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[Off-Topic] Help wanted: Writing a beginner's book to Debian

Off-Topic discussions about science, technology, and non Debian specific topics.
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[Off-Topic] Help wanted: Writing a beginner's book to Debian

#1 Post by Hallvor »

Hi all!


Having written a couple of books before, I will attempt to write a beginner's book to Debian. I firmly believe that a beginner's book could attract new users, and also that attracting new users would be beneficial to Debian in the long run.

A Debian beginner's book would hit a segment where there aren't really any tailored books, at least in Norwegian and possibly also in English.

I could do it alone, but a small team would be even better. That's why I'm reaching out to you for advice and/or help.

Specifically, I'm looking for general help (read: I am open for input from all) on these points:

* Feedback on the structure and content: Here is a basic outline (see below), but I'd love your thoughts on what topics are most crucial for beginners. If you are a beginner, I would love to hear from you.
* Recommendations for existing resources: I will try to look for the newest and best books, manuals and websites. What books, manuals or websites do you suggest?
* General suggestions: Any advice you have for making the book informative, engaging, and helpful would be greatly appreciated.


If you want to be a co-author, you should have one of the following qualifications. We should have people to fill all these roles:

* Someone with teaching experience or experience with technical assistance. The advice should be very easy and straight forward to follow.
* Someone highly skilled in Debian (preferably veteran member or DD) for quality control.
* Someone very proficient in written English to improve the language.
* Someone who could help make screenshots from the CLI and several desktop environments, because we all like screenshots ;)

We also need someone with very little experience with Debian (for testing)


Timeline:

We all live busy lives, so I won't push for specific deadlines, but getting it ready for the first few months of Debian trixie would be nice. That should be in a little more than a year from now.


Here's a preliminary outline of the book:


Part 1: Introduction to Debian

History and Philosophy of Debian
Advantages of using Debian
Understanding Different Debian Releases (Stable, Testing, Unstable)
Desktop environments


Part 2: Getting Started with Debian

Downloading the installer image
Installation process (graphical and command-line)
Basic system configuration (keyboard, language, etc.)


Part 3: Essential Tools and Techniques

Understanding permissions
Navigating the file system with the terminal
Text editor (nano)
Package management with apt
User and group management and maintenance
Troubleshooting tips


Part 4: Resources and Community

Official Debian Documentation
Online forum
Contributing to Debian
Appendix


This is just a starting point, and I'm open to any suggestions you have for improvement.

Suggestions for resources and improvements to the general outline should be posted in this thread.

If you want to help, post in this thread or send me a PM.

Let's do this!
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Re: [Off-Topic] Help wanted: Writing a beginner's book to Debian

#2 Post by Uptorn »

Consider producing examples of how to do the same things both in GUI and terminal form, to help drive home the point that desktop environments act as an intermediary between you and the system.

It might also be worth touching on hardware, maybe in the troubleshooting section.

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Re: [Off-Topic] Help wanted: Writing a beginner's book to Debian

#3 Post by pbear »

Having attempted something of the sort three times, I've come to the conclusion what you have in mind can't be done.

There are several reasons. First, Linux is a branching options problem on steroids. There is no way to do a simple guide which captures even the most important options. Second, no one wants to read instructions. It's not our natural way to learn. We learn by sitting around a fire while someone demonstrates how to make an arrowhead and describes it verbally. There's a reason we still use teachers in school. Most Linux newbies want YouTube videos, not tutorials. Third, anything written about Linux has a short shelf life, as the OS has thousands of components, all of which are constantly changing.

If you're nonetheless keen to try, I suggest a slightly different approach. Rather than a manual, write a road map. Welcome to Linux. There are many ways to do this. I'm going to describe a good way to do your first installation. Later, when you understand how Linux works, you can plan a second installation tailored to your needs. For purposes of illustration, I'm going to assume you have (or will buy) a spare computer you can dedicate to Linux. It's possible to put Linux on a computer with Windows, but that's more complicated. Let's start with simple. Step One, ...

For what it's worth, I used to be a technical writer. Although relatively new here, I have something like 10,000 posts on Linux forums and have written several tutorials. Indeed, have three I'm working on now to post here.

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Re: [Off-Topic] Help wanted: Writing a beginner's book to Debian

#4 Post by sunrat »

The forum's own Beginner's Guide is a good place to start.
“ computer users can be divided into 2 categories:
Those who have lost data
...and those who have not lost data YET ”
Remember to BACKUP!

