small chunks (even novels, if you don't lose too much continuity reading 1/2 chapters at a time.) It's pretty well useless for long PDF files (too slow, too little onscreen) and for detailed info with code, command line or other wide text. (Imagine reading the 'examples' section in a 20x40 xterm...)

Re:dead tree is bad, but... (0)

NeuUnderground (647370) | more than 11 years ago | (#5231982)

I Read several books on my pda, and find that i get sick of hitting the down button or scrolling down after every paragraph due to the small screen size, if some one could make a program that i could set to auto-scroll at a variable equal to the rate at which i read so i can stop constanly scrolling while i am trying to read, other than that i find reading on a PDA much better than trying to fit a dead tree in my pocket. I also have several booksheleves of manuals of which there are four of which i have actually read and refrence more than once a year, even though i have many of these in digital form, but it is nice to sit down and read it on paper once in awhile.

Re:dead tree is bad, but... (1)

agenthh (521566) | more than 11 years ago | (#5232002)

PDAs are excellent for serial reading, e.g. The Count of Monte Cristo (got it from PG). It is *extremely* portable, the screen isn't straining on the eyes, and I can read in odd moments (walking between classes).
Man pages, eh. It's ok, but not preferable. The format of the pages doesn't convert well to a 160x160 pixel screen.
Huge, indexed documents (like most stuff from TLDP) are actually easier than man pages, because they have the big index, plus navigation buttons on all the pages.
Not to mention, you have space for all the huge, indexed documents that would otherwise be in those loose-leaf binders.
Even with only a measily 8 megs of RAM on my Visor Platinum, I still have enough stuff to keep me occupied for a couple of days.


Re:dead tree is bad, but... (1)

robert0122 (444085) | more than 11 years ago | (#5232032)

Does anyone out there read books on PDA's? How do you find it compared to reading from the computer or reading from a dead-tree book?

I have a Visor that I read a fair number of books on. It's certainly more convenient than lugging the printed book around, but I've found that it causes me to read much more slowly. I'm not sure why, but I think it's because I usually "skim" a bit when reading in a larger format (paper on full size monitor) but you can't do that well on a 160x160 screen.

Re:dead tree is bad (3, Insightful)

Mike Rucker (639143) | more than 11 years ago | (#5231782)

The problem is that the electronic formats are not always as useful as the paper format. Electronic documentation describing how to fix your computer won't do you much good if your computer is malfunctioning.

Re:dead tree is bad (1)

andfarm (534655) | more than 11 years ago | (#5231873)

But 99% of the time, my computer is working just fine but I need to look up information in the manual. Paper documentation for, say, gcc isn't any better for this reason vecause I don't need gcc when my computer's broken. I need repairs.

Split Opinion (4, Insightful)

wzm (644503) | more than 11 years ago | (#5231743)

I'm of two minds about printed documentation. On more consumer oriented platforms, such as the Mac OS, and Windows, I've never had need to touch the printed stuff, and the built in help is rarely of use. With *NIX machines, I've always wanted to get full printed documentation, but once I get ahold of if for the stuff I'm using, I never pull it out. Man pages and online documentation are just to convenient.

I feel as though having printed documentation ought to help, but it doesnt. Do people who learned computing through batch systems find things to be different? I know that old DEC junkies typically have a few bookcases of documentation, is that because they learned the systems that way (and find it useful), or just because they are pack rats?

Re:Split Opinion (2, Interesting)

Rojo^ (78973) | more than 11 years ago | (#5231847)

Sometimes it's easier to grep for an answer than flip flip flip for it. I have a few tech books I read through when I'm on the toilet, but other than that, the books don't have as good a refresh rate as my monitor as I'm searching Google for HOWTO's. Books usually have lots more information than I'm looking for as a quick reference, and it's kind of a pain weeding out the extraneous info.

Re:Split Opinion (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5231962)

...the books don't have as good a refresh rate as my monitor as I'm searching Google for HOWTO's.

