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Perhaps we could add to the question template that users see, a suggestion to mention the operating system or distribution, and also the version/release of that operating system. This should of course be only a suggestion, as this information is not pertinent to all questions.

Additionally, one could suggest that the poster mention the version of any software being used in the question, and also mention whether it is a binary package install or locally compiled.

While this would not apply to all questions, I think it would apply to a big chunk of them. However, perhaps I'm suffering from selection bias, because those are the questions I tend to answer. In any case, I seem to be constantly asking what distribution people are using.

A more speculative idea would be to customize the question template based on what tags people add, but I'm not sure how that would work.

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    +1 although it only catches that small minority of the (new) posters that actually read instructions before dumping their question on us. I suggest changing suggest in the first sentence of your question as it, combined with suggestion, makes the sentence quite confusing. – Anthon Apr 9 '15 at 16:32
  • @Anthon rephrased the beginning. Is it ok now? – Faheem Mitha Apr 9 '15 at 16:56
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    Putting the suggestion as gray text in the question box (like the gray text in the title box) might be noticed. And would be entirely unobtrusive. – derobert Apr 9 '15 at 17:21
  • @FaheemMitha Yes, better now. It might have just been me, but before I had to restart two times before I got to the end of it. – Anthon Apr 9 '15 at 17:36
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I think that's a good idea. Although, as Anton says, many people may not read the instructions, this does not mean it is a waste of time to have them. Some people will, and others can be pointed to them explicitly. This would allow for an easy generic comment "Please indicate your OS as per the instructions".

I would even go so far as to implement a mechanism whereby in addition to having to include at least one tag, you have to include at least one OS/distro tag, or else explicitly tick something confirming such really does not apply.

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The people who tend to read this kind of message are also the people who are smart and attentive enough to provide relevant information in the first place.

The people who don't provide critical information are also by and large the same people who don't read what's on their screen and just click on that annoying “Yes, I have read all this information” button.

This is an extra user interface feature that would not help with anything.

  • I take your general point, but I think you are overstating it with "would not help with anything". At a minimum, it would serve as a reminder. And when it comes to general cynicism about human nature I'm hard to beat. – Faheem Mitha Apr 18 '15 at 21:58

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