Letters to the Editor

Readers sound off.
Minor Correction—Issue 53

I just finished another fine read—nice issue as always. One minor error I noticed though is on page 45, “Technical Considerations” by Richard Kent.

He says, “Within these toolkits are functions which have a variable number of arguments, much like the standard printf system call.”

Ah, and there's the rub—printf isn't a system call. It is a function from the standard library (section 3). System calls are, as you know, described in section 2.

I know this is minor, but students new to the C programming language have enough trouble with the documentation and how to read it without reference problems.

—Wayne Bjorken wab@courier.cb.lucent.com

How Many Distributions?

I have done years of FORTRAN, C and assembly programming on CPM, NS32000 and DOS systems, developing a system for operating laboratory equipment, and processing and displaying experimental data. After having seen so many platforms disappear, each time forcing a painful migration, I have just begun moving to Linux. The first issue I confronted, and resolved by making a semi-random choice, was selecting the distribution. There seems to be no guidance for newbies in this matter. After I got it installed, I started trying to learn how to program it. Here I ran into another obstacle. I have been spoiled by the packaged and documented software from Borland. Now I have to find tools for Linux and instructions for using them by looking in a huge collection of books and Internet sites. I find there is a horrendously steep and bewildering initial portion of the Linux learning curve, which could easily be a barrier to many people. Distributions need to address this if Linux is going to compete with MS Windows.

—Bill McConnaughey mcconnau@biochem.wustl.edu

Interview with Charles Andres

I read your interview with Charles Andres in the August, 1998 LJ with great interest.

I just want to add one point on your question about “How does Sun feel about the Open Source movement?” If Sun feels that it might be advantageous for their business to give the source code to everyone, they will do so. Proof of this statement: When Sun tried to start a “Motif vs. OpenLook” war, they freely gave away the source code of XView (which was one of the best X toolkits around). It didn't help them win that war, but in the Linux community XView can still be used (guess what I am looking at ...) for free. All this happened long before the issue hit the newsstands.

Same story with Netscape: if a company feels it can win something, it will open the source. Sun will do it again if they think it would be good for them, but they won't do it for political or philosophical reasons.

—Erwin Dieterich e.dieterich@ndh.net

I'm paying for the content, not advertisements

I have been reading Linux Journal for quite some time. It is a very informative magazine and I like it a lot.

However, I cannot help noticing one very bad thing: the portion of LJ occupied by advertisements has reached approximately one third of the entire magazine. It seems to be growing even further at the cost of actual content.

While it is clear to me that you earn good money from the advertisements, in the end you still need your subscribers. I am afraid you might lose at least one, if you continue your transformation from a journal into an advertising bulletin. I hope you will realize this before it is too late.

—Denis Havlik havlik@lisa.exp.univie.ac.at

Actually, compared to other magazines, 30% advertising is low. We need at least this much to stay in business without raising subscription rates. Our November issue was at 35%. If advertising either stabilizes or increases, we will most likely expand the magazine by another 16 pages. It is also true that many readers find value in the ads—I even had one who said we should increase the number of ads —Editor

About the Inventor Article

I am Guy Barrand from Linear Accelerator Laboratory (LAL) at Orsay (France).

In the article “Open Inventor” by Robert Hartley (September 1998), Mr. Hartley mentions the Apprentice project. I have looked at the Apprentice code, and a question has occurred to me.

How far can one go in re-implementing commercial software? In Apprentice, the API differs from that of Inventor only by the prefix “Ap” that replaces the Inventor “So”. A good use of the tr command (also documented in the same issue of LJ) could easily transform an Apprentice distribution to an Inventor one. Does the Apprentice developer have the right to use the “So” prefix?

In general, is it legal to reuse a commercial product API and to provide a free implementation of this product? I assume that the Linux community has looked at these problems for a long time. Can you enlighten me on these points?

—Guy Barrand barrand@lal.in2p3.fr

Good question—I don't have the answer. Perhaps, one of our readers will know the legalities and let us know —Editor