Were you looking up the HOWTO for Making Yourself Sound Like A Fucking Dork? Because you've certainly got the jist of it.

Re:Split Opinion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5232465)

I have a few tech books I read through when I'm on the toilet

Is that a guy thing?

Re:Split Opinion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5235983)

Books usually have lots more information than I'm looking for as a quick reference, and it's kind of a pain weeding out the extraneous info.

Precisely. Books are for leisurely, largely sequential reading. If I want to know how to uppercase strings in language Java/Python/C++, the online documentation is best. On the other hand if I want to understand how to think in language X, I prefer to sit down with a book and think about it.

That's one of the reasons why the old DEC paper manuals were useful. You could sit down and read them cover to cover and educate yourself. The same is true with the better O'Reilly books over in the open source world.

ROI (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5231789)

I asked 3 of my profs in business school if there was any way to make money from Open source except support. They all said NO! If book sales are significant, it might be another big incentive for software developers to join the cause.


Re:ROI (1)

zoward (188110) | more than 11 years ago | (#5232021)

I asked 3 of my profs in business school if there was any way to make money from Open source except support. They all said NO!

I suspect that Tim O'Reilly might disagree with them on this point (had to bring this up as I just spent $125+ on Linux books at

Re:ROI (1)

taybin (622573) | more than 11 years ago | (#5232424)

Personally, I would consider a company providing documentation a support company.

Re:ROI (1)

bninja_penguin (613992) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233313)

I asked 3 of my profs in business school if there was any way to make money from Open source except support. They all said NO!

That is probably because they are business professors. They have built their proverbial house upon the concept of ROI, numbers games, profit/loss margins, ad nauseum. Open Source represents a new paradigm, that doesn't fit into their Excel spreadsheet formulas. It's been proven over and over again throughout the history of humanity that new notions that don't fit the old model are hard to accept, especially among the learned. The concept of the Earth being round, for instance. The scholars of the time (and government and religious leaders) would rather kill someone for that thought, than change their "view of the way things are." This is not to slam the professors, just that they aren't 'open' to new views.

My Browsing habits - Documentation (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5231798)

I usually read as much as I can online, enough to ground me to the project, and get me moving, i then make use of any search for the mailing lists, online docs (even if I have to google the site) to find what I need.

I only really need to print if I am running off home, and want something to peruse if I get bored.

Of course, lots of printouts means your boss will think you are really busy, wheras sitting at your desk reading a book, well, that just smacks of being lazy!

I think with TFT displays there is no excuse to dis' viewing stuff online. Its like being sent a letter to say that they are a paperless office...

Save the toner for printing out your own dilbert strips!

Re:My Browsing habits - Documentation (1)

Kelt (85402) | more than 11 years ago | (#5231838)

This is where I am torn... It used to be I'd print a howto or manual for parousing in the o'l loo... No better reading time than the evening constitutional.. However, since the dawn of PDA's...

Now it's just so much easier to move the doc to my iPaq and read it there. It has the search functions paper is missing, and it doesn't get all crinkled if I leave it there when I am done...


Too long (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5231802)

Can I order the paperback version of this review?

One word (-1, Flamebait)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 11 years ago | (#5231880)


Some nice things about paper (3, Insightful)

phorm (591458) | more than 11 years ago | (#5231904)

To name a few nice things about documentation on paper:

You can highlight it (a big plug)

You can tag/mark important pages

You can read the paper and the screen (fullscreen) at the same time without switching TTY's

You can have multiple pages open at ones (if looseleaf) and sometimes switching between is easier as well

You can take then with you when not at a PC

If you're in the loo and run out of TP... well...

The problem is the CONTENT (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5231919)

Most *NIX man pages have a horrible interface and are poorly written. They do not have a tutorial style, and generally show you the commands and a brief definition, but nothing more.

