Monday, August 31, 2009

small packges

i never was a fan of code bloat. i've written programs for dos in x86 assembler and for the palm os in c. i've had to deal with some pretty tight constraints, but i don't take space, memory or cpu cycles for granted. and i guess that's what bothers me about the current conventional coding wisdom that seems to be, "if you've got the space, use it." i think it unfortunate that what passes for acceptable code these days is poor planning and laziness on the part of some visual studio jockey who has no clue how a compiler even works—heaven forbid they ever have to compile and link by hand. i guess this is where i talk about having to write code in hex using only the dos debugger uphill both ways in the snow.

glad i'm not the only one that appreciates a dainty code footprint. analogx is the creator of some great and useful (and free) programs that pack heavyweight features into featherweight packages. in my classrooms, for instance, i don't waste time with microsoft's iis: the anaolgx simpleserver:www web server supports mime, logging, server-side scripting and multi-hosting, and it runs on any version of windows from win95 up. did i mention that the whole program is 630k? that's kilobytes, my friend. i've long believed that a web site should be capable of fitting on a 1.44mb floppy disk. how 'bout the server, as well?

the point is, there is no need for all this bloat. there is no reason an os should require a gigabyte of ram and 15 gigs of hard drive space. today's programmers are a lazy lot, it seems, but there are a few artisans out there who still know how to make good things come in small packages.

Friday, August 28, 2009

take your pc everywhere

we use firefox. it has great add-ons like zotero, a tool for organizing your online research, or full screen homestar runner so you can watch strong bad emails in all their glory. we use openoffice. it supports the open document format, it allows you to publish your documents as pdfs, and it's totally free—not to mention that it's the office suite that's used in the public libraries of our own and neighboring burgs. we also like vlc, which plays about every media format under the sun; audacity, a great audio editor; the gimp, every bit as good as photoshop but for one infinite-th the price (i.e. free); and we like to burn optical discs, check email, and so on.

the problem is, not everyone agrees with our selection of software tools. some draconian schools and offices deploy only one option for a web browser or an office suite, and don't give you any choices. many of these pcs offer no photo or sound editing software at all, and certainly don't allow you to burn a cd. and what about all those customizations you spent hours making so that your software will work for you rather than against you? they don't just magically follow you to work or school.

but they could.

enter portableapps, the project that takes great open source software and makes it portable: that is, it runs directly off a usb flash drive with no installation required. carry your favorite customized programs and all your data with you everywhere you go. plug your drive into a windows pc and, voila! there are all your apps. the portableapps suite includes a menu that runs in your system tray, so your applications are always at your fingertips. and portableapps also runs on wine, so you can run your apps on a linux or mac computer where wine is installed.

oh, and when you choose which programs to include in your portableapps system, make sure you grab the clamwin virus scanner—you should always check your thumb drive for nastiness after you've plugged it into a strange computer. you never know where that thing's been.

Monday, August 24, 2009

the tablet pc holy grail

for years i've wanted what i thought was a simple thing: a tablet pc running a unix system. unfortunately, the industry has failed to take notice of those of us who refuse to run the train-wreck-that-is-windows and provide us with a useful alternative. many linux aficionados have tried to take one of the readily-available systems and get this or that distribution to run nicely on it, but with proprietary drivers and a lack of manufacturer support, their efforts have met with varying degrees of (non)success. it seems that the tablet unix pc has become as unattainable as the holy grail, filthy english kiniggits and all.

then, i hear the rumor: apple is planning a tablet pc, possibly one that runs the freebsd-based os x ( let the drooling begin. now my dilemma is that i don't know if i can wait; the old macbook pro really needs to be upgraded, and i considered buying a new one last week, which would have guaranteed me a permanent place in the doghouse. but, maybe if i hold out just a few more months, i can tell that silly arthur king when he comes around looking for the grail that i've "already got one."