Steven Goodwin's articles

The seven sins of programmers

[Click here for an expanded, updated version of this blog entry which hasnow been published in issue 17 of Free Software Magazine!]

Programmers. The system administrators worship their bit twiddling capabilities. The users exchange vast quantities of beer for new features and tools. And the project managers sell their soul when they make the magic work. But inside the average programmer's psyche are several demons that need exorcising.

Pride

The three great levellers

Drink was the first great leveller, as it brings everyone to the floor eventually. The second was the Internet. Everyone can be published, listened to, and promoted giving freedom of expression to the masses. Community-driven development is the third leveller, as it allows anyone to affect a project that's important to them, as either a programmer, artist, writer, or web designer. Alas, the leveller in this case engenders a flat uninteresting landscape because these self-assumed polymaths reduce everything to the best they could manage. And not the best that can be achieved.

Digital archaeology of the microcomputer, 1974-1994

(Or, how to prevent the Dark Ages of computing through free software)

In a few years time, it will be impossible to study the history of home computers since everything at the time was proprietary; both in terms of the physical hardware, and all the software that ran upon it since most of it is encumbered by software “protection” to prevent copying.

To compound the problem, the hardware is dying (literally) and (being proprietary) can’t be rebuilt in any equivalent manner. In some cases the software is physically disintegrating too since, in the case of many 8-bit micros from the 1980’s, the storage medium was cassette tape; a temperamental mechanism at the time, let alone now. It’s not that no computer innovation took place in the 1980’s, just that none of it will be recorded.

What follows is a ten-point plan outlining the primary issues of digital archaeology, the methods necessary to preserve the legacy, and how free software can lead this endeavour.

Immolation through rabid anti-commercialism

The ideals of free software may have freedom have its center, but for many the concept of ‘free’ relates to its price. Even with RMS’s jingoistic “free as in freedom, not free as in beer” people don’t get it. Even though RMS has repeatedly said he has no problem with commercial software, the message is not getting through. Instead, the merest hint that someone in the community might be making money from something open source related sends large factions into spasms of rabid anti-commercialism.

Clueful vs clueless - a never ending battle

There is a fundamental problem with GNU/Linux—it requires clueful people to exist in the IT food chain. Anywhere in the food chain. It doesn’t take an experienced kernel hacker to install GNU/Linux, run a web server, or teach people how to log on to the network. It just requires a user with an interest in the subject, the ability to solve problems, and the desire to achieve results.

The GP2x PDA

Games under GNU/Linux have usually been a lacklustre affair. For every Tux Racer, there are a hundred sub-standard Pac-man clones you’d be embarrassed to advocate. For every commercial version of Quake, there’s a hundred other worthy games the publisher elected not to port to GNU/Linux. Without good games, there’s no market, and without the market, no effort is spared. And so the cycle continues. In this article, I will look at two of the areas in which GNU/Linux games have succeeded, and a new device that combines them both, which could help expose GNU/Linux to the populous.

Book review: Pro Apache Ant by Matthew Moodie

This book covers the popular Java-oriented build tool, Ant. It is a combination of reference manual and user guide, which demonstrates how to create Ant scripts that can compile projects, test them, and perform the many other manual tasks involved in the build pipeline, above and beyond standard compilation phase.

Pro Apache AntPro Apache Ant

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