But whether that's online or on paper, it's still going to suck. It's even worse on paper because it's not hyperlinked and has no search capability.

I have read manuals that were completely on the computer and also printed out. I shipped the printed copies back to my parent's home to occupy my old room; I exclusively use the online stuff. It's better, it's faster, and it's exactly the same well-written stuff.

Printing books is a step backwards. It's destructive to the environment. What is really needed? A) Better writers B) a devotion and committment to explaining concepts more thoroughly C) more examples.

Re:The problem is the CONTENT (1)

Lucas Membrane (524640) | more than 11 years ago | (#5232088)

I agree 100%. The value added by putting existing docs on paper is minimal. It is nice to be able to look at the paper and the screen simultaneously, some time. But that is not justification for charging about what it would cost for the user to simply put the docs on paper with their own inkjet.

It is fairly boggling that the man pages don't contain examples. (I'm not sure if this is part of the standard for man pages, but I don't recall seeing examples at all). Better docs would not only include examples of each option, but guide the reader to an understanding of (1) when to do this, (2) why to do this, (3) what else you need to do this, (4) if he really wants to do this, (5) likely problems with doing this, (6) blah, blah, blah ...

Then you need to keep it all up to date as the software continuously evolves and do some packaging and presentation to convince the reader that the doc is correct for someone with his distro, his data, his computer, ... (I once wanted to be a mathematician, but all I learned was the "..." part.)

Anyway, that means that maybe there is some need to include a little original work to the 'get stuff free, sell it, PROFIT!' business model before you've got a lucrative business. The approach without original content that I could suggest would be to add original cross-referencing, linking, and indexing to the free docs. Put it all on a CD so that when the user gets boggled by one section of the docs, he at least gets a link there to another section of the docs to click on so that he might forget that he is boggled.

Re:The problem is the CONTENT (2, Insightful)

AJWM (19027) | more than 11 years ago | (#5232325)

they do not have a tutorial style, and generally show you the commands and a brief definition

Uh, that's all they (man pages) are supposed to have. Back in the dawn of time, or at least of Unix, the documentation consisted of two "volumes" (several inches thick each if you printed it all out on looseleaf paper to put in a binder). Volume 1 consisted of man pages, with the different sections being numbered as we know the numbering today. Volume 2 -- rarely seen anymore -- consisted of white papers, users guides and other detailed documentation for the commands that weren't obvious from the man page. (For example, cp only needs a man page, even with all the bells and whistles added since the early days. Something like troff or yacc needs a bit more -- and you'd find that bit more in Volume 2.)

Online documentation (speaking in general here) is great (searchable, hyperlinks, etc) when you're looking for something specific. Paper documentation is wonderful when you just want to browse (in the old fashioned sense) to discover stuff you didn't know you needed -- especially if you want to do that in places where a computer isn't convenient.

Re: Paper if you just want to browse? (1)

Lucas Membrane (524640) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233000)

Then why do they call this bucket of random bits a 'browser'?

Fine to have volume 1 and volume 2, but in this age of the digital wonderland, shouldn't there be hyperlinks from volume 1 to volume 2? The concept of the smart library was one of the original dreams of the juicy fruits of smart technology, and that was 50 or more years ago. What we have equals dead trees converted to digital media, with some of the benefits of dead trees lost and few of the potential advantages of digital media realized. And this is for presenting information about the computer to someone who is trying to use the computer. That paper can be at all competitive in this market is most telling -- telling about the low value of IT, even to IT people.

Re: Paper if you just want to browse? (1)

Clover_Kicker (20761) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233187)

>Fine to have volume 1 and volume 2, but in this age of the digital
>wonderland, shouldn't there be hyperlinks from volume 1 to volume 2?

Yes, definitely. The same guy who put these books together has organized the FreeBSD documentation in a way you'd probably like.

