Help for Free and Open Source Software programs
There are several forms of "help" for the Free and Open Source Software that is included on this DVD. This page is divided into the following sections:
- "Built-in" help
- Electronic "user's manual"
- The "official" website
- Search Engines
- Support Groups/Mailing Lists
- Ask for help
- The Response
The application may have "built-in" help. This can be in the form of:
- A "Help" option on the menu bar.
- A menu bar icon in the shape of a question mark.
- Pressing the F1 key or one of the other "F" keys to access the help system.
- "Mouseover" help: the user has to hold the mouse pointer over a control or menu button or text on the toolbars in order for a "tooltip" to pop up and provide some basic information on the function of the button or option.
An electronic "user's manual" may have been included with the application. It can be in the form of:
- A text file (usually with the extension .TXT) in the program's default installation folder. There maybe several TXT files in the folder. Files labelled "readme.txt", "manual.txt", userguide.txt", "help.txt" are usually the best places to find help.
- A text file without the .TXT extension in the program's default installation folder. Files labelled "readme", "manual", "userguide", "help" are usually the best places to find help.
- A .PDF file in the program's default installation folder. You will need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view these files. The reader can be downloaded from: http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html.
- A Windows Help format file in the program's default installation folder. These files can have the following extensions: .HLP or .CHM. These files can usually be opened without additional software (double click on the file and the Windows help "engine" should open the file). However, it is recommended that you have a recent version of the Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) web browser installed in order for the .CHM file to function properly.
- The program author may have included a .DOC file. This can be either a Microsoft Word (MS Word) file or it can be a TXT file with an altered extension. If it is a MS Word file, you have 3 options:
The Official Website
The "official" website for the program will usually have material to help the user troubleshoot a problem. The link to the official website is available in the program description on this CD-ROM. Sometimes the program itself may include a feature whereby the user, once on the Internet, can click on the link (from within the program) and access the "official" website. Links to the "official" website can also be found in the documentation (e.g. users' manual, help file, etc.) that accompanies the program.
While at the website, look for links/material related to "help", "troubleshooting", "support", "documentation", "community", "known problems", etc. Search the forums and email lists archives (if available). If your particular problem does not occur frequently enough to warrant discussion in the FAQ (a list of frequentaly asked questions) or regular channels, search the "issue" or "bug" tracking section (if available).
The quality of help on the "official" website varies from program to program. Complex and mature projects e.g. Mozilla Firefox, OpenOffice.Org, offer a full range of options: FAQ's, mailing list archives, newsgroup archives, forums, wiki, issue and bug trackers. A smaller project may only have a simple FAQ, basic installation instructions and perhaps an email contact for the author(s).
Internet Search Engines
Help can be found in the strangest of places on the Internet e.g. a personal web page, public forum or blog. The only way to locate it is to use a search engine. Examples of popular search engines are:
Support Groups/Mailing Lists
Other users may have started a support group/mailing list for the program on either Yahoogroups (http://groups.yahoo.com) or MSN (www.msn.com). You can use the search facilities on either website to locate a group. These groups/mailing lists are usually unofficial (not supported or endorsed by the author of the program) and operated by volunteers.
The members of these groups will most likely be end users such as yourself so do not expect highly technical details in response to your questions. In most cases, you will have to register as a member of the group in order to post questions and view the archives (if the group/mailing list does not have archives that can be viewed without having to register as a member). Membership in such groups is free but usually subject to approval by the moderator. Do not be surpised if you are asked to "prove you are human". This is so the group can avoid being spammed.
There are several Internet sites which specialise in hosting forums on a variety of topics. Some have public archives (do not require the user to register in order to view them), some require free registration (in order to post messages but viewing messages is free) and some require paid membership (to both view and post messages). Using a search engine is the best way to locate a relevant forum.
Similar to a forum. Use a search engine to locate a relevant wiki.
Ask for help
One of the most crucial tips to remember is:
Emailing the author(s) should only be used as a last resort!