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Re: [Off-Topic] Help wanted: Writing a beginner's book to Debian

#5 Post by cds60601 »

I for one, appreciate books (if indeed it's going to be in print).
The more there are, the better the coverage. No two books are the same and present (more often than not) differing perspectives on the same material.
I commend the attempt and will consider how I can contribute.
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Re: [Off-Topic] Help wanted: Writing a beginner's book to Debian

#6 Post by trinidad »

I purchased the full OS boxed CD set for Jessie and it came with a decent installation manual which I referenced a time or two at first but then discovered the online documentation for Debian was more detailed. The same with Suse Enterprise though in that case the manual was very handy and the online documentation directed you to help sessions too quickly too many times even for simple answers. There is a niche for a decently detailed installation manual, basically something for people who only have access to one computer and want to install Debian... or for people who want to run a closed environment with no internet access. Perhaps, and I'm not being facetious, a moderately in depth, technically precise, and detailed operation manual for computing with a Debian OS not connected to the Internet... and then another separate one on Networking with Debian. The first would fill a very small niche, and the second would be unimportant once the Internet connection was successful. In the end... any good print documentation on Debian would be welcome. I wish you success.

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Re: [Off-Topic] Help wanted: Writing a beginner's book to Debian

#7 Post by pbear »

Speaking of resources already available, [HowTo] Install and configure Debian bookworm, written by Hallvor, of course.

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Re: [Off-Topic] Help wanted: Writing a beginner's book to Debian

#8 Post by Hallvor »

pbear wrote: 2024-04-02 04:16 First, Linux is a branching options problem on steroids. There is no way to do a simple guide which captures even the most important options.
Thank you for your input! It is important to be aware of pitfalls - appreciated. Please let me clarify that I don't want to enter a debate here, but this is for clarification.

I believe it is possible to focus on a step-by-step installation and very common use cases. Just the most basic fundamentals to get your system up and running and getting the most important understanding of the system, all illustrated with screenshots. This will assist them in getting started. They can later (or simultaneously) use other resources and explore more advanced features at their own pace.

Second, no one wants to read instructions. It's not our natural way to learn.


If that was the case, no one would purchase books about Linux - ever; they would all watch YouTube videos. The fact is that some people just prefer reading books over multimedia content. Books can be used as quick references, or people can read them on the bus when they don't have a computer at hand. I know that this isn't for everyone, but there is most certainly a segment of people who do.

Third, anything written about Linux has a short shelf life, as the OS has thousands of components, all of which are constantly changing.
Indeed, such a book will have a short shelf-life - a couple of years and it's outdated. However, the changes are generally small and incremental. Fortunately we don't see a total rewrite of Debian every two years. I am certain that I could rewrite a book like this for a new version of Debian in a few days. Taking new screenshots would probably be at least half the job.

Rather than a manual, write a road map. Welcome to Linux. There are many ways to do this. I'm going to describe a good way to do your first installation. Later, when you understand how Linux works, you can plan a second installation tailored to your needs. For purposes of illustration, I'm going to assume you have (or will buy) a spare computer you can dedicate to Linux. It's possible to put Linux on a computer with Windows, but that's more complicated. Let's start with simple. Step One, ...
This is more or less what I had in mind for part 2 in the preliminary outline above - everything should be easy and step by step. I am a teacher, and you are a technical writer. That sounds like a great match. Let me know if you want on board.
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Re: [Off-Topic] Help wanted: Writing a beginner's book to Debian

#9 Post by Hallvor »

cds60601 wrote: 2024-04-02 10:21 I for one, appreciate books (if indeed it's going to be in print).
The more there are, the better the coverage. No two books are the same and present (more often than not) differing perspectives on the same material.
I commend the attempt and will consider how I can contribute.
Thank you for your interest! Let me know if you want on board.
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Re: [Off-Topic] Help wanted: Writing a beginner's book to Debian

#10 Post by bbbhltz »

I like that you've limited your scope. I would love to be able to help out in any way. I'm a English and Business professor. How have you planned on preparing the document? LaTeX, Markdown?
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Re: [Off-Topic] Help wanted: Writing a beginner's book to Debian

