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Google Desktop for Better Linux Help 6 October, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Linux.
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There’s heaps of (mostly) good documentation for Linux. Applications have searchable manual pages, Desktop environments like Gnome and KDE have ‘help’ documentation and Linux distributions have their own documentation and support pages.

And yet, I see plenty of users on Linux forums asking questions like ‘what application do I use for xyz or “I had problem xyz, can someone tell me where to look for help”. Help is there, but new users don’t know where to go to find it, or they don’t think to put ‘xyz’ into man or apropos or khelpcenter or yelp, and maybe not even google. My idea is simple; combine application searching, manual pages, desktop documentation, distribution documentation and web searching into one. Google Desktop seems to go some way to do that. A free project could go further.

Google has a Linux repository in which you can find software packages to install Google Desktop and Picasa. I installed Google Desktop and noticed that by default, it scans the following directories:

/usr/share/applications
/usr/share/applnk         < Applications
/usr/share/info
/usr/man                  < Manual pages
/usr/share/man
/usr/local/share/man
/usr/local/man
/usr/X11R6/man

By default it will show a user manual pages and applications. But I think that they are both too clunky. One of the things that is nice with Google Desktop is that it brings a familiar logo and search interface to searching your computer. Clean, useful interface that people would think to use as a first point of reference. Plus, it should be fast.

It would be great if a search feature like this could be integrated into the documantation of a distribution as well as the applications and the desktop. KDE’s khelpcenter and Gnome’s yelp both display man pages as well as the desktop information.

A mockup

A mockup of what this could look like.

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