It Might Be a Unix Sin But I Would Like You to Add .txt As the Extension of Your README file


I remember first starting to download open source software in the 1990ies. It is better than the usual shareware: no annyoing pop ups and countdowns.  There is all these files though: COPYING AUTHORS INSTALL. What do I do with them? Luckily there is  a file called README, which makes me think of the README.txt files that Explorer proposes me to open with Notepad. It turns out I can open README as well with a text editor:

You should have received a copy of the GNU Library General Public
License along with this library; if not, write to the
Free Software Foundation, Inc., 51 Franklin St, Fifth Floor,
Boston, MA  02110-1301, USA.

I wonder: who are these people in Boston? Why do they ask me to write them letters in the day and age where I download their software from the internet? And why didn’t they add .txt to the end of their filenames?

Well, at least you managed to download software that also included a runnable program. In my first encounters with open source software I would literally come across source files: computer code that still needs to be compiled (and I had no clue how that worked).

There’s open and there’s open: you might offer the source code to a program for free, but that does not mean the knowledge contained therein is accessible, unless a user is prepared to learn a lot about the culture of how programmers do things.

This also the problem with Markdown is a format for writing html codes in a typewriter plain text style, adored within the culture of programmers. Popular code hosting site Github renders for you. But when you download a software package including such a file, it breaks in much the same way as an extensionless README does: A novice user does not know with which program to open it, and the Operating System is not able to give a preview.

Maybe they can start to recognise

Try installing QLStephen: (Put it in ~/Library/QuickLook, then run qlmanage -r to reset quicklookd.) It makes this work.

There has been a standardized MIME type system that has fixed this issue for thousands of years^W^W^W decades.

'text/plain' would be the format here. Or for markdown, 'text/markdown'. Then applications would check the MIME type and one would open in a text editor and the other would open in some fanciful markdown editor (or whatever you had set for that MIME type).

It worked flawlessly in BeOS back in the '90s. The problem is with all these ridiculously outdated operating systems (only the visuals ever seem to be updated).

Don't even get me started on the state of local search vs the metadata system of BeOS' filesystem---lightning fast and you could save searches as folders that you could open and would be updated in real-time as new files that match the criteria are added.

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