Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Difference between coding and writing

Author:Dori Smith
Posted:8/25/1999; 3:14:15 PM
Topic:Opening Up Linux Journal and O'Reilly
Msg #:9883 (In response to 9840)
Prev/Next:9882 / 9884

Here's my two cents, as someone who's written programs, magazine articles, and technical books (does that make it three cents?).

Most programs, I've found, are originally written to solve a problem that the programmer encountered. They wanted to do "x" but there were no programs out there to do "x" yet. So they wrote one.

In the open source world, someone else will have a problem that's similar to "x" but not quite the same. They'll take the original programmer's code and modify it to do what they want, also. In the long run, you end up with a flexible & powerful program.

Writing isn't the same. If your goal is to, say, learn Frontier 6, you may wish that there was a book that covered the latest & greatest version. You may even say, "Hey, once I learn all this stuff, I'll write a book on F6." But once you've learned everything you wanted to know, you don't have the problem any more--so the book never becomes something that has to get written to solve your problem.

Now, I understand that several people have put their books up on the web and found that they've sold more copies. With all of my books, I've put all the code and at least 1 sample chapter up on the web. If you want more than that but don't want to spend any money, you can (as others have said) borrow it from the library.

The only reason I don't post the entire contents on the web is tech support. I don't believe that open source evangelists believe that tech support wants to be free. But I spend about an hour a day answering questions from readers now; I simply can't afford to answer questions from people who haven't bought a copy.

There's another difference between software and books: if both are available in both a free & commercial version, with software you can tell which a person has. With a book, if you're giving away the entire contents, you can't. If I had a way to provide support for only those people who bought the dead tree version, it'd probably be worth it.

And, knowing that someone out there will say that if I wrote a good book, I wouldn't get so many tech support questions, I'll just respond now. I write (so far) introductory tech books for non-geeks. By the time they get to the end, they're ready to do bigger & better things, and I point them towards resources (often from O'Reilly) to help them get there. But the books don't cover advanced concepts, because that's not their goal. So I get a lot of questions about advanced stuff that's outside the scope of the books.

So there's my 3 (or more) cents. I think that programs & books are inherently different, simply because they arise from different needs. Software fulfills a need for whomever programmed it. Books fill a need for others, because (with a good book, at least) the author already knows the material.

JavaScript for the World Wide Web: Visual QuickStart Guide, 3rd Edition
Java for the World Wide Web: Visual QuickStart Guide

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