For example, halfway down this summary page for vi [] you'll see hyperlinks to the appropriate tutorials and references found in /usr/share/doc/

Re: Paper if you just want to browse? (1)

AJWM (19027) | more than 11 years ago | (#5234092)

Hyperlinks are well and good -- but they shouldn't serve as a crutch for bad writing, either. A well-written man page (there are some) is a joy to behold, and stands on its own. Which would you rather have -- Microsoft hyperlinked "help" or a plain text readable-from-the-command-line man page?

As far as paper editions go -- paper is easier on the eyes, more portable, more durable (spilling coffee on your books is annoying, but beats heck out of spilling coffee on your laptop) and easier to make notations on.

Besides which, the CO2 absorbed by that tree gets retained in the paper for as long as it lasts. Do your bit to prevent global warming, use paper documentation!

(And all that said, I have a couple of the O'Reilly "library on a CD" discs -- all HTML-ized -- mounted on my internal server so I can refer to them instantly.)

Re:The problem is the CONTENT (1)

jgerman (106518) | more than 11 years ago | (#5232415)

It's destructive to the environment

No more so than all of the electric power we use to run the computers on this planet.

Re:The problem is the CONTENT (1)

Arandir (19206) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233103)

A) *NIX man pages are supposed to be references, not tutorials. As such, they are superb. Well, at least the FreeBSD man pages are superb, sometimes the Linux man pages seem to be lacking finish.

B) All of the XFree86 documentation is installed as man pages. Very useful. But I still crack open the hardcopy X series from O'Reilly, most of which are merely printed copies of the man pages.

C) Books are printed on paper, which comes from trees, which is a renewable resource. In addition, the trees used for paper are grown on farms. It's much less destructive to the environment than generating the electricity used to display ephemeral information on your computer monitor.

D) No one is requiring you to buy these books. If you don't want them, you don't have to buy them.

Re:The problem is the CONTENT (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5235001)

> ...sometimes the Linux man pages seem to be
> lacking finish.

You're being *way* to kind...


Re:The problem is the CONTENT (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5236380)

A) *NIX man pages are supposed to be references, not tutorials.

So if somebody makes a man page into a tutorial, are you going to shoot them or send them to jail? Who made up that definition? Who says they should be limited to just references? This may have been true years ago, but this is the 21st century. We aren't up to the level of a HAL computer singing "Daisy, Daisy", but why stick to old-school definitions of man pages?

C) Books are printed on paper, which comes from trees, which is a renewable resource.

The gas power used in the chainsaws to cut the trees down is not renewable. Bulldozers also use gas to clear the path to get the tree cutters and trucks into the area.

The gas power and electricity required to ship the trees to the plant producing factory is not renewable.

The electricty and gas power used to chop up the trees to create paper pulp is not renewable.

The electrcal power used to print out and bind the books is not renewable. In addition, if the print process uses the kinds of resin that are in toner, then extra heat needs to be generated than a water based resin. This energy is not renewable.

So now you have huge thick manuals. You have to ship them to the bookstores or directly to the customer. It gets there by old fashioned gasoline guzzlers, either through airplanes or trucks. This is not renewable energy.

D) No one is requiring you to buy these books. If you don't want them, you don't have to buy them.

Even if I don't buy them, it doesn't stop the fact that the books have already been MADE. We're not talking Just-In-Time inventory. I can't think of anything more pathetic than seeing tons of books that aren't going to sell, slowly yellowing unsold on the bookstore shelves. (Addison Wesley books seem to do this a lot)

To give you an example of the kind of waste that goes on, consider that postage rates are based partly on fuel consumption for the post office. I can send a CD containing 700 MBytes of data (at least 50 phone books worth of info, depending on your metropolitan area) through the mail from California to New York for eighty-nine cents. Now how much does it cost to send 50 physical phone books through the mail? It's much more than eighty nine cents. The cost is a hint at the amount of non-renewable energy used to ship those phone books.

