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Re: Gripes with "info" Command

From: Stepan Kasal
Subject: Re: Gripes with "info" Command
Date: Fri, 7 Apr 2006 19:11:49 +0200
User-agent: Mutt/1.4.1i


[The whole mail is whining.  Don't read it unless you are in a mood to
listen to a whining child (or an old man) and to play the excersise of
trying to recognize what are the real causes behind the whining.]

  Eli thinks that the problem is that Dave doesn't know the various info
readers well enough.  I think that the problem might be that we know them
too well, and we are not open for views which look at out current
practice from distance and show what is obviously broken.
(I have the impression that Dave knows enough details, he just haven't
list the perspective.)

Let's take an example: I work with command line, mostly.  As we all know,
this is effective for certain type of work.  When I come to work, I log
in to a number of virtual terminals on my GNU/Linux.  Thus I type my
password several times: this is obviously wrong, and can be overcomed by
a better PAM configuration, but it is what I currently do regularly.
I'm too accustomed to it, so I almost don't see any problem any more,
but that doesn't mean it's a good configuration.

It's similar with the help system: Google is good, can bring me a HOWTO
or a man page from OpenBSD (for compatibility issues) in a second.
But I'm not currently using any good help system.  Or, to be more exact,
I use good old man.  Yes, it's not hypertext, and it's not suitable for
viewing the whole books of technical documentation (called Texinfo in
our GNU-speak), but it is sufficient as a ``help''.

(Dave, is it possible that all we need is
  alias help='echo "For help on und line sage, type 'man intro'." 
and to move the section which tells you that you use space to page down
to the top, so that the bootstrap works.  ;-)

I have respect for the Texinfo system, it was visionary for the time it
was created.  But I'm afraid we should admit to ourselves that at our
times, the hypertext browser area is dominated by HTML browsers, so we
should just use one.

When I need a documentation for a command, I use `man' or google.
There are two exceptions where I use the Info system: the autoconf and
automake manual.  I don't use emacs to access it: I;m afraid it would
take a few seconds for start, and I'm afraid I'd have to press C-xC-c
instead of q.
I use the info command, for example `info autoconf' it brings me to
the usage page[1], and I press `u' twice to get to (Autoconf)Top.
Then I hold downarrow to get to `Portable Shell' section, Enter,s
then I hold downarrow for another two seconds to get to the menu below
the text and choose one of the last three items.

This procedure seems to contain some moves which are just a waste of
time.  I think I should do something about it, prehaps install the HTML
versions of Autoconf and Automake manuals, and make a few bookmarks.
(If it were possible to have bookmarks in the standalone info browser,
I would still hesitate to learn another bookmark system.)

I just tried ``info awk'' now: it brings me to ``man gawk'', because
in the ``man'' world, there is an alias, but not in the dirlist file.
Would this survive in such a high-quality Texinfo document, which
gawk.texi surely is, if someone were using the info system as a
``help system''?[2]

I tried the pinfo command, and I'm not happy with it:
1) The description of the package in my description says that it is
better because it looks like lynx.  Then it is better to use the
HTML format of Texinfo manuals, and a browser of my choice, perhaps
lynx, perhaps something which better matches my needs.
2) `pinfo autoconf' brought me the man page (it seems it doesn't use
/usr/local/share/info/dir) and I wasn't able to access the dir node,
neither by `t', nor by `d', so I hit `q'.

GNU official positions seems to be that the info system is phasing
out the man pages.  (Perhaps the feeling is that the `man' is too
UNIXy and thus not ``free enough.'')

I'd agree with Dave that it's time to phase out Info output format.
Using an HTML browser for accessing the Texinfo manuals seems to be
more reasonable.  I think some distribution use a local web server
for help system.  I don't think it's that bad, beacuse you can easily
install a local search engine into it.

Sorry that this has got so long.

Have a nice day,


[1] I edited /usr/local/share/info/dir so that the line for ``autoconf
Invocation'' now reads:

* x autoconf: (autoconf)autoconf Invocation.

and the issue is fixed.  Looks like a hack.

And yes, I know I could press `t', `m' `Por' Enter, but that looks
unnecessarily complicated.

[2] It seems that the distribution adds a symlink
        /usr/share/man/man1/awk.1.gz -> gawk.1.gz
it's not the gawk itself.  But again, why is the direntry missing?
because no one notices, man has still much bigger impact than info.

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