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The GNU/Linux and Free Software resource thread


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As suggested my many, I'm going to confine my pro-Linux ranting to this thread.


In it I want to do the following:


1) Explain what free software and Linux is, and why they may or may not matter to you


2) Debunk a lot of myths about GNU/Linux, as well as remove the rose coloured glasses and give folks a realistic expectation of what it can and can't do


3) Give an ever-growing list of end-user software for GNU/Linux that is either identical or functionally equivalent to a Windows/non-free alternative. After all, if an operating system can't run applications that you need it to, it's useless to you.


Firstly some definitions and FAQs:


What is Linux?

"Linux" is a kernel - a small piece of software that talks directly to computer hardware. "Linux" by itself is useless to an end user. It needs some sort of interface to show the user output (graphics, icons, sounds, etc) and some sort of shell/input to recieve instructions (again, icons, mouse/keyboard, etc). Linux is most often paired with the GNU utilities and software such as the graphical desktops GNOME and KDE. The combined name for this entire operating system is GNU/Linux.


What is free software?


Some people would say "software that costs nothing". And surprisingly, they'd be wrong. "Free" means two things in the English language.


From dictionary.com: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/free


Summary: free can mean:


1) Not costing any money


2) Liberated, or removed from restriction.


"Free" in "Free Software" means the second. "Free Software" is often sold for money, and indeed in many countries people make a great deal of money selling Free Software to all markets including home users, education, government and the corporate world.


Why should I care if it's free?


Good question. Let's first examine the "four freedoms" that Richard Stallman (founding member of the Free Software Foundation) believes every user should have when it comes to software (excuse the nerdiness as he starts counting from "0" like a computer):


* The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).


* The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.


* The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).


* The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.


These freedoms sound pretty common sense. They are freedoms you would demand from anything. But all are in jeopardy. Let me give examples:


* The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).


DRM. It's here, and it's bad. So you've bought a movie? And you want to watch that movie on hardware somewhere other than your DVD player or home PC? If you live in the United States, Canada, and shortly Australia, that is a criminal offense. Yes, an offense for running software other than it's intended use as outlined by a foreign company.


* The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.


You've downloaded a piece of software to play a movie, and you want to look at the source code to make sure it doesn't "phone home" and distribute information about you, or install spyware on your computer. Perfectly valid reasoning, but illegal under the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act).


* The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).


School children learn complex computer programs at school. They go home, and find that they can't afford $1000 for the latest Microsoft office. They copy a friend's CD so that they can learn the package with obviously no commercial gain. They have broken the law.


* The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.


Crackers have found a new Microsoft Windows vulnerability! It's spreading like wildfire and costing businesses and individuals millions of dollars. You find a patch, and want to upload it to Microsoft so you can help your fellow man. Under the Windows EULA (End User License Agreement) this is not allowed. Under US copyright law, this is illegal, and criminal.


4 examples spanning a wide range of user types where your freedoms are removed when using non-free software.


Is GNU/Linux the only free software?

No, not even close. Free software comes in many shapes and forms. GNU/Linux is just one of many. I concentrate on GNU/Linux because I find it the most flexible for a range of tasks I need to do for both myself and customers, but it is by no means the only, nor the "best" free software.


I use heaps of freeware already, why is this different?

"Freeware" is a term that refers to software which is free of cost. This software often is still closed and proprietary, and does not allow you access to change, fix or improve it. Despite the small syntactic difference in names, "freeware" is not "free software".

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Now some quick myth debunking.


Linux is just home hobbiest tinker software and homebrew.


GNU/Linux is free as in freedom. Anyone is allowed access to the source code. While there are a substantial amount of "home hobbiests" working on GNU/Linux software, the number of large corporate and commercial programmers working on GNU/Linux outweighs them hundreds of times over.


Anyone who has worked in, with, on or even near a computer in the last 20 years will recognise names like IBM, Hewlet Packard and Novell. All of these companies have heavy IP (Intellectual Property) investments in GNU/Linux, and have provided between them billions of lines of code, all at a very high end of quality. All three companies are responsible for GNU/Linux servers and devices that run the world's banks, hospitals and life support systems, finance and stock market servers, all the way down to office file servers, movie studio render farms, and even average end-user desktops.