I'm confused (0, Troll)

orthogonal (588627) | more than 11 years ago | (#5231932)

So are these books free in any format, or do they retail for $35/physical, $15/electronic?

Or are they free if you find they at variou splaxces on the web, but pay if you get them from this collection/repository?

Re:I'm confused (0)

orthogonal (588627) | more than 11 years ago | (#5232346)

So are these books free in any format, or do they retail for $35/physical, $15/electronic?

No dumbass, this was not a troll, it was -- and is -- a legitimate question.

Rather than marking it "-1 troll" as a knee-jerk reaction to anything you don't understand, why not just try to answer the question?

Never have I used my mod points to mark anything down -- I find it far more important to identify what I think is worthwhile, what I think others might want to see. So I have a hard time understand down modding in the first place.

But down modding legitimate questions on a comment and discussion list is simply ignorant arrogance.

Re:I'm confused (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5232673)

You're bitching about moderation and you think other people are arrogant?

Slashdot celebrates Negro Month: Sammy Davis Jr. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5231944)

Sammy Davis Jr.

On November 19, 1954, the career of Sammy Davis Jr. almost came to a sudden and tragic close. While driving to Los Angeles to record the title tune of the Universal International picture "Six Bridges to Cross", Sammy was the victim of an automobile smash-up and narrowly escaped death. He was so seriously injured that his left eye had to be removed. In spite of the terrible shock, Sammy rallied and went on with his work; he even insisted that he was the "luckiest guy in the world".

Since his accident, Sammy's courageous spirit and ever-growing talent have won him increasingly enthusiastic audiences. Let's hear it for Sammy Davis Jr. !

Celebrate Negro Month 2003 with Slashdot.

Dossier - FreeBSD is dying (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5231966)

It is official; Netcraft now confirms: *BSD is dying

One more crippling bombshell hit the already beleaguered *BSD community when IDC confirmed that *BSD market share has dropped yet again, now down to less than a fraction of 1 percent of all servers. Coming on the heels of a recent Netcraft survey which plainly states that *BSD has lost more market share, this news serves to reinforce what we've known all along. *BSD is collapsing in complete disarray, as fittingly exemplified by failing dead last [] in the recent Sys Admin comprehensive networking test.

You don't need to be a Kreskin [] to predict *BSD's future. The hand writing is on the wall: *BSD faces a bleak future. In fact there won't be any future at all for *BSD because *BSD is dying. Things are looking very bad for *BSD. As many of us are already aware, *BSD continues to lose market share. Red ink flows like a river of blood.

FreeBSD is the most endangered of them all, having lost 93% of its core developers. The sudden and unpleasant departures of long time FreeBSD developers Jordan Hubbard and Mike Smith only serve to underscore the point more clearly. There can no longer be any doubt: FreeBSD is dying.

Let's keep to the facts and look at the numbers.

OpenBSD leader Theo states that there are 7000 users of OpenBSD. How many users of NetBSD are there? Let's see. The number of OpenBSD versus NetBSD posts on Usenet is roughly in ratio of 5 to 1. Therefore there are about 7000/5 = 1400 NetBSD users. BSD/OS posts on Usenet are about half of the volume of NetBSD posts. Therefore there are about 700 users of BSD/OS. A recent article put FreeBSD at about 80 percent of the *BSD market. Therefore there are (7000+1400+700)*4 = 36400 FreeBSD users. This is consistent with the number of FreeBSD Usenet posts.

Due to the troubles of Walnut Creek, abysmal sales and so on, FreeBSD went out of business and was taken over by BSDI who sell another troubled OS. Now BSDI is also dead, its corpse turned over to yet another charnel house.

All major surveys show that *BSD has steadily declined in market share. *BSD is very sick and its long term survival prospects are very dim. If *BSD is to survive at all it will be among OS dilettante dabblers. *BSD continues to decay. Nothing short of a miracle could save it at this point in time. For all practical purposes, *BSD is dead.

