More Free Software

Based on the positive feedback received from my last article covering some of the Free software available for Windows, I thought it would be worth spending a bit more time on the subject. In many cases, hundreds to many thousands of dollars can be saved, or the need for pirated software eliminated, with the investment of a little time and a bit of bandwidth. A tool used quite frequently in the corporate environment is PC Anywhere, a program produced by Symantec which lets a Windows based computer be controlled by another Windows computer across a network connection. The server’s desktop appears in a window on the client computer’s display, allowed remote control of the server machine. This program retails for $250, which includes a license for one client and one server. Each additional server is an additional $140.

Or… the Virtual Network Computing package from ATT could be used instead. See www.uk.research.att.com for details and downloads. VNC is licensed under the GNU Public License (GPL) (see www.fsf.org for details), which means it is free to use as many copies as you like however you like.

Available directly from the VNC site are clients and servers for several platforms, including Linux, Windows 9x/2000/NT, WinCE, Macintosh (both PPC and 68K), Solaris and Dec Alpha. Versions for just about every other platform also exist, contributed by third parties, including a Java version of the client which let it run on any Java platform including Web browsers.

To summarize, VNC costs nothing and can be used to control any of the above platforms from any of the other platforms. While security is obviously an issue with any network based product (exposing services to external machines), there can be times when the fastest way to get IP connectivity in an emergency is a cellular modem and a Palm. (And, lets face it, it’s cool!)

Perl, going off in an entirely different direction, is a Free programming language available for just about every platform which exists. Commonly known as the Internet Duct-tape language, Perl is working hard behind the scenes of a great many web sites and their operating systems. See www.perl.org for details, links and downloads.

First released in 1987 by Larry Wall, the current version is Perl 5.6 with object oriented programming and Unicode support. Perl has one of the largest collections of support modules available for any language, including database interfaces, allowing it to be the glue which brings together disparant systems with a minimum of new effort.

Perl 6.0 development is under way, with a lot of work being contributed by a company in Vancouver, ActiveState. Perl 6, which is going to be a complete re-write of the internals, will also be refined to better support distributed computing models like CORBA and Microsoft’s .NET. See www.activestate.com for more details, and to download ActivePerl, an easy-to-install version of Perl for Windows.

For those who are used to working with Unix, but are sometimes forced to work in Windows, the Cygwin tools can make the experience somewhat less frustrating. It is a collection of libraries and programs which provide Unix services and commands under Windows, including the GNU tools and utilities, and X Windows servers.

Even for non-Unix users, the Cygwin tools can be worth looking at because of the additional functionality provided. The GNU development tool set, for example, is quite complete and includes free C, C++ and FORTRAN compilers (among others), perfect for both students and professional developers. See http://sources.redhat.com/cygwin/ for more details and downloads.

For user-interface programming, the popular GTK+ library has been ported to Windows and BeOS. It was this, along with the Cygwin library, which allowed the GNU Image Manipulation Program (The GIMP, mentioned in the last article) to be ported to Windows. It joins the QT and FLK+ libraries as a means of writing software once, and have it compile and run under multiple environments. See www.gtk.org.

And, at the end of the day, why not unwind with a quick game of FreeCiv, a network-ready clone of the popular (if dated) game Civilization. Available for Unix, Windows and Amiga, FreeCiv is a faithful reproduction of the original. See www.freeciv.org for screen shots, downloads and server addresses for group play.

Hopefully this list, which is by no means complete, will help save some money, or get rid of the risk of running pirated software. During budget crunches, it is easy to be tempted to deploy a few more copies of software packages than actually purchased. It is just not worth the risk — commercial software producers are feeling the squeeze too, setting up hot-lines to report piracy.

Do them one better. Install Free software, and eliminate the concern forever.

Published in the Victoria Business Examiner.

Please sir. Can you spare some software?

In these newly tough economic times, many IT manages are finding their budgets frozen or even rolled back. Rest assured, however, that this won’t result in fewer demands on the resources provided by the IT department. In fact, if anything, even more requests for services and software can be expected. In order to help with this dilemma, I thought it would be appropriate to look at some of the free software available. If paying licensing fees can be (legally) avoided, more of a budget can be devoted to hardware upgrades or perhaps an additional FTE for the help-desk.

One of the most important open source projects for enterprise networks is the Samba system. Samba, available for free downloaded from www.samba.org, and is able to provide printing and file-sharing services to Windows 95/98/NT/2000 clients.

Samba runs under Unix environments, including SunOS, HPUX and Linux. The latest version is even able to act as a Primary Domain Controller (PDC), which means it can completely replace a Windows NT or 2000 file/print sharing server. All you need to do is price out the licensing fees (including the needed client licenses for the server), and you’ll be highly motivated to use Samba.

For those needing a word processor a good option is Open Office, formally known as Star Office, provided for free by Sun Microsystems. Available from www.openoffice.org, OpenOffice is perfect for students or small offices. It can read and write MS Word and Excel documents, and runs under Linux, Solaris, MacOS X and Windows.

In case graphic production is more the problem of the day, the GNU Image Manipulation Programwww.gimp.org. For the Windows version, navigate to www.gimp.org/win32/. (AKA the GIMP) may do everything needed. The GIMP is a free Photoshop clone with surprisingly powerful set of tools. The GIMP can also be programmed by way of its own scripting language, so commonly executed series of operations can be done automatically. The GIMP can be downloaded for Linux/Unix from

For web serving, there’s no better solution than the Apache web server. According to the most recent www.netcraft.com survey, Apache is responsible for serving just under 60% of the world’s web sites, compared to 19% for Microsoft’s IIS, and 6% for the Netscape server. Apache can be downloaded for either Linux/Unix or MS Windows from www.apache.org.

If programming is your or your organization’s role, it might be worth your time looking at the Concurrent Versions System, or CVS. This lets a team of programmers work on a large collection of source files, and manages changes which are made over time. Being network based, the developers can be based in the same office, or each could be off in different parts of the world.

While little known in the Windows world, CVS is how most open source development is coordinated in the Linux community. CVS can handle any type of data files, not just source code, and is often used to manage web-sites or document repositories. CVS can be downloaded from www.cvshome.org. A Windows GUI front end is available from www.wincvs.org.

Just because budgets are tight doesn’t mean software deployment need suffer. With a little bit of research, powerful software solutions can often be found which match or exceed commercial offerings. While most Free software (note the capital F) is written for Linux, a large and every expanding number of packages are also available under Windows as well.

So, send your browser over to www.freshmeat.net, the open source community’s main software resource, and do some searches. You’ll likely be pleasantly surprised by what is available. Your budget manager sure won’t complain!

Published in the Victoria Business Examiner.