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Considering the What topics can I ask about here? page.

  • If I'm using MacOS I cannot ask about front-end applications ("The Unix foundation underlying MacOS (but generally not frontend application questions)")
  • If I'm using Linux/UNIX then I can ask about them ("Applications packaged in *nix distributions (note: being cross-platform does not disqualify)"

Assuming I've read and understood it correctly, why the differentiation?

  • I can ask about LibreOffice and Firefox, even if the question is not specifically relevant to the UNIX/Linux port, but only if I'm running in on UNIX/Linux (specifically not on MacOS).
  • I cannot ask about using Facetime or Garageband.

Is it simply because there is AskDifferent and MacOS questions should be pushed that way? And if so, perhaps it could/should be referenced from the FAQ

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  • IIRC there's also a Ubuntu and Android SE site. Facetime and Garageband AFAIK are macos specific and there's an Apple-specific site though which is the main difference. You can't ask about your WhatsApp Android app here even though it runs on a Linux system. You can ask about bash or libreoffice even though there are ports of it to non-Unix-like platforms. Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 19:38

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The page in question says

  • The Unix foundation underlying MacOS (but generally not frontend application questions)

[…]

I don’t read this quite as strictly as you: to me, it seems that any application packaged in *nix distributions is a valid topic, regardless of the platform, within the limits set in the first sentence:

Unix and Linux Stack Exchange is for users of Linux, FreeBSD and other Un*x-like operating systems.

So a question on LibreOffice, asked by a macOS user, could be on-topic: it is asked by a user of a Un*x-like operating system, about an application which is packaged in *nix distributions. As far as I’m concerned, it would only be off-topic if it was about macOS-specific aspects of LibreOffice (e.g. “Why don’t my LibreOffice files open in LibreOffice on macOS?”).

As you surmise, the likelihood that a given question will find an answer probably plays a part in the “on-topic” lists:

  • Most macOS “frontend” applications are platform-specific, Cocoa applications, and are unlikely to be familiar to users of other Unix-like systems. As you mention, Stack Exchange has another site, Ask Different, where such questions are more likely to find useful answers.

  • The same applies to Android: while it’s based on the Linux kernel, its applications are mostly quite different from those found on typical Unix-like desktops. Stack Exchange has yet another site, Android Enthusiasts, where such questions are more likely to find useful answers.

  • Similarly, questions specifically about Ubuntu, for example questions about the upgrade process from one release to another, are better off asked on Ask Ubuntu; but that’s a special case, explicitly addressed in the help page.

Given all this, it does seem useful to point users directly to the relevant sites in the help page. (I do note however that there doesn’t seem to be much confusion; at least, it’s unusual for a question to be migrated to Android.SE, and even more so to Ask Different.)

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Is it simply because there is AskDifferent and MacOS questions should be pushed that way? And if so, perhaps it could/should be referenced from the FAQ

It might not be a bad idea to reference AskDifferent in the FAQ but I don't believe that's the primary reason. I've read elsewhere on meta.stackexchange.com multiple times that sites generally should not define their scope based on the scope of others.

As I understand it, it's much easier to explain in terms of communities or readership. That is the scope is based on who U&L is for than what it's for.


Unix and linux distributions have a very large set of overlapping software, and consequently their users have a very large overlap in skills and knowledge.

An experienced user of Ubuntu is likely to be able to jump onto a Centos server, or a FreeBSD laptop, or even an AIX server and get things done. They are close enough and many / most differences are a short google search away. So asking questions around any of those OS are likely to fall cleanly within the knowledge and interest of the readership here.

But that's largely based on those distributions comprising of a similar set of open source tools.


So this leads to two major exceptions:

  • Android (Linux)
  • MacOS (BSD)

Both of these lean heavily on the same set of open source tools, not just the respective kernels. So you may well get a good answer asking about a ZSH on MacOS question or an OpenOffice question here because the U&L community have experience in those tools.

However both Android and MacOS have their own individual platform built on-top of the open source tools. Amongst other things the platform includes the GUI and heavily customised configuration. So the U&L community are much less likely to have specialist knowledge of those aspects.

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