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Posted on October 11th, 2012 by Jonathan Bray

The Linux Labs – how it was done

PC Pro Linux LabsEarlier this year we launched an appeal. We wanted you to help us with our Linux Labs. We didn’t want you to answer a few multiple choice questions; we didn’t want plain numbers. We wanted you to help us write the reviews themselves.

So, via the medium of The big PC Pro Linux Labs wiki, hosted by our friends over at Memset, we set about building a collaborative Labs of the likes never seen before in the pages of the magazine.

The aim was to produce a piece of writing in the spirit of the subject matter at hand: and open source Labs about open source software. It was all very nice in theory, but we’d never done it before: never set up a wiki, never solicited contributions from readers, and never taken such material into account in writing editorial, let alone a piece as involved as a Labs.

PC Pro issue 218 cover

It was completely untrodden ground and we didn’t know what to expect. But in the end we were pleasantly surprised at the quality and volume of contributions, and as you’ll see if you pick up a copy of the magazine this month, it provided us with plenty of material from which to produce a Labs.

The wiki

So how did we do it? The first step was to select and set up the wiki itself, and it was this that proved the most challenging aspect of the whole enterprise. Once we’d done a little research,  it appeared that MediaWiki would be ideal for our purposes, but even after a comparatively pain-free installation, there was a pretty steep learning curve.

We had to grapple with how to create pages and sections and link them together, then how to set up user registration so it allowed comparatively unfettered access without encouraging a free-for-all.

PC Pro Linux Labs wiki

With that done, we then put a loose structure in place, with an intro page, and another page for each of the Linux distros, posted our appeal, and sat back, nervously twiddling our thumbs.

After the initial appeal went out, though, it didn’t take long before intrepid readers began to sign up. Ynot 82 was our very first registrant, adding material to the Gentoo page and a few helpful suggestions to the Talk section of the wiki’s Main page. Hot on his (or her?) heels was Bluriteboy02 (no ambiguity over gender there) with significant contributions to the Linux Mint and Ubuntu pages, and this on only the first day.

The ranks of PC Pro wiki pioneers gently swelled until, only a few weeks later, we were able to muster enough copy to begin putting the article together in earnest – building a feature table, writing the reviews, introduction and all the rest of what goes to make up a PC Pro Labs.


In the end, what started out as a difficult and awkward-looking project turned into one of the most rewarding group tests we’ve been involved with, and that’s largely thanks to the efforts of the readers who contributed so much of their time, effort and expertise.

So this blog is a thank you to all those who took part, from ActionParsnip to BleedingSamurai and the others mentioned above, and a reminder that you can read the finished Labs in the issue of PC Pro hitting the shelves this week. So what are you waiting for? Go out and buy a copy.

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Posted in: Software, View from the Labs


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