You can't make money from free software!

Yes you can. I do, for a start. :)


As mentioned, you can sell free software. That is your freedom. You can sell it for any price you like, to anyone you like, whether you programmed it or not. That is your freedom. Of course, someone else is free to do the same at a lower price than you. :)


As already mentioned, IBM, HP and Novell all sell free software. They sell it for big bikkies too (try and get a quote from IBM for some Linux servers, but make sure you're sitting down first). Some of these companies sell hardware and software bundled together. Some sell just software. The world's most famous all-Linux company is undoubtedly RedHat, who arguably were the world's first corporate-targetting all-GNU/Linux company:



Other companies have since surfaced, including SuSE (now owned by Novell), Mandrake/Mandriva, and a small South African mob called Canonical who are picking up speed with their very user-friendly Ubuntu distribution.


These companies sell not only software, but their service to go with.


Why the hell would you buy something that's free?

Again, the "free" means "freedom", not "no cost".


But, GNU/Linux distributions are usually free of cost to download. Some even will send you a printed CD for no cost, and even pay for the shipping? So why would you buy it? Good question.


As mentioned, service is the big answer there. Big companies fear being left in the cold. Nobody wants to buy some software and have no-one to train them on how to use it, or fix it when it goes wrong.


Now, let's go back to our three of our 4 freedoms:

* The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).

* The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

* The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.


Free Software gives businesses the freedom to do all of this. Further more, one of the big perils of business is "vendor lock in". There's nothing worse than signing a 5-year support contract with a company, and then having them treat you like dirt. I've been through it dozens of times: a company buys some non-free software with a support contract, the support people play nice for 12 months but then all of a sudden turn nasty and start charing for every phone call and every email making the cost of support 10 times what was first advertised. In the process, the company who bought the software are stuck as they can't improve the software themselves, and they can't hire someone else to improve it either.


Free Software gives businesses the freedom to change support personnel. Having the source code ensures that new developers can be called in, and they can fix and adapt the software to the comany's needs.


Look that's great, but I'm a home user and I don't care about support nor the corporate world - I'm just a home user

Valid point. But freedom is more than support. With free software you can set up software any way you like, with no need to worry about corporate-style licensing. Want a mail server at home? Sure, you're free to do that without paying for Microsoft Exchange. Want to give your grandma a copy? Sure, you're free to do that without buying another license. Want to have a go at writing a website or program yourself? Sure, you're free to make yourself a web server or write and compile code without needing to buy expensive corporate-focussed software that is way beyond what the home user needs.


What's a "distro"?

GNU/Linux is free - free to modify, free to improve, free to redistribute. As such, many companies and individuals roll their own distributions (or "distros") which are just collections of pre-packaged free software. The choice of distro is largely irrelevant - they all have pros and cons and no single distro is "the best". Users are free to pick the one that suits their need.


Some distros focus on different things: some are designed for desktops, some for servers, some for personal video recorders, some for embedded devices, and some just to be really nerdy and hard to use.


What's with all these "distros"? Why don't they just make one Linux and be done with it?

GNU/Linux is about freedom. Freedom of choice is a MASSIVE freedom, and one that everyone deserves.


The question is: whose distro is the best? Whose distro is the most correct? Well, I know which one *I* like the best, but who's to say that my preference would meet the needs of everyone else?


Switching to GNU/Linux can be a daunting task for new users, there is no doubt. When I first started using Linux there were one tenth the amount of distros there are today.


My advice to new-to-Linux users is this: pick a distro with good *COMMUNITY* support. Go to the disto authors website, and look to see if they have forums or mailing lists. Even people like me with 10+ years of Linux experience run into hurdles occasionally. Having a forum with thousands of users all in the same boat helps. Again, going back to the 4 freedoms: an important freedom is the need to help your neighbour. One that resonates loudly through the Linux community.


