Getting Help from the GNOME Community
Ken VanDine takes you through how to obtain help for that one problem or issue in open source software that you don’t know how to resolve. Sit back, relax, and watch your problems go away!
There are many ways of getting help when it is needed. However, you will need to remember that all these methods are community driven. Everyone that you find help from is a volunteer, and they are helping because they want to. This community driven model has both advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage is that the support you get is from someone that cares, not a technical support representative at some big company that hates his job. The is huge, you will frequently find that you get more help than you ask for. The most significant disadvantage is the lack of a controlled, moderated environment. There is nothing keeping you from getting flamed or worse. Now, lets talk a little about how you get help.
Types of help
Of course, the first thing to do is look at the documentation. GNOME has a handy help application, Yelp. Usually found near the bottom of the application menu with a life preserver icon. I would recommend dragging that icon out to the panel for quick access, if you are just starting out. It will be your friend (even thou GNOME is quite intuitive). (TIP: Click and hold the icon on the Application menu and drag it to your panel and drop it). You can also view the user documentation at http://www.gnome.org/learn/.
Web based forums are probably the easiest way for most people to ask for help. A good starting point is http://gnomesupport.org/forums/. Web based forums allow you to simply search other people’s posts and the responses as well as post your own questions.
Mailing lists are also a great method, you will get answers to your questions right in your inbox. Mailing lists require you to subscribe to the list in order to post questions, some lists are very high volume, so expect lots of email. Another tip that will save you much grief is to ALWAYS search the list archives before asking your questions. List subscribers tend to get very upset getting asked the same questions many times. There is a mailing list associated with GNOME Support at http://mail.gnome.org/mailman/listinfo/gnome-list.
Internet Relay Chat has has been around for a long time. IRC will get you talking to someone in real time. IRC is channel based, so you log in and join a channel about the topic you are interested in. For general gnome questions, #gnome-help is a good starting point. To get a complete list of channels where you may get GNOME related help, http://gnomesupport.org/wiki/index.php/IrcChannels. For more general information on IRC, visit http://www.irchelp.org/.
Since most new users are probably not IRC gurus, I will briefly touch on basic IRC usage. Most Linux distributions include a pretty easy to use IRC client, XChat. It can be found on the Applications menu under Internet->IRC Client. When you first launch XChat, you will get a Server List/Preferences page like this:
In this pane, you will want to select the network you would like to join. For GNOME help topics, you will want to join GimpNet. You will also need to choose a nick name and two alternatives (in case someone is already using your first choice). Then simply hit connect. You will then get a general window with some server messages. The next step is to join a channel where you can chat with people. To join a channel, select Server->Join Channel from the XChat menu bar. You will be prompted for your channel of choice. For general GNOME help, join #gnome-help (all channel names start with a ”#”). That is it, you will now see a list of users in the channel on the left pane and the chat to the left. Your cursor is on the bottom, start typing.
TIP: Actions are fun, and usually enjoyed. You can specify an action by starting your message with a ”/me”. So, ”/me jumps” would display “yournick jumps” to the chat.
When leaving a chat, be sure to thank anyone that provided assistance and say goodbye. Remember to be courteous, just as if you were speaking face to face. Then select Server->Leave Channel from the XChat menu and the exit.
Wikies are a great for of community documentation. A wiki is a web site that can be easily edited by anyone. That’s right, a free for all. So, as you figure something out that you feel may help someone else you can go to the wiki and add your experiences. You can of course also use it to search for solutions or ideas that can help you. The http://gnomesupport.org/wiki/ is a good place to start, and there are many others.
To contribute to a wiki, look for an edit link. There will usually be an Edit button on the bottom left of pages that can be edited. Editing does typically require you to register with the site, which is both painless and instant. You can also find links to wiki help on each page. The help pages will give you guidance on how to get around and formatting tips.
Since all these methods require there to be people willing to help, I like to give back to the community I live in. So, therefore I do my best to help others that need assistance. You can do the same. As you get more comfortable using GNOME, you can actually periodically provide assistance to others. Check the forums from time to time and post responses, or login to IRC and see if anyone is looking for help. They would certainly appreciate a warm greeting and assistance. I actively participate in this community, I look forward to helping you out. On IRC my nick name is kenvandine and I hang out in #gnome-help.
As you can see there is a wide variety of ways to get support. You can browse local documentation with Yelp, search or post your questions to a web forum, subscribe to a mailing list, ask someone in real time via IRC, or even read community posted documentation on a wiki. Used effectively, you should always be able to get the help you need.