Kits vs ready-made (was RE: Rebirth of IMSAI)

From: Richard Erlacher <>
Date: Wed Mar 31 19:57:38 1999

please see imbedded comments below.



-----Original Message-----
From: Tony Duell <>
To: Discussion re-collecting of classic computers
Date: Wednesday, March 31, 1999 4:49 PM
Subject: Re: Kits vs ready-made (was RE: Rebirth of IMSAI)

>> The kit, of course, has to be properly documented. In today's ready-made
>> environment, little documentation accompanies a product, though even
>> not often used. Today, the kit would be offered not so people can enjoy
>The reason why the documentation is 'seldom used' is that it's useless.
>Some of the manuals I've seen for modern computer products would insult
>anybody with more than 2 working braincells...
You are on the money there! There's so much simplistic fluff, yet no meat.
>> You're certainly right about the cost of documentation. That's why it's
>> hard to recommend LINUX and some of the rather excellent pieces of
>> work which have been done in conjunction with it. The documentation is
>> generally quite poor, and always several generations out of date.
>Eh? I'd much rather do something obscure with Linux given a standard
>distribution and _any_ linux book (of _your_ choice if you like) than do
>something simpler with, say, Windows given _every_ published book and SDK.
I've never been a promoter of heavily commercialized software, nor have I
believed in the things the MS is doing with its software, e.g. the flight
simulator built into EXCEL, but I've had VERY little trouble with '95. I've
had to read very little documentation about the OS. Likewise, NT, though
you can leave out the "VERY" with respect to it. '95 has always worked
exactly as I expected and although there are a few things I can't explain
about it, THIS very machine on which I normally do my communications, has
been up continuously since June of '95 when I loaded a BETA on it and I've
continuously updated it to where it's running OSR2 dated about a year ago,
and the only times it's been down habe been due to hardware upgrades or
hardware faults.

At the POP, there are three LINUX boxes running satisfactorily for over a
year, as terminal server, among other things, and one really can't complain.
I just complained because of the documentation maze, which is certainly in
ample evidence.
That would be really nice if there were a genuinely "standard" distribution.
Perhaps the current trend toward increased commercialization will lead to
that. I've never claimed to be a software expert, though I've been coding
for a living, on and off, since about 1965. I've never managed to get even
one instant of useful work for myself out of LINUX, even though I've gone
through numerous releases and several distributions. The documents are
almost always so far out of sync as to be useless and are NEVER sufficiently
correct to instill confidence in one unfamiliar with its inards. I suppose
one who knows exactly what he's looking for will find it, but as a foreigner
to LINUX, I didn't find the dozens of GBytes of doc files, often
conflicting, to be much help.

Example: Simple tasks like installing LINUX on an ESDI drive larger than
what the BIOS supports are not supported by any written documents, though
the writing about other drive types (not SCSI) may shed light on it, though
the doc's about EIDE are also conflicting. These are made hopelessly
complicated by the various often self-contradictory attempts at describing
what's to be done. I finally gave up on the half-dozen or so conflicting
write-ups I had and worked the details out with a fellow in Germany who,
though his English was limited, as is my German-"computerese," managed to
convince me that it was really quite straightforward.

My goal, however, was to use a LINUX box rather than an NT box in order to
provide a TCP/IP gateway to share the modem, replace my NETWARE server, and
process FAX traffic over the LAN as well. Though it claimed (announced) to
have loaded all the appropriate modules, it didn't show any signs of doing
what I wanted. Now, there was no indication that it wouldn't. . .
>Linux documentation, at least the stuff I've worked with is an order of
>magnitude better than that of most other OS's (although some DEC docs
>kits are even better). For one thing, Linux documentation is pretty
>complete (it doesn't normally miss out stuff that might 'confuse the
>user'). And if you have problems, you cd /usr/src/linux and dig around :-)
Yes, you can and must do that, but it's like having a system of 25 equations
in 12 unknowns. The solution is in there somewhere, but which one?
>And yes, I do consider source code to be possible documentation for a
>piece of software, just as I consider a schematic to be possible
>documentation for a piece of hardware.

It's true that source code SHOULD be part of the documentation. In too many
cases it's ALL the documentation, and though the code was modified, the
comments weren't kept in sync. That's where it's a real pain when they
leave out key words like NOT.

Received on Wed Mar 31 1999 - 19:57:38 BST

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