Programming Tools: A Recap of LinuxWorld SF 2005

Here's a look at some of the cool products and projects unveiled at LinuxWorld, as well as a look at what programming tools their developers are using.

This month, I am going to deviate from my usual format. Instead of
talking about a specific programming tool, I am going to discuss last
month's LinuxWorld and some of the software, tools and other things from
the show.

LinuxWorld was interesting for a number of reasons. For one, it was bigger than the
previous year's show by more than 20 percent. Although LW again was dominated
by the "suits", here and there were buried gems, some of which I discuss
here. For those of you who didn't attend or who had only Expo passes,
the .org pavilions were on the second floor, along with the seminar
rooms--usually restricted to paying attendees. Keep this booth arrangement
in mind for future shows.
Words and Shifting Strategies
IBM said something interesting at its LW press conference. The company
was "re-aligning" its Linux sales force to start selling around "business
lines". In other words, Linux has become such a commodity that it and
its attributes now are taken for granted by the business community. It
seems that we are past the point Geoffrey Moore called the Early

Both Red Hat and SuSE were at the show trying to promote their open-source
initiatives. It is unclear to me why they are doing this. However, I
can think of several motivations. You might be able to figure out more.
My thinking says that they want:

  1. to create a dedicated community and get
  2. to get to market faster by getting pre-released versions
    out sooner for more testing and tweaking
  3. to gain extra publicity for their commercial

All of the commercial distributions are splitting their product lines
into open-source, freely available basic packages and an enterprise
server package that is meant to garner higher initial pricing and extra support
contracts. This dichotomy really appeals to the suits. They are
uneasy about depending on something that has low or minimal cost.
Interesting Software
A Korean company,
ThinkFree, has an interesting new product line for
Linux. It is a MS Office replacement, written in Java, that seems to
be better at "round-tripping" files between Windows and Linux than are the
other open-source Office clones. It also has an Office-like GUI interface and
most of Office's functionality. ThinkFree comes in two flavors: a downloadable
commercial version, selling for $49 US, and a free version usable from
the Net. That is, you invoke the program using their servers, edit your
files and then save them in MS formats on those servers. One caveat:
it is new and still has some hiccups. In the case of my short
two-page resume, for example, ThinkFree split the first page into two,
thereby creating an orphan line. It also did the page numbering wrong,
probably because of the orphan. Other than that, however, my document looked
pretty good. After discussing my experience with ThinkFree's people, it
seems that one of the problems was caused by using StarOffice on the file before using
ThinkFree's Write. It seems that SO was showing its German heritage by
producing tags in German instead of the expected English.

Related to that, it seems that Microsoft now is offering free licenses
for MSOffice to schools and libraries. I can ascribe this only to competition
from the Open Source movement.

Qt, as many users know, is Trolltech's C++ GUI toolkit for building
OS-independent interfaces. It also is the basis for KDE. As of version 4.0,
Qt is better, more reliable and faster; it also contains a greatly
improved paint engine. It is open source and has a dual license, making
it free for non-commercial use. Qt is available for Microsoft Windows
and Linux; Trolltech also offers a version for embedded systems.
Although written in C++, Qt can be used with any language with the
appropriate interface. I myself use it with Python and a SIP interface
and am happy with its performance.

Although not a programming tool, an interesting administration tool was
introduced by
Splunk. It analyses log and message files on your system
and helps locate problems and issues. It uses an intelligent algorithm to
"relate" information and compare it with historical data, if available.
Interesting Services/Software
Linux and the Open Source movement are affecting change in the business user
community. Prepackaged, reliable software packages are essential for
the smooth running of medium-to-large installations. With the evolution
of the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL and Perl/PHP/Python), many
enterprise solutions have been developed. To satisfy corporate needs,
companies such as
SpikeSource have been built around providing
integrated and throughly tested stacks and application integration. The
business model for these companies depends on maintenance fees to keep these stacks current
and tested. For example, they integrate, test and build many application
suites nightly. If you think this service is not needed, you should be
aware of the
Business Readiness Rating
for open-source
software that
many companies are taking seriously.

The open-source
ThoutReader from OSoft provides a universal reader for
documents and ebooks from many sources. It attempts to be the hub for
all technical documentation on your system. Thus, if I am searching
for a topic, it can find it across all the ebook sources on my system,
regardless of publisher. When you buy an ebook from them, you own the book
and are able to copy and duplicate it for your personal use as needed. For
example, I can have the same book on any of my computers. Also, it is
more intelligent about copying and pasting code from the ebook to other
applications. OSoft is publishing open-source documentation ebooks in the
ThoutReader format free of charge over the Web. The company also is publishing
books from O'Reilly, Manning, McGraw-Hill, No Starch Press, Pearson,
Wiley and others in OSoft's ThoutReader's XML-based ebook format. At the
moment, when you buy a Manning book, you get a free copy of it in
ebook format. The price of commercial books in ThoutReader format is up
to 35 percent less than the cost of buying it in printed format.
.org Tools
About 20 open-source .orgs were on display at the show, and developers were
manning many of the .org booths. It seemed like a golden opportunity to
ask what development tools these programmers use. The answers were both
expected and surprising. All of the developers I spoke with mentioned the
normal tools, including Emacs, Vi, Perl/PHP, GCC and make. Some
mentioned debuggers such as GDB, ddd, printf and valgrind. Others mentioned CVS,
Subversion or similar source code control systems. Surprising to me was the lack of any
modern IDE or graphical tools. Only the Java folks used Eclipse, and the
KDE folks used KDevelop. To me, this suggests a number of things:

  1. The older, more mature open-source projects still are
    using the 80's and 90's toolsets. Command-line tools continue to be king
    with this group of programmers.
  2. The rest of us, though, seem to be adopting IDEs and graphical
    tools extensively. For example, I can't imagine doing any
    refactoring with command-line tools.
  3. For modern tools to take hold, they must offer significant extra
    value to the programmer over his/her other tools. Few GUI tools do

What Planet Do They Live On?
Finally, the most bizarre incident that happened to me at the conference
occurred when I went to interview the developers at the
Fedora Project
booth. As usual, I introduced myself to the fellow at the booth as a
writer for Linux Journal. I asked what tools he
used to develop open-source software. His response was, "I am not authorized to talk to
the media." I explained that I only wanted to know about the toolset he
used. He repeated the above disclaimer. Obviously, the young fellow was
instructed not to talk to the press. Put another way, he was not allowed
to share his experiences in developing for the Open Source community. This
from a group that purports to be "open" and is trying to encourage others
to join them in a shared experience. It is clear to me that the management of
this group is totally out of touch with who we are. They are out of touch
with the most basic principles of open source, freedom and sharing! My
question is: "Who wants to work with this group when it shows such a
lack of ethics and appreciation of what we stand for?"


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Fedora and "The Press"

Kenneth Hess's picture

I have two views on this one. One, we should all respect someone's desire, ability or requirement to say 'No' to us. Second, was the issue that Reg represented himself as going to write what you said or that he was just curious? Not sure there would be a difference, but I might not have even mentioned that I am a freelance writer because that isn't my primary job. I might have just asked out of curiosity and you could have told me (?). Anyway, I am not sure that LJ could be considered "The Press" anyway. I didn't know that trade journals were so officially distinguished. But in any case, what tools do you use? Inquiring minds want to know. I promise not to go to the press with the info.

Fedora and "The Press"

Anonymous's picture

I do respect the right to say "No". If he had said that, none of this would have appeared. But he did not. The reason he gave for not answering my question ("That he is not allowed to talk to the media") was so unexpected in the context of the Open Source movement, that I felt it warranted comment.

Reg. Charney

P.S. Nowadays, we call ourselves the "media" ;-).

Funny how you chose to portra

Tom Callaway's picture

Funny how you chose to portray that. We were advised by our parent (Red Hat) not to make comments to the press, and that all official press communications about Red Hat or Fedora should go through the Red Hat Press person.

When you spoke to me, I advised you politely first that I wasn't able to talk to press, that I was sorry. You ignored me and kept asking questions. I had to interrupt you to remind you that I was not able to answer your questions. When you started a third time, and I had to interrupt you again, you erupted with "Well, I'll just put you down as CENSORED!" and stormed off.

My inability to talk to the press has nothing to do with our processes, it simply meant that we weren't permitted to talk to the press without permission. Some of the reporters we spoke to were very understanding about this, you were not.

Funny how you chose to portra

Anonymous's picture

I did hear you clearly. However, you or your handlers did not understand the question. I did not ask about proprietary information, nor about the Fedora Project itself. I asked you what tools you used to develop Open Source code. Your reply was not one an Open Source proponent would ever give. You viewed yourself as a cog in a corporate wheel whose every word was subject to censorship and the safest course was to say nothing. In most circles, this would be called fear. Again, what Open Source proponent is afraid to talk about the tools he is using?

Reg. Charney

When I (or any of us) are wor

Tom Callaway's picture

When I (or any of us) are working in the booth for a project at that tradeshow, we represent that project. We were advised by the people who sponsor our project (Red Hat) that all communications with the press should go through proper channels.

It has absolutely nothing to do with fear and everything to do with preventing random garbage from going out into media articles.

I wasn't permitted to speak on behalf of Red Hat (or Fedora) to the press. I'm forced to assume that you're either a very new reporter, or a very slow one, since this is standard operating procedure in the industry, and it is certainly something that virtually all of the other press people who visited our booth understood and had no issue with (and that your editor, Don Marti has a healthy grasp of).

All you have succeeding in doing is making yourself look stupid, and dragging Linux Journal to the level of mudslinging and paranoia.

When I (or any of us) are working

Anonymous's picture

Since when has any Open Source project needed to guard itself against "random garbage"? Almost all Open Source projects have gone through periods of bad publicity. The good ones survive and grow or evolve. The bad ones die out.

Also, again, I was not asking what the "official" position on tools was, I was asking you what tools you used to develop code. You were the only one at the show of all the .ORG booths who was unable or unwilling to answer that simple question. Every one else was delighted to discuss the way they worked.


Been there's picture

This product has been around since 2000 and it still doesn't work right. It was originally targeted at UNIX/Linux people who wanted to be able to elminate a windoze/office box. Some genius decided to point the company towards the w$ market and that version sort of works better. For some odd reason, they weren't able to gain market traction against w$! If the reviewer couldn't get a 2 page resume to work right, why spend $45?

Company name, anyway?

Anonymous's picture

So what was the company name on his badge? If he isn't talking to the media, respect his privacy, but what company is laying down this policy for its open-source contributors?

company name, anyway

Anonymous's picture

um, the fedora project? (taken directly from the paragraph)