This article originally appeared in TidBITS on 2004-10-04 at 12:00 p.m.
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ManOpen Opens Man Pages

by Adam C. Engst

As much as I'm perfectly capable of getting around via the Unix command line, I won't pretend I'm fluent or comfortable in that environment. Usually, I just spend some time figuring out the syntax and all the obscure little switches for some command, then record it in NoteBook so I don't have to go through the process again if I don't remember everything the next time I need the command.

In that process of learning how to express a particular Unix command, I rely on the Unix man pages, like everyone else. Just type "man commandName" at the command line and you're presented with documentation that at least approximates helpful information on the command in question.

Unfortunately, since the man command uses another Unix tool called less to display the information, if the man entry fills more than a screen, you can't easily scroll back up in the Terminal window to refer back to something at the beginning. Although you can of course scroll around in less itself using the d and u keys - refer to the man page for less for details - I prefer to stick to Macintosh programs and interface conventions whenever possible. I also find myself jumping in and out of a particular man page while I'm figuring out a command, at least until I realize what I'm doing and open another Terminal window.

Fixing the Man -- So, if you're like me, and occasionally need to refer to a man page but are annoyed by the user experience of working with man pages in a Terminal window, check out Carl Lindberg's ManOpen 2.4, which is a free Mac OS X application for viewing man pages in normal Macintosh windows. It's a simple program, but has a number of useful features, including:


Improving the Man -- As much as I appreciate how ManOpen improves the experience of working with man pages, there's plenty of room for improvement, should anyone be interested in working with the source code that Carl Lindberg provides. A few thoughts:

Despite these desires, ManOpen is plenty useful in its current incarnation, and I've installed it everywhere I find myself using man pages. It's a great example of how using a graphical interface can improve the Unix experience for those who prefer a graphical approach. For other opinions about the process of viewing man pages, check out the TidBITS Talk discussion on the topic.