I hate using Linux - what are my other options?

As mentioned, Linux is not the only free software out there. BSD is a popular alternative to Linux, and comes in many flavours. One popular alternative is Apple's MacOSX. While the GUI frontend desktop is not free software, the underlying architecture and kernel are. Plenty of GNU free software makes Macs run today. If you're a Mac user reading this in Safari, you are actually using Apple's modified version of the free "Konqueror" Linux web browser!


And if you still want to stick with Windows, there is TONNES of free software making it's way to Microsoft's baby. I would hazard a guess that a lot of you are reading this from the Mozilla Firefox web browser. Or perhaps you read your email and RSS feeds in Mozilla Thunderbird. Perhaps you write documents in Open Office. Even this very forum you are using now is built on free software (and another example of free software that somebody paid for, because it was worth the cash).


Even after all is said and done, if people can't give up Windows, it doesn't mean they are restricted from using free software. Again, free software is about freedom - even if you don't want to run a free OS, you can still run free software. That is your freedom.


That will do for now. There's a lot of information there to digest. Later, I'll get right into the meat of it and start listing some useful applications that people need in their day to day lives. As mentioned: an OS without Apps is useless. So what do we Linux users actually do on our desktops? Find out next time...

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Good work Elvis, can I also suggest that all debates on the Linux vs other OS be confined to this thread.


In the common name of forum member's sanity and keeping the forums uncluttered, I whole-heartedly agree.


I also want to let the existing "Vista, DRM, your rights" thread continue being about DRM implementations themselves and what limitations they bring, and not an OS-war. I'm happy to offer DRM-free suggestions in this thread as a totally separate topic.

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Hey Elvis, nice info you're spilling out there :cool:

Have you ever used or do you have any opinions on Cedega?

It's suppose to let you run a bunch of windows games in linux




There is a subscription version and a free CVS version available or something :unsure

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Have you ever used or do you have any opinions on Cedega?

It's suppose to let you run a bunch of windows games in linux




There is a subscription version and a free CVS version available or something :unsure


This is another great example of "Free Software" that costs money.


Cedega, by TransGaming:



How do I get Cedega?


If you want to use Cedega as a point-and-click simple install-and-play option, you must buy it and a subscription/maintenance fee. This is a good idea for most people as (a) it's really cheap and (b) it gives you access to trained staff who are on hand to offer help over email.


Cedega is open source software, and the source code can be downloaded and compiled without paying the subscription fee. If you know what you are doing, or are willing to try the product without the pay-for support, this is fine. However if you run into problems, you're on your own.


You can extract the Cedega source from a system called CVS (Concurrent Version System). For the non-programmers, CVS is a "database" style software repository that is popular with projects where a lot of people work on the same code. Anyone who's worked on a simple network knows the dangers of multiple users opening and editing documents at the same time. When documents get saved back to their server, whoever saves last is the one whose version overwrites everyone else's changes. Not good. CVS is a "smart" system that tracks the differences between verious uploaded source code files (even if the same file has been edited in multiple places by the more than one person). It then lets you rebuild a complete source code set by extracting these "diffs" and building a source tree on your local machine.


What does Cedega do?


Computer games of old were written for "bare-metal" hardware. Programmers wrote directly to CPU and RAM to manipulate data at a hardware level. As CPUs become more complex and games got larger, this method of programming became inefficient. Plus more and more different CPUs come out every year, and it makes it hard for programmers to keep up. As such, games became written for high-level APIs (Application Programming Interface). A layered approach was taken where a programmer could program for an API, and the API took care of talking to the hardware.


On Microsoft Windows, common game-focussed APIs include OpenGL and Direct3D. OpenGL (as the name suggests) is open (free software), but Direct3D isn't. A typical DirectX API "stack" in windows would look like this:


You (the gamer)

The game software

Input/Output Devices (screen/speakers/keyboard/mouse/joystick)

Microsoft DirectInput, DirectSound, DirectDraw

Microsoft Direct3D

Microsoft HAL (Hardware Abstraction Layer)

Microsoft Windows

Windows kernel + Your video card driver

Hardware (video card, CPU, RAM, etc).


