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Linux (and OS X?) has piles of cool GNU software installed. But what does it do, and how to you find out about it?

If you are not a geek, do not read further. Go away and do something GUI. We’ll catch up with you later…

This software is documented somewhere in your file system using a certain format called “textinfo.” This documentation has useful information in it as to how to run a program, but you have to know that you have the program (and the documentation) to begin with. For example, here is part of the documentation for “wget,” which is probably installed in your Linux computer:

**Wget …**

…can follow links in HTML and XHTML pages and create local versions of remote web sites, fully recreating the directory structure of the original site. This is sometimes referred to as “recursive downloading.” While doing that, Wget respects the Robot Exclusion Standard (`/robots.txt’). Wget can be instructed to convert the links in downloaded HTML files to the local files for offline viewing.

I used wget a while ago to put the entire works of Charles Darwin form an on line Darwin site onto my laptop, so that I would have access to it while out in the woods away from an Internet connection.

There is a utility called Tkinfo that you can install and access all of these text files. In Ubuntu or Debian, you can find it by invoking the Synaptic Package Manager and searching for (ctrl-F) “tkinfo.” If it is not installed already, pick it for installation.

Or you can install it from the command line by using:

sudo apt-get install tkinfo

Then you run it by typing tkinfo into a command line. You will get this funky user interface that allows you to navigate around the textinfo files. Documentation on how to use this is here, though you probably won’t need the documentation.

Here’s some cool stuff I found out playing with this:

I have a utility installed that will run my ipod. I did not know that.

Finally, this is where the documentation for the Debian menu system is. I’d been looking for that!!!

Ed is installed on my system. Get it outta here!!!

Alas, Yorick is also installed on my system. Now I know where the documentation for it is.

A lot of this information is available using “man” with the name of the program. But you need to know the program is there, first. Plus, not all of this info is in man, but rather, stuffed away into some obscure directory (where we can’t hurt ourselves with it, I am guessing).

Have fun.

Comments

  1. #1 Jeremy Henty
    January 2, 2008

    *ahem*

    It’s texinfo, not textinfo.

  2. #2 Craig Pennington
    January 2, 2008

    Ed is installed on my system. Get it outta here!!!

    But “Ed is the standard text editor!”
    .
    wq

  3. #3 Frank Oswalt
    January 2, 2008

    Since you post on Linux from time to time, it wouldn’t hurt to learn a little bit about the differences between it and Mac OS X, so that you don’t have to qualify all mentions of the latter with lots of caveats in those posts.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    January 2, 2008

    Frank: I’ll put that on my list of things Frank wants me to do.

    Seriously, I never met a Mac person who wanted the tiniest bit of information from me. All you need to do if you have a mac is click on something with your two button mouse and it will work.

    I would like to know a little more. Saturday, when the mac would not shut down because of a piece of software was running, and that software could not be found on the Aqua task bar, it would have been nice to know how to get to a terminal.

    But it was easer to yank the plug out of the wall.

  5. #5 dave X
    January 2, 2008

    ‘apt-get install dwww’

    Then you get a cgi-driven set of web pages on your system accessible through http://localhost/dwww/ that combines man, texinfo, and the /usr/share/doc/ information. It is searchable, and provides nice related documentation all in an integrated interface.

  6. #6 Lucas
    January 2, 2008

    Terminal can be found in /Applications/Utilities in finder. I have it in my dock, and it is one of my most frequently used applications. I find it useful in file management, programming, text editing, or ssh-ing. To upload data, it’s usually ftp, sftp or scp.

    I’m a Mac user, and I find your posts interesting. Occasionally, they are useful. I think I have a similar view of Linux that many Linux fanatics have of Macs. I tried Linux for almost 3 years (from 1999-2001). I found it annoying to use, and frequently difficult to configure. It’s not that I’m opposed to text configuration files, but for most of the very basic things I do with a computer, it’s so much easier to just use a Mac and use the GUI than to mess around with a bunch of config files in /etc. (For example, it took me about 10 minutes to go from ignorance to sharing my printer with my GF’s Windows machine. A similar trick on Linux several years ago took me several hours.) I’ve heard that Linux distributions have gotten very good in the intervening 6 years, but my computer works fine. I’m fine with that. Maybe we should all be fine with whatever (non-M$) operating system choices others make. Can’t we all just get along? ;-)

  7. #7 greg laden
    January 2, 2008

    Lucas,

    Now that Macs run on *nix, they are certainly more stable than ever before. :)

    I actually like Macs quite a bit. As I’ve said before, I don’t like Aqua, and for various reasons can’t use it.

    It is true that a run of the mill Linux installation doing typical things on typical hardware does not require any editing of text based configuration files, but it is also true that Linux is a system for Linux-people (and not everyone is) much in the same way that a Mac is for Mac people.

    Windows, on the other hand, is the system forced on us by marketing and fear tactics. I personally view the Mac and Linux world as the collective good place populated by the good guys.