Issue 4

Issue 4

The social implications of free software

If you’re new to it, free software appears to be tough to shift to. It also tends to be supported by a smaller pool of techies, and has something of a steep initial learning-curve. So why shift at all? In any case, you can easily make do with illegally-copied proprietary software... right?

Wrong! That’s a lazy way of looking at things. It’s also an outdated approach, which goes back just three decades or so, when proprietary- you can’t copy it, you can’t share it—software became the norm.

Graphic icons

There are a lot of important and exciting discussions currently taking place around issues concerning the ownership of ideas. The thoughts and the accompanying practices surrounding the subject have been formed through a diverse range of alliances, interests and motivations. The arguments are becoming increasingly polarised into distinct methods and approaches that already challenge and govern, not only our lives and working practices, but also, our ability to communicate.

net.labels

The traditional approach to releasing music, independent from what is called “the music industry”, follows a basic formula: record, print CD, promote, distribute, promote, lose money.

It is difficult to know why so many independent musicians follow this pattern, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they will almost certainly lose time and money. Thankfully there’s a new type of independent music label that is emerging on the internet. These entities call themselves net.labels and are in the process of defining an interesting new subculture of independent music distribution.

Make it right using Tcl

Any sufficiently complex software system has bugs, and those of us who aspire to produce high quality work also seek to not only minimize these, but guarantee that our code does what we say it ought to.

One proven way to eliminate bugs, and ensure that code behaves as documented is to test the program. Easy enough to do by hand, when there isn’t much functionality. However, when the system grows more complex, and there are many possible environmental factors with various permutations, it quickly becomes obvious that we need to automate our testing.

Worst case scenario - protecting your computer

In my last article my laptop had died a spectacular death from a full cup of coffee. I had to send it into the IBM depot, where they replaced nearly everything but the battery. Including the hard drive.

My files were all properly backed up, and I was even able to retrieve the few files I had worked on that day by connecting the drive to another computer. So when the service depot called and said they wanted to replace the drive, I said go ahead.

A server for education

I recently encountered a group of very enthusiastic teachers, who wanted to convince me to try a new e-learning environment, with astonishing quizzes, and drills of extreme originality. However, as I’d last used computers in the seventies, I was initially sceptical. Back then computers had just been used to send humans to the Moon. It was hard for me to make the leap from those machines to the machines of today. And quizzes seemed to be a strange use of such a powerful resource.

Finding alternatives in developing software

Developing software within the free software model can be achieved with all sorts of different tools, but choosing the right tools can make a big difference to the success of your project. Even if you are developing a proprietary solution, there are benefits to using free software tools to achieve it. But what free software tools are available? In this article I’m going to look at the development tools available, from languages and libraries to development environments, as well as examining the issues surrounding the use of free software tools by comparison to their proprietary equivalents.

The risk of using proprietary software

About one out of every 200 people is allergic to peanuts. Depending on the extremity of the allergy, a person suffering from peanut allergies who was accidentally exposed to peanuts might develop an itchy rash. Others might experience anaphylaxis, a severe reaction that can prove fatal. People who are allergic to peanuts have a tough time in America, where more and more foods are manufactured in factories that also process peanuts.

The risks of writing proprietary software

Every software developer faces a choice when deciding how to release a new software product. That choice is whether the program will be free or non-free. Unfortunately, many otherwise knowledgeable programmers aren’t sure just what this choice means, and may complain that programmers with families really don’t have a choice at all—if they want to earn a living, they must charge for their work. However, free software is not about giving software away without cost.

Book review: Unix Power Tools 3rd edition by Shelley Powers, Jerry Peek, Tim O’Reilly and Mike Loukides

Using a Unix system requires a lot of knowledge, and it’s common to see Unix users and administrators spending a lot of time reading handbooks, tutorials and man pages to find out the “right” sequence of keystrokes. In the publishing world there is a little pearl, a single source of information about Unix and how to use it: Unix Power Tools, published by O’Reilly and Associates. O’Reilly is a well known publisher of Unix books; in this one, you’ll see Tim O’Reilly himself as an author!

The book’s cover The book’s cover

The contents

What is the next (r)evolution?

I’m not sure if it’s correct to talk about the internet as a revolution. The internet is in fact the result of a slow, hard earned evolution which has lasted about 30 years (!). Slowly, during these years, the costs of laying cables has dropped, the CPU was... well, invented (in 1974, the Intel 4004), processing power and memory have increased exponentially and the basic protocols were created (in 1972, the telnet protocol).

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