09 May 2005

Success at last -- I can upload files to OOo

After months of intermittently attempting to gain access to the OpenOffice.org website (specifically to the Documentation Project's pages), I finally succeeded. The route through the SSH and CVS labyrinth was tortuous and marked by misleading or incomprehensible (to me) instructions, obscure software problems (at my end and theirs), and delays due to my travels, other priorities, and inconsistent Internet access. My frustration at this difficult process was not helped by the comments from several people that "it's not a difficult system to use" and the implication (even if unintended) that I must be unusually incompetent to be having so much trouble. Fortunately I was supported by others who agreed that the instructions were confusing; that it wasn't just me. And yes, the system is easy to use, once I got everything working. It was getting it working in the first place that was the problem. The first barrier (not identified for several weeks, and then only by accident) -- I needed to be a "member" of the project before anything would work. I didn't realise I wasn't a member until someone mentioned that I wasn't on the membership list. The what? The "How to Help" section of the Doc Project's home page says nothing about becoming a member; it only says to join the mailing list and view the task list. A closer inspection of the page reveals an item in the lefthand navigation bar: "Membership". Click on that and you get a membership list, prefaced by a line in very small type that says: "If you were registered and logged in, you could join this project." Ok, so I could join. Why might I want to? No indication; presumably the viewer is supposed to know. If you look under "Get help?" diligently enough, and know the right questions to ask, you can find quite a bit of information... but if you don't know that you need to know something, you aren't given many clues along the way. Is this the equivalent of the secret handshake? Sometimes I think so. Once that was cleared up and I was given the appropriate "project role" (Developer), I ran into the problem of "I'm following the instructions but it's not working". Much diagnosis later, I gave up and installed a different set of software and started the process again, helped this time by someone giving me a link to some well-written instructions that I could actually understand and follow. The combination of good instructions and different software seemed to do the trick, but one last hurdle was in store... for a week or 10 days the servers wouldn't let me in. At least one other Australian was having the same problem, so I was reassured that it wasn't just me. At last I am at home on a fast connection, and the problem at OOo's end is allegedly fixed, and -- by golly, it all worked! And as easily as everyone said it should. Incredible.