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Introduction to the Command Line

by peterb Contributions Published on Jun 22, 2009 02:59 PM
Guest blogger Adam Hyde of FLOSS Manuals writes about the production of the new textbook, Introduction to the Command Line.

(You can improve, translate, download, share and purchase a copy of the book via

by Adam Hyde
Founder, FLOSS Manuals

Recently we had the pleasure to collaborate with the FSF on a Book Sprint at the LibrePlanet event in Boston. We are a relatively young organization and so this was a great opportunity for us to be welcomed into the FSF community and be given the thumbs up by the people that created the free software movement.

You probably haven't heard of a "Book Sprint," although you may be familiar with the idea of code sprints. Book Sprints are essentially the same idea but we create an entire manual about free software in five days flat. Sound crazy?! Well, every time we start a sprint I also think it's a crazy idea, but it's now something we have a lot of experience in, and it's getting clearer how to really work this process and get the most out of it.

Since it was an FSF collaboration, we took the opportunity to commit to writing a GNU/Linux command line manual for newbies. Andy Oram, a long time FLOSS Manuals contributor, made an outline for the manual and we structured this with our online platform.

Just to make it more interesting, we committed to writing the book in two days! I didn't think too much about it. If I had, I wouldn't have done it!

It really was a bit crazy to think we could do this -- all previous sprints had been a full five days and even that is an audacious task. The publishing industry typically takes 6-12 months to produce similar material. Thats why I felt thinking about the task ahead wasn't such a good idea.

To help out, as planned, a few days prior to the event, the FSF sent out a press release to its members saying what we were up to. Overnight we had 130 new registrations, which was an increase of 25% of our membership base. For a youngish organization like us, this was an enormous boost.

The day of the sprint came and Andy and I met at the venue hoping to be met at the sprint space by a small percentage of our new membership -- 0%, to be precise -- everyone was at the conference (of course!). Oh no! Could Andy and I write the book ourselves in two days? Thankfully we had no reason to panic, as in virtual space we were working online with about twelve others. These contributors were mostly new members, and it is a tribute to the FLOSS Manuals tool set (a product of the hard work by Aleksandar Erkalovic and Lotte Meijer) that there were few questions on how to use the editing system -- people just got to it and wrote. By closing time -- 5pm -- on the first day, we had about 30% of the manual done! Great! Still, we had 70% to go and only 50% of the time left.

The next morning I got up and checked the manual and another three chapters had been completed overnight! Cool. I love geeks that just get to it and collaborate.

We worked through Sunday with four or five people jumping into the real space. The result was that at 6pm, as planned, we pushed the "publish" button, and uploaded our manual to a print on demand service. 6pm the second day, and the beautiful book was available to anyone to buy (the manuals are also always available for free in HTML from the FLOSS Manuals Web site).

It was a fantastic experience. We produced a remarkable book in two days, which is available for purchase from the FSF. All proceeds are going towards more FLOSS Manuals/FSF Book Sprints on free software. So buy the book, give it to a newbie, and help contribute to curing the lack of quality free documentation about free software.

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