Information travels up and down this stack as you play the game. The beauty here of course is that programmers only ever need to write games for DirectX. Likewise, you can easily change your CPU, RAM or Video Card and as long as you have the right driver, don't need to change the game. Some of you reading this now will remember a time when games were written only for particular graphics or sound cards! That certainly was an expensive time to be a PC gamer. :)


So what does Cedega do? Well, DirectX is closed and proprietary. This makes it a problem for Linux gamers. How do they play their favourite games under their favourite OS without Windows?


Cedega is a software layer that emulates Windows and DirectX system calls, much like MAME or any other emulator would emulate calls to other phantom hardware and software that doesn't exist, but is emulated and/or simulated at a software level.


There are many other projects out there that do the same. WINE (amusingly stands for "WIndows Is Not an Emulator") is a truly free product, and one that will easily handle most 2D Windows applications (I use it to run ClrMAMEPro - the Windows-only MAME ROM manager - under Linux):



Another is Crossover, which was actually first written by a Nasa employee in his spare time because Nasa moved their operations to Linux, but at the time there was no viable office package (of course now there are many), and he wanted to use MS Office:



(Note that Crossover uses a lot of WINE code - this is the beauty of free software: developers can share and expand on each others code, and even make a living from it if it's good enough).


Cedega is slightly different. It is one of the first products that, while still doing what WINE and CrossOver do, concentrates heavily on 3D graphics, and in particular games. Lets look at our software stack above, but now with Cedega in the picture:


You (the gamer)

The game software

Input/Output Devices (screen/speakers/keyboard/mouse/joystick)

Microsoft DirectInput, DirectSound, DirectDraw

Cedega DirectX <-> SDL converter

Microsoft Direct3D

Cedega Direct 3D <-> OpenGL converter

Linux HAL/SDL/OpenGL

X-Windows (graphical interface for Linux and UNIX)

Linux kernel + Your video card driver

Hardware (video card, CPU, RAM, etc).


So, a few things have changed. Cedega with the aid of software technologies like SDL (Simple DirectMedia Layer) and OpenGL (Open Graphics Language) take DirectX calls, and turn them into calls for other 3D graphics, sound, input and screen drawing libraries on the fly, as the game plays.




Does this introduce lag or slowdown? For the vast majority of games, no. All of these technologies are VERY lean. They were designed from the get go for high-speed 2D and 3D graphics, and despite changing APIs externally, introduce no slowdown to the gamer thanks to their speed of execution and clever design.


Which games does Cedega work with?


TransGaming maintain a compatibility list here:



There are quite literally THOUSANDS of games that work 100% with Cedega, and hundreds more that are partial or work in development. Transgaming aren't leaving DirectX9 high level shader languages alone either, they have solutions in place for people who have DirectX9 and OpenGL2 cards so that all the DX9 bling and eye candy won't be lost under Linux gaming.


Browse the database and see if the game you want is listed. Often there will be screenshots of other users actually playing the game native under Linux.


So, that's TransGaming Cedega in a nutshell. Gaming is probably one of the biggest hurdles for Windows->Linux switchers. I would recommend if you are a hardcore tournament-playing PC gamer, Linux may not be suitable for you as a single system. But don't forget that you can dual-boot! For a long time I used "GNU/Linux for work, Windows for play" as my mantra. Although in recent years my PC gaming as dropped to zero, and so my Windows partition was completely wiped around 4 years ago to make space for work stuff under Linux.


Casual gamers, TransGamer offers a wonderful solution to play games under GNU/Linux. If you have experience compiling software from CVS, try the download version out. There are plenty of guides on the net on how to download, compile and run it. If you like it and use it regularly, I urge you to buy the subscription. Not only does it support the people who write this code, it also sends a message to game makers that Linux is a viable target platform for games. After all, native Linux gaming is what we GNU/Linux users really want. Even for non-PC-gamers like myself, native GNU/Linux gaming would be the straw that broke the camel's back for many Windows users who are desperate to leave Windows, but see it as their only option for their hobby.