Authors appreciate feedback about their programs and some will take the time to assist with a truly bizzare or unique problem but they will ignore requests for help with problems whose solutions are readily available if the user does a little research.
So, what is the exact procedure for emailing for help? First, do your research!
- Be logical in your approach to finding a solution.
- Read the (electronic) documentation that came with the program.
- Search the official website. Use the available FAQs, mail and forum archives, "bug" trackers,etc.
- Use an Internet search engine. Follow related results. Some of them may appear obscure but may contain links to the exact material you require.
If your research fails to find a solution, it is now time to ask for help.
- Step 1
- Is your question for the users' community or for the developers' community? As an end user, your question should be addressed to the users' community.
- Step 2
- Provide relevant details about your current problem :
- A brief summary of the problem (no more than 5 sentences).
- A brief description of the computer hardware you are using.
- The name and version number of the operating system (OS) you are using. Has this OS been upgraded with the most recent patches and fixes?
- What were you doing when the problem occured? e.g. installing, using, modifying, upgrading, etc.
- What instructions were you following to do this procedure?
- What steps have you taken to resolve this problem on your own? e.g. what documention have you read? which websites did you go to for help? what information did you find?
- Did these steps help in anyway? or did they make the problem worse? Provide relevant details.
- Step 3
- End your request for help with a polite "thank you".
The response will most often refer you to some sort of documentation on the Internet. Read all of it, twice and three times if necessary. Follow relevant links and make sure you understand the information. The documentation you were refered to may not provide the exact answer but it will guide you towards an eventual resolution of the problem.
Be aware that you probably will not receive step by step instructions on how to resolve the problem (but you might if the problem is truly bizzare or unique). You will most likely receive basic guidelines and be expected to supplement them with further personal research.
If the problem is solved by using this information, post a polite "thank you" to the community for their assistance.
If your problem is not solved with the information from the first response, it is ok to request further help from the community. Your second request for help should do the following:
- Inform the community about what happened when you used the recommended solution. For example: Was it partially solved? Did it make the problem worse? Are there any new error messages? Is the problem still the same? etc.
- Inform the community about additional sources of information you may have used for further diagnosing and troubleshooting.
- Once the problem has been resolved, post a message informing the community of the steps you took to solve it.
Remember to post a polite "thank you" to the community for their assistance once the problem is resolved.
Etiquette is an important part of being a member of an online community and is even more important when requesting help from that community.
Members have little time and patience for end users who are too lazy to "RTM" (read the manual) or other forms of readily available documentation. On the other hand, they will respect and help a user who demonstrates to them that he/she is taking initiative in helping his/her self (e.g. by researching the problem) and is not a leech.
- Be polite in your request for help and all communications with the community. Other members may be rude. Ignore them.
- Do not "demand" help. Such behaviour is considered rude and you will not receive help.
- The community is made up of volunteers willing to help fellow users. Appreciate the fact that they are willing to help you for free and do not be rude or obnoxious.
- Do not "flame" other members.
- Be patient. The community will help but it takes time. Your problem may be so unique as to warrant intense research on the part of the more knowledgable members.
- The Internet works 24 hours a day but humans do not. When requesting help, be aware of the time zone differences throughout the world.
- Not everyone who may respond to you speaks your native tongue fluently. Be patient with broken sentences and allow for language differences.
- Say "thank you" when the problem is resolved.
Once the problem is resolved, post a message which provides full details about the solution for the problem. Your experience will help someone else and you would have done your part to contribute to the overall knowledge base for the application.
The TTCS OSSWIN DVD 0.89 webpages (the work), is copyrighted by the Trinidad and Tobago Computer Society (TTCS) and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Licence.
Every one of the Free and Open Source Software applications on this DVD is governed by its own licence.
This webpage was created at Monday July 01, 2013. You can email the TTCS at firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit the TTCS OSSWIN DVD page at http://www.ttcsweb.org/osswin-dvd/