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Thread: Help Wanted: non-technical documentation project

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    Help Wanted: non-technical documentation project

    Howdy! I've got a new project going, and I'd like to test the waters here and see if I could get some tips. I'm putting together a small (5 pages or so) document to address a question that I often get asked and have trouble answering concisely: "Why is Linux different than Windows?" Note here that I'm not trying to address the "how," but the "why." A better way to phrase it may be "What makes Free Software work?" Non-FOSS folks often seem to have trouble grasping the very concept of what Free Software is, and we as a community could possibly do a better job of explaining it. I've noticed lots of people tend to confuse it with freeware, simply because it's a word they know and can put a definition on. Anyway, here's my goal (rough draft, be kind):

    The Goal: To produce a small introductory document (5 pages?) to explain some root differences between free and proprietary software, using the comparison of the Windows EULA and the GPL, and to explain to laypeople the fundamentals of "how free software works." This document should be factually neutral (provide citations), brief, and written to an audience with no prior knowledge in the topic.

    Right now all I've got is a page of notes. I'd like to put this up somewhere like Launchpad or Sourceforge and make it an open project.

    ...and that's as far as my thinking has gotten so far. So I pass it on to the floor; any tips, folks?
    "We reject kings, presidents and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code." -Dave Clark, IETF

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    Re: Help Wanted: non-technical documentation project

    I think 5 pages might be a little much, especially without pictures. People tend to lose interest if it gets long. I'd keep it to a page, 2 or 3 if you've got pictures. You could provide a list at the end though for further reading.
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    Re: Help Wanted: non-technical documentation project

    5 pages was a rough max, I agree that it could be too long. OTOH, I want this to serve the dual purpose of 1. being something that a reasonably bright thirteen year old could read and get, and 2. being something that a FOSS advocate could use as the framework for discussion with laypeople.
    "We reject kings, presidents and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code." -Dave Clark, IETF

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    Re: Help Wanted: non-technical documentation project

    How are you intending to publish it? Web page? PDF file?

    The main reason I suggest something a page or less is that when people are reading about something they aren't already a little bit familiar with, a 5 page document looks intimidating, and unless it really grabs them at the beginning, it will be tough to keep them reading it through the end. This is even more important for something published on the internet.

    As far as the dual purpose thing, maybe. You'd have to write it pretty carefully for it to do both well. I actually think the second purpose would be better served with an outline, its quicker and easier to reference when you're trying to explain something, as opposed to searching through a document.
    100 buckets of bits on the bus,
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    Take one down, short it to ground,
    FF buckets of bits on the bus.

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    Re: Help Wanted: non-technical documentation project

    <i>How are you intending to publish it? Web page? PDF file?</i>

    Yes and yes. I'd ultimately like something that's easy to read in both formats (HTML and PDF/hard copy). Part of my work is training new desktop Linux users, and it's a question I get a lot, so that's my core motivation, to have something I could either give them or just use as framework for answering questions.

    <i>The main reason I suggest something a page or less is that when people are reading about something they aren't already a little bit familiar with, a 5 page document looks intimidating, and unless it really grabs them at the beginning, it will be tough to keep them reading it through the end. This is even more important for something published on the internet.</i>

    I agree. Start with bullet points, I think; a page of 14-point text, bullets and pictures.

    <i>As far as the dual purpose thing, maybe. You'd have to write it pretty carefully for it to do both well. I actually think the second purpose would be better served with an outline, its quicker and easier to reference when you're trying to explain something, as opposed to searching through a document.</i>

    You're probably right about this too. For instance, I want references and citations for factual claims, but in terms of reading and understanding the text, I want them to be strictly optional. You shouldn't have to follow a footnote to understand what we're saying. Thanks for the ideas, keep 'em coming!

    -p.
    "We reject kings, presidents and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code." -Dave Clark, IETF

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    Re: Help Wanted: non-technical documentation project

    Quote Originally Posted by TeeAhr1 View Post
    Howdy! I've got a new project going, and I'd like to test the waters here and see if I could get some tips. I'm putting together a small (5 pages or so) document to address a question that I often get asked and have trouble answering concisely: "Why is Linux different than Windows?" Note here that I'm not trying to address the "how," but the "why." A better way to phrase it may be "What makes Free Software work?" Non-FOSS folks often seem to have trouble grasping the very concept of what Free Software is, and we as a community could possibly do a better job of explaining it. I've noticed lots of people tend to confuse it with freeware, simply because it's a word they know and can put a definition on. Anyway, here's my goal (rough draft, be kind):
    Well, the first few paragraphs of the GPL explain it perfectly:
    http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html

    There are also plenty of other sites:

    http://www.gnu.org/

    http://softwarefreedomday.org/SoftwareFreedom

    That being said, I think if you are still explaining after thirty seconds, you have lost your audience. When asked about free-libre software, I point to the fact that you have to give up your freedom to use proprietary software.

    The fact that when most people think about it, they are willing to give up their freedoms has nothing to do with software freedom. You have to separate the explanation from the sales pitch.

    If asked what about FLOSS is better than proprietary, I point to the value that you look for when you buy or need to use a computer. That value is in making your computer do something, and not in owning the program that makes it do something. It makes sense to do away with the step of buying/borrowing/owning/licensing the software. With FLOSS, you can make your computer do anything. You don't have that ability with proprietary software - you don't have to hope that your computer will do what you want it to do by accident with floss like you have to do with proprietary software (since you don't have the source code).
    I lost a "z". Anyone seen it around here?

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    Re: Help Wanted: non-technical documentation project

    Well, the first few paragraphs of the GPL explain it perfectly:
    http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html

    There are also plenty of other sites:

    http://www.gnu.org/

    http://softwarefreedomday.org/SoftwareFreedom
    Well, sure, I guess. I do think that the preamble to the GPL does very well. But how many non-FOSS people do you know who even know what the GPL is? Where would they be reading that?

    I liked the software freedom link, that's well put together, but slightly broader in scope than I'm after.

    As I said upthread (and should have said in the original post, sorry) part of my work is teaching new users. I sell and service Ubuntu desktop computers for lower-income people in my city. My initial hook is price (I deal mostly with cheap used and/or free donated parts); even though I specify in my advertisements that I sell Free Software (and Ubuntu GNU/Linux specifically), most people that come through my door don't even understand what that is, they're surprised initially when I don't sit them down at a Windows machine.

    But once they see how friggin cool this stuff is and all the neat stuff they can't do on Windows, they want to know more about what this is and where it comes from. You said "I think if you are still explaining after thirty seconds, you have lost your audience," but dude, you're wrong. People are generally not stupid or apathetic, they've just never heard of this thing before and need to have some basic questions answered. Show someone something cool, and they will ask questions about it, and be interested in learning more about it.

    Anyway, that's the long version of what I'm up to here. Abridged: I want a clear and concise answer for people who want to know more about what Free Software is and why it should matter to them as someone who's looking into getting or upgrading their PC. Basically, "Why is this a better deal for you the consumer?"

    best-
    pd
    "We reject kings, presidents and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code." -Dave Clark, IETF

    Howto: Enable Restricted Media Formats - Add Extra Repositories Auto-Magicallly! - RTFM (pages) - Help Thyself!

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