So that's the gaming topic covered. Later today if I get time I'll get down to the serious business of WORK. (Yes, it's a dirty four letter word, but some of us have to do it sometimes).

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Installing software on GNU/Linux


A note before I start on specific software:


Most Linux distributions include a "package manager". This is a marvelous piece of software that, as the name suggests, manages the various software packages on your computer.


Think of it like "Windows Update" for your entire PC, not just Windows - it will update and maintain every single piece of software on your system. Not only that, but every package I'm going to mention is included in the package manager and means that if you install it this way, it will self-update as new and improved versions come out over the months/years.


Windows users are very used to downloading .exe files directly off websites and installing/running them. While this is possible to do with Linux executables (note fore new users: Linux executables do not contain the ".exe" extension) it is not recommended. Instead, I wholly recommend you learn your particular distro's package manager, and how to use it. Not only can you use it to install the 10,000+ different free applications available, but it will keep all installed programs up to date (not just the OS).


You will occasionally need to venture outside the package manager to install things, but please use this as your last resort. If you use a distro with good support forums, you may find a kind soul or organisation who has set up a "repository" for the software you want, and they have volunteered to maintain it over time. If you can, utilise these as they will give you far less grief over time.


Ubuntu users, click Applicaions -> Add/Remove to start the graphical package manager up. Search via the provided categories, or use the search tool if you know the exact name of the package. Chapter 3 of the Ubuntu documentation covers this in detail:



For other distro users, seek your distro's documentation to find out where a similar application is.


I will provide web links for all software I talk about. Please use these for research and information only. If you want to install the software, again I urge you to use your system's package manager, and not download stuff directly from websites for all the reasons I outline above.


Office Software


Lets get stuck right into it with office software. Microsoft Office is by far and large the most common corporate-style Office package there is, and a very large reason why users choose Microsoft Windows as their platform of choice. As a user looking to switch to Linux, there's a very good chance you will need to use some sort of office software at some time.


There's absolutely no shortage of Office software for Linux. Getting stuck straight into the options:


Open Office



I'm a big fan of Open Office. It's available for Linux, Windows and MacOSX, so even non-Linux users can benefit from this. I find it a completely comprehensive Office system packed with more features than even Microsoft Office. Many of my Windows-using clients have switched to this and found it to be a great alternative that offers them better workflow and more options than Microsoft Office. Plus upgrades are free, which means no more paying hundreds of dollars per workstation to keep up to date with the latest standards.


It comes with the following components:


Open Office Writer:



Standard word processor. Has an ENORMOUS range of dictionaries (great if you speak or write multiple languages - I come from a Dutch father and a French mother, so this suits me perfectly). Will read from and write to almost every document standard including Microsoft Word. It can also export directly to PDF without the need for Acrobat software. By default all OO packages use the international standard XML-based document filetype (which takes up a LOT less space than MS Office's filetypes, I might add). This default can be changed if the user you are setting it up for can't understand the difference between filetypes, and needs to interact with all-Microsoft users.


Open Office Calc:



Spreadsheet. Like Writer, it will read from and write to MS Excel documents, and export to PDF.


Open Office Impress:



Read/write PowerPoint presentations. Exports to PDF, and to Macromedia Flash SWF files for use on the web. Great for making a presentation, and then putting it on a website afterwards.


Open Office Math:



If you've ever tried to document maths information in a word processor, you'll know how maddening it is to store all the special symbols. OO Math is a dedicated maths tool for doing just this. Great for students, engineers, technicians, or anyone that needs to document maths formulae. As usual, PDF export is there.


Open Office Draw:



Easy to use drawing package that allows you to do things like flowcharts, coversheets, and other useful documents. I've lost count at how many network diagrams I've drawn up in this. And you guessed it, PDF export.


Open Office Base:



Database forms frontend. Will tie nicely into MySQL and PostGRESQL database engines. As of Oopen Office 2.0 I believe there is now MS Access compatibility added too, but I have not used it.


