I just found out by chance that Fedora 14 switched from their old man package to man-db. This is great news: it should now be the beginning of the end of the divergence of man implementations that happened way back in the mid-1990s, when two different people took John W. Eaton’s man package and developed it in different directions without being aware of each other’s existence. For a while it looked as though man-db was stuck on just the Debian family and openSUSE, but a number of distributions have switched over in the last few years. As of now, the only remaining major distribution not using man-db is Gentoo, and they have a bug for switching which I think should be unblocked fairly soon.

In some ways man-db’s package name didn’t help it; people thought that the main difference was that man-db had a database backend stuck around apropos. These days, the database is one of the least important parts of man-db as far as I’m concerned. Other ways in which it’s very significantly superior to anything man could do without years of equivalent effort include correct encoding support, robust child process handling, and use of more modern development facilities (dear catgets: you belong to a previous millennium, so please go away). I’m glad that Fedora has recognised this.

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