GNU Info sucks

Thursday, 23 Sep 2004

So a Linux novice asked on a forum what the difference is between man and info, and, once that was adequately explained, why everyone on the internet referred to man pages when the man pages just refer to Info pages.

Of course, everyone refers to man pages because they are a convention common to Unix. The man pages he encountered refer to Info pages, because they all belong to GNU software, and the GNU people insist that man is ugly and foul and believe that Info is better.

Their argument is that you cannot link between man pages, so there is no way to subdivide documentation. In my opinion, that’s completely idiotic. man pages should only provide a short synopsis and something approaching a full reference, if possible. They’re not intended to be complete documentation for complex software. For software that’s complex enough for its documentation to need subdivision, you use HTML (though that will probably be generated from a master source written in something else like DocBook). Most any console browser for HTML is at least as usable as the crappy GNU Info browser, and you can even put links right in the middle of a piece of text – what a marvel! (In Info pages, you can’t.)

info simply led to most GNU software (even such simple things as basename) having lousy man pages, while the corresponding Info documentation waffles tediously in such a sprawling mass of badly organized pages that you have no chance of finding something on the spot. The only Info documentation that I’ve ever found useful (and nothing else comes even close) is that of GNU make.