GNOME Office



IMHO not as fully featured as Open Office, but a much more lightweight alternative for people who either have older/slower machines, or just need a simple set of tools that aren't as heavy as Open Office. Work is being done to port the suite to Windows and Native MacOSX, but Mac/X users can use it now via FINK.


Unlike Open Office, the following can all be installed separately. No need to download everything if you only want a single part.


Components include:


Abi Word:



Nice quick word processor with all the features you'd expect.





The original spreadsheet tool for Linux. This has been around a long time, and again is a nice light alternative to Open Office.





Database frontend to plug into MySQL. I've not used it, so I can't comment.





The KDE team are never out done. They too have a comprehensive office suite. Like GNOME-Office, there's no compulsion to install all components. Install only what you need if you want to keep a lean system:











Aka Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access. You know them well.





Line/flowchart drawing.





Vector art tool. Similar to Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, Xara and Inkscape.





Basic image editor. Similar to a lightweight Adobe Photoshop or GIMP.





Resource management, planning and Gantt charting ala Microsoft Project. Excellent tool for planning any multi-person project.





Like Open Office Math, it's a formula writer for the mathsy folks out there.


That pretty much covers the popular alternatives. There's more out there, but these are the most popular and mature/usable for home users, students, and corporate offices alike.


All of these systems are free (as in freedom) and free (as in no cost). Don't feel that you need to limit yourself to one system. Try them all out and see which suits your needs the best. As mentioned, I use Open Office primarily, but it lacks a Gantt Charting tool for when I do project work, so I switch to KOffice's KPlato system for that. I'll talk about desktops a little later on, but GNOME users can happily use KDE programs and vice versa. Don't be afraid to try programs from other desktop systems!

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ReactOS is an entirely free GNU/Linux-based operating system with a difference:


It is designed from the ground up to be a true Windows replacement. It's only in alpha stages at the moment (for the non-programmers: this means it is early in it's development, probably unstable, and not recommended for true production use).


With tools like WINE, QEMU and other Windows virtualisation layers built in, it's goal is to be an equivalent operating system to Windows that allows users to download and run standard 32bit Windows .exe files without any extra work.


For people who want to escape Windows, but find that their core applications (or close equivalents) are not available on other platforms, this could be the answer for you. I know for a lot of small-business clients of mine, they are desperate to leave Windows but are stuck with it due to programs like MYOB, Quicken, and others being mandatory to their business and the way it interacts with other businesses (accountants in particular seem to be a bunch that refuse to work with you if you don't give them the right filetypes from their in-house software).


There's still a few years of development left before this gets to where it needs to be, but in the meantime it's available for people to download and test.


Check the screenshots page:



and you can see a wide variety of Windows programs running natively in this Windows look-a-like OS, despite being driven by a GNU/Linux underneath.

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Graphics Programs


Before I start, a quick note on graphics image types. There are two major types of graphic data: raster and vector.


Raster is a map of bits (a "bitmap") where each pixel (dot) is one piece of information, stored digitally as a colour. Raster images are great for storing "noisey" data such as photographs and other images, but scale poorly (they get blocky when you scale them higher).


Common raster formats include JPG, PNG, GIF, TIF, BMP, etc.


Vector is graphic information that is stored mathematically in information such as lines, shapes, colour fill and gradiants. Vector information is preferred in the print industry, as it allows images to scale without losing any quality, and makes prints come out clear and precise without blockiness or artifacting. Vector information works well at storing simple "illustration" style graphics where colours are uniform and/or in even gradients.


Common vector formats include PDF, EPS, PostScrpt, AI (Adobe Illustrator) and CAD formats like DWG, DXF, etc.


GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program)


Raster editor.


The grand daddy of non-free image editing is of course Photoshop. It's so popular it's now a verb! ("Hey, did you see that picture where that guy photoshopped a bunny to put a pancake on it's head?").