#11 Post by Hetzer »

pbear wrote: 2024-04-02 04:16 Second, no one wants to read instructions. It's not our natural way to learn. We learn by sitting around a fire while someone demonstrates how to make an arrowhead and describes it verbally. There's a reason we still use teachers in school. Most Linux newbies want YouTube videos, not tutorials.
I'd not agree that no one wants to read instructions, or at least I do want to do so. It's quick resource of information free of off-topic babble (especially that sponsorship one) and not dependant on problematic service
Even better are the guides. These fulfill manuals with explanations, examples and tutorials (with troubleshooting). Good example of well-done guide is the FreeBSD Handbook
pbear wrote: 2024-04-02 04:16 Third, anything written about Linux has a short shelf life, as the OS has thousands of components, all of which are constantly changing.
Hallvor wrote: 2024-04-02 15:01 Indeed, such a book will have a short shelf-life - a couple of years and it's outdated. However, the changes are generally small and incremental. Fortunately we don't see a total rewrite of Debian every two years. I am certain that I could rewrite a book like this for a new version of Debian in a few days. Taking new screenshots would probably be at least half the job.
However some things in Linux don't change at all, like "Wild West" package-centric approach (in case of Linux in general) or "stability over bleeding edge" mentality of Debian
I think personally that it's best to write it as release-agnostic and possible and focus mainly on Debian philosophy and it's way to do things right
Such writables should then last longer than to next major release. And one would bring out more out of it as he/she would be told how to do things and how to get help instead of just knowing specific ways without being aware how to adjust it for other scenarios
Parts like system installation can't be of course done release-agnostic and must be therefore updated as time goes by, however in the end my approach would still result, I believe, in better book that would be easier to maintain (because of being "release-agnostic")
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Re: [Off-Topic] Help wanted: Writing a beginner's book to Debian

#12 Post by Uptorn »

It is coincidental that this topic should arise just as I am considering buying a Debian book. I had lately taken an interest to historic Debian and wanted to dive into some of the archived Debian releases (from before I'd started using Linux). And a book from that period would be helpful as I have no idea how to use dselect or what to do with the installation images there were broken up across multiple disks unlike today's netinst.

There has been no shortage of books written about Debian.
debianreference.png
Years ago, I would have agreed that watching Youtube videos would be sufficient. But the more I learn about Linux, the more apparent it becomes that these Youtube gurus often supply incomplete information or even get things wrong (because they themselves are just rehashing what they read from some blog post, most likely). And, increasingly, things are just getting harder to find on Youtube, and on search engines generally.

So to throw in a vote of confidence for physical books, I'm proud to have a dozen computer and programming books right here on the shelf beside me. And looking to expand the collection. The history of Debian, on its own, would even make for an interesting book. Did you know that the Debian project nearly went bust after the mailing list generously hosted by Bruce Perens was taken down when he left the project?

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Re: [Off-Topic] Help wanted: Writing a beginner's book to Debian

#13 Post by Hallvor »

bbbhltz wrote: 2024-04-02 16:00 I like that you've limited your scope. I would love to be able to help out in any way. I'm a English and Business professor. How have you planned on preparing the document? LaTeX, Markdown?
Thanks! PM sent.
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Re: [Off-Topic] Help wanted: Writing a beginner's book to Debian

#14 Post by Augie77 »

What really helped me, or at least my way of learning, were the SAMS books. They were a big step above the Something for Dummies style of books. The SAMS books hit the right spot for teaching a new person just what they needed to know to be functional, and confidant after a few weeks. An example would be in Terminal have simple examples and parameters of a command the beginner will likely use, not some command with obscure parameters that only an IT admin would use.

Don't be wordy! Most books or manuals are an extension of the writers ego and command of words. They will take 3 paragraphs to explain what could have been done in 1 paragraph. Don't use real life world examples of your own personal experience. No reader cares how you mucked up an install 11 years ago. When teaching a terminal command, don't bother to give the history of the command. Wasted reading time for the beginner, most simply do not care about the evolution of some command. Simple instructions is what beginners need...not a tome.

Understand that the vast number of beginners have no desire to be like you, or any highly experienced Linux admin. Most simply want a Windows replacement and could give a hoot less about the inner workings of the EXT4 file system...or its history. I have looked at a lot of Linux how-to books, all failed simply because they were too wordy and the author thought he was writing a course for college. It is often hard for intelligent and well versed authors to comprehend that most of the world could care less about the deep, inner workings of Linux.

Written from the perspective of a 68 year old man that trained people in mainframe and software maintenance, as well as wrote a few training guides in the military many years ago.

edit: change users to writers, second paragraph, second sentence.
Last edited by Augie77 on 2024-04-05 12:33, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: [Off-Topic] Help wanted: Writing a beginner's book to Debian

#15 Post by Hallvor »

Thanks, Augie77! That is great advice - I'll keep that in mind.
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