Sunday, April 16 2006

Dear netpbm maintainers,

I hope I am not the first to point out just how pompous and wrong-headed the following statement is:

In Netpbm, we believe that man pages, and the Nroff/Troff formats, are obsolete; that HTML and web browsers and the world wide web long ago replaced them as the best way to deliver documentation. However, documentation is useless when people don’t know where it is. People are very accustomed to typing “man” to get information on a Unix program or library or file type, so in the standard Netpbm installation, we install a conventional man page for every command, library, and file type, but all it says is to use your web browser to look at the real documentation.

Translation: We maintain a suite of tools used by shell programmers, and we think that being able to read documentation offline or from the shell is stupid, so rather than maintain our documentation in a machine-readable format, we just wrote HTML and installed a bunch of “go fuck yourself” manpages.

On the bright side, they wrote their own replacement for the “man” command that uses Lynx to render their oh-so-spiffy documentation (assuming you’ve installed Lynx, of course), but they don’t even mention it in their fuck-you manpages. Oh, and the folks at darwinports didn’t know about this super-special tool, so they didn’t configure it in their netpbm install.

A-baka: “Hey, I know what we’ll do with our spare time! We can reinvent the wheel!”

B-baka: “Good idea, Dick! No one’s ever done that before, and everyone will praise us for its elegance and ideological purity, even though it’s incompatible with every other wheel-using device!”

A-baka: “We’re so cool!”

Update!: it keeps getting better. Many shell tools have some kind of help option that gives a brief usage summary. What do the Enlightened Beings responsible for netpbm put in theirs?

%  pnmcut --help
pnmcut: Use 'man pnmcut' for help.