Fact: *BSD is dying

a book on c (-1, Troll)

OwlofCreamCheese (645015) | more than 11 years ago | (#5232099)

oooh! a book on how to use C, never seen one of them before!

The Meta Project - FreeBSD browser (2, Interesting)

Clover_Kicker (20761) | more than 11 years ago | (#5232153)

For those who haven't followed the article's link to the Meta Project [] , you really should give it a spin.

Here's a sample from the FreeBSD browser, showing a metric arseload of info about the vi [] command. This page includes pointers to the vi man page, lists of other programs that are really symlinks to vi (and their respective man pages), config files used by vi, and temp files created by vi: all just a click away.

Here's another FreeBSD browser page for /etc/fstab [] . This points to the man page for fstab, as well as listing commands that read info from fstab (mount, umount, mount_nfs, etc) and their respective man pages.

Unix is complex, it is hard to succinctly show the interelations between all of the many pieces. The FreeBSD browser is a really nice step in the right direction!

as much as i agree... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5232575)

I think that dead tree documentation is great, i have several erferences here (o'reilly) to hepl me with linux when i become a dumb windows user. i alos ahve a pentium 120 sitting on my other desk that has a 14" monitor hooked up to it. it serves as my firewall and somewhat of file storage when i need to ftp to buddies. I also use is to telnet and kill a frozen X session. This computer is used for all my documentation reading, and i find it as useful as a book. but if i DO need some material when on the job, i agree having a set of books for each projcet would be nicer, and a little more traditional way. $30 isn't much to pay for a nice printing of these manuals.

AI4U is such a manual for free AI source code (-1)

Mentifex (187202) | more than 11 years ago | (#5232743)

AI4U: Mind-1.1 Programmer's Manual [] is just such a "deadtree" (i.e., paper) manual for a specific version (Mind-1.1) of an artificial Mind [] that exists as readily available free AI source code on the Web, and which has future prospects of evolving further towards a Technological Singularity. []

The Free Software Donation Directory (FSDD) [] has a Mentifex entry that shows how a printed manual for open-source AI code may take the place of shareware fees in supporting an ambitious GOFAI (good old-fashioned artificial intelligence) project.

Mentifex (contribute by buying AI book [] is an example of how the donate-by-buying-the-manual meme propagates across the Web from the FSDD.

Book Publishing By Web Page [] is a resource on how to create a manual first by launching and lengthening Web pages, that you eventually convert into a finished, published book.

Advantages (2, Interesting)

Mr_Person (162211) | more than 11 years ago | (#5232835)

For some documentation, I prefer to have it on the computer because you can't grep a dead tree. However, for some things, like for instance the Camel Book, I prefer to have it printed because it's something that I read all the way through, like a book. It's also easier to take with you (you don't always have access to a computer for reading). If it's just for reference about one particular part of the subject covered, on the computer is much more handy. But for something I'm going to read all the way through (possibly more than once), printed is the best.

a kitty (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5232929)

Chloe is a poopstain.
I like to refer to her as "P.S." for short.

Charging For PDFs? (1)

Alan Livingston (209463) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233210)

Aren't MAN pages and other docs also covered, by and large, by some form of "free" license? If so, then why aren't they required to freely distribute the pdf files?

It depends on how you plan to use it (1)

stretch0611 (603238) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233805)

Dead tree editions are good if you have nothing better to read while sitting on the throne(or loo). They are also indispensible if you are having problems with your PC and can't connect to the internet to read the documentation online. Paper can also be better if it is well indexed because it can be easier to find a certain page than trying to page up/down each screen looking for the information that you need.

However, the biggest problem with paper will never be solved; by the time it is published, distributed, and sold it is out of date. If you need to look up the most recent information, online is the only way to go.

Thanks for the review! (3, Informative)

Rich_Morin (547665) | more than 11 years ago | (#5233808)

Thank you, doom, for the nice review. Thanks, as well, to timothy, Slashdot,
and the folks who have taken the time and effort to comment. I would like to
respond to a few points that have been raised here; I'll try to be brief (:-).

