Programming Tools: A Recap of LinuxWorld SF 2005

by Reg. Charney

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?"

Load Disqus comments