18 July 2007

Random mumblings

The weather has been a little odd recently. We had a coolish but not freezing day yesterday, & when I looked up at Mount Murchison yesterday afternoon, its sides (bare in the morning) were covered with snow.

I also had a tiny event make me stop and think about the complexity of the systems we use. I inadvertantly brushed against the Tab key (auto-completion) when I started to type a command in to BASH, and it said:

Display all 5151 possibilities? (y or n)
All how many? This is a simple desktop machine.

Typing a rarer letter (j) & Tab shows up 37 programs (jpeg2swf, java, jamin & jw, for example) which include complete programming languages, DocBook converters, audio system managers and image translators.

Oddly enough, this illustrates some of the value in Free software, since the people making up this free ($0) Linux distribution would have been packing in software that they had been asked for. Rather than asking if the users are willing to pay $700 for an office suite, the question becomes, do we want to spend the 1/3 of a CD’s worth of space that this will take up?

Quite apart from the “feature” applications like GIMP, OpenOffice, Kaffeine & so on, these thousands of small applications allow this simple installation to do stuff like losslessly rotate JPEG images (jpegtran), edit up sound tracks (audacious) or produce ray-traces (YafRay). These all come in various flavours, such as YafRay versus POVray.

If I want to do the same things on MS-Windows, I need to manually hunt down (maybe pay for) & install the individual applications to do this, then perhaps resolve incompatibilities, & certainly virus-scan every piece before daring to do something shocking like actually run it.

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