Printed and online documentation are not mutually-exclusive alternatives. I
use either or both, depending on my needs of the moment. Books have been
around for about two millenia, so it's not surprising that they work well for
certain purposes. It is obvious, however, that electronic access has its own

An edited collection (whether printed or PDF) adds significant value over the
"raw" body of source documents. Documents must be located, evaluated, selected,
organized, and formatted. It's not accidental that doom found some novel tools
in our collections; part of our objective is to introduce readers to relevant
tools, whether they are part of a "standard distribution" or not.

Doom is quite correct about the economies of scale for small press runs. Our
books are demand-printed in very small lots. This keeps the investment small,
but the cost per item is about three times (!) that of offset printing. Only
the use of Internet-based sales allows us to offer reasonable pricing.

Like doom, I'd like to see a "Linux Browser", but my resources are limited and
I'm concentrating on other tasks right now. If some Linux-knowledgeable folks
want to help (e.g., by annotating directories and file system relationships),
I encourage them to get in touch.

Aside from DOSSIER, my current efforts are concentrated on creating a browser
that will run on a local system and provide integrated access to documentation
and system metadata. I'm writing a series on this for MacTech Magazine.

A final note on DOSSIER: send topic suggestions! If you'd like to see a volume
on a particular topic, let me know; I may be able to do something about it (:-).

Printing done easy (on Windows) (1)

Borg#9 (25179) | more than 11 years ago | (#5236313)

Use FinePrint 2000. You can print up to 8 pages on one side and print doublesided quite easily.

OK, so they charge for paper... (1)

05sniper (171601) | more than 11 years ago | (#5238489)

But why do they charge almost as much for the PDFs?

Apple, AIDS, and gay men (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5247011)

Dear Apple,

I am a homosexual. I bought an Apple computer because of its well earned reputation for being "the" gay computer. Since I have become an Apple owner, I have been exposed to a whole new world of gay friends. It is really a pleasure to meet and compute with other homos such as myself. I plan on using my new Apple computer as a way to entice and recruit young schoolboys into the homosexual lifestyle; it would be so helpful if you could produce more software which would appeal to young boys. Thanks in advance.

with much gayness,

Father Randy "Pudge" O'Day, S.J.

A few additions about the Dossier books (2, Interesting)

doom (14564) | more than 11 years ago | (#5291270)

Some I "should've saids" have been running through my mind since writing this review (or "review", if you like):

The physical quality of the books is pretty good: they're roughly comparable to the trade paper backs that you get from O'Reilley or the Free Software Foundation.

I mentioned the pricing of the books, but neglected the pricing of the PDF subscription service: $15/year/volume gets you a subscription to the current PDFs based on the latest versions of the documentation. There are somewhat cheaper deals if you order more, e.g. the three Postgresql volumes I discuss are probably a "topical set", so a subscription to PDFs of all three of them would be $10 * 3 = $30/year.

I didn't talk about the PDF option much because personally I'm not that interested in it: I want pages trimmed and bound like a real book. But it's option you should know about to make your own decisions.

Does the cost of the PDF seem excessive? Well you know, if you think you can do better, no one is stopping you (if you haven't tried it yet: formatting on-line docs in a reasonable way for paper printout is probably harder than you think).

And in defense of my quasi-review here: what kind of review would be *preferable* for these kinds of books? The source material for them is out there on the web, you can go and skim it yourself... though probably you know what it's like, more or less. (However: don't just assume it's all man pages. The postgresql docs are considerably better fleshed out than that.) My take is: does it help to have the information in this form? What do you get out of it that you wouldn't get from having it on your hard drive (or on the web)? And in case it isn't clear, the point is that you tend to do a different kind of browsing with books than with computers, and so you learn about slightly different things.

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