User Education

Surveys of today's computer users indicate that they are frustrated with the manuals, help files, and other learning tools that the software industry (including open source projects) gives them.

This project is setting out to provide a structured method for educating the users of open source software products. This includes a complete task based help structure, tutorials, guides and other materials. By giving consistant specifications for all of these materials, users receive a consistant and complete method for learning the software.

The current state of open source user education is an "online manual" that sometimes accompanies the application or OS and a readme file. Unfortunately, there is no consistancy in what type of information is in each file and much information is missing. Good user education entails more than just putting an index on a pile of howto's. That's a good start.

We will be taking care to write specs that take into consideration all levels of users and detailing specs for materials suited for each type of user. Currently most open source projects provide materials for one group only, the hackers. This is fine as long as the software is destined to remain the domain of that type of user. However, as Linux and other open source projects are moving into the desktop, there needs to be a way to accomodate users of all skill levels without being arrogant. Keep in mind that this is intended for all open source projects regardless of platform.

Because Open Source Software is based on the GPL, User Education Materials created for OSS should be open as well. To further that goal, materials and specifications created by members of this project will be licensed under the OPL. The OPL is a license for non software materials similar in spirit to the GPL. For complete information on the OPL see their website.

Eventual Specs

Eventually, I'd like to see a skeleton that can be fleshed out by anyone for any opensource project. It would provide a consistant way to find types of information for any user.

Online Help

Usability test show that users primarily go to help materials when they have a specific task to do and want to figure out how to do it. Online help would provide access to task related information. Its focus is on a user's task rather than on a feature of the software. See the sketchy spec.


Most users are unable to access any form of help you deliver before they install the software. A print-friendly installation guide will give the user something to have in their hand to step them through the installation.


Many applications need configuration before they can be used fully. Because this limited early functionality is sometimes limiting access to help materials, a print-friendly setup guide would benefit the user as well.

Other materials may be necessary based on user analysis and these ideas may need to be radically changed to fit users as well.

General Resources

This project's listserv for the discussion of open source user education issues. We will be building the specs in this forum.
Subscribe to User Education Discussion
Enter your e-mail address:
FindMail List Archive
A mailing list hosted by FindMail


As the specification papers are written they will be posted here.