GIMP is an alternative package that comes pretty close to providing the same functionality. Available on Windows, Mac and Linux it caters for the needs of most folks easily. For a low-end user like me, I can resize images, save them as different file formats, happily import from formats like PDF or Photoshop PSD, colour correct, change colour channels and other filters, do red-eye reduction, and all the usual tricky tools like layering, clone stamping, cropping and warping, etc, etc.


GIMP's biggest downfall is that it only supports RGBA (Red Green Blue and optionally Alpha). This is fine for people who only use images for output to TV/monitor (eg: websites, movies, etc). For print people, the CMYK (Cyan Magenta Yellow blacK) colour space is missing. GIMP devs have been saying it will be added for a while now, but so far no dice.


GIMP can still happily print to a colour printer of course. I print all of my arcade artwork via GIMP and am happy with it. For professionals who need proper industry-quality colour correction, it unfortunately falls short.


All in all it's a great package and for 99% of the population who only use 10% of the features anyway, a perfect substitute for Photoshop.




Vector editor.


Similar in style to Adobe Illustrator or Xara Extreme, this is a simple vector editor that's perfect for folks wanting to output clean SVG or PDF information for web use or print.


It has some very handy tracing software built in to convert Raster to Vector and enabled you to scale to your heart's content. I wrote a thread with some examples here:



Allows drawing of simple line objects, or complex gradients and transparencies. I use Inkscape frequently for drawing my own arcade sideart and marquees, and the results are quite nice.


Inkscape imports Adobe Illustrator files, and freely outputs to all filetypes including PDF, EPS, SVG, etc.




Page Layout


Akin to Microsoft Publisher, Scribus is a free page layout and desktop publishing application. Handy for all sorts of weird documents, like resturant menus, kids school assignments, newsletters, multi-coloumned text, etc, etc. Outputs to PDF which makes mass printing easy.


Open Office Draw









Already mentioned above in the "office" section, so I won't go into detail here again. These cover the basic needs of most non-graphic-artist users who need simple image editing and drawing functions to add to their office documents.




3D content creation, editing and rendering


Similar to 3D Studio Max, Maya and other 3D systems, this allows creation, rendering and animation of anything, limited only by the user's skill. It's been used in some big-budget movies in hollywood, and is picking up steam in the 3D community.


Creation and rendering tools like this cost literally thousands of dollars per single license. Blender is free (as in freedom and as in free beer), and just as powerful.


As usual, Windows, Mac and Linux all supported.




2D Computer Aided Drafting/Drawing


Simple 2D CAD package similar in functionality to the early days of AutoCAD (before they went all 3D). I use QCad entirely for all of my arcade machine design and builds, arcade joystick designs, laser cutting, etc, etc.


It works only in DXF format (an older format supported by most CAD programs on the market), and is a suitable format for most engineering firms and laser cutters if you want to provide them with a digital file to work from.


Most Linux distros will include QCad's "community" version (comes with no commercial support, but is identical to the commercial version). Source is available and will compile cleanly on Mac (I think it's also in FINK). For Windows, you'll need to either compile it up yourself in MinGW, or buy a pre-compiled version. I've been meaning to get off my arse and build a windows version for some friends, but never got around to it. Most of them are happy enough to dual-boot Linux to use CAD anyway.

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im seriously thinking about gulp... removing xp and trying linux someone wanna hold my hand :evil


or better yet does someone want to come and do it for me lol


I've offered before and I'll offer again: if you're in Brisbane and want to try Linux but want the assurance that someone experienced is there to help, I will come to your house for an afternoon one weekend and guide you through it, completely free of charge. I've got over 10 years of commercial Linux server and desktop experience. I can set up anything you need from a working desktop system to a home server, and give you all the insider tricks and tips you can imagine to make Linux that little bit less painful.


If you're not Brisbane based, I'm happy to offer free email and/or phone support to all Aussie Arcade members. You guys are a top bunch, and I'll do whatever it takes to help you discover freedom from non-free software.


Remember that distros like Ubuntu come on "Live CDs". That means you don't even need to install Linux on a hard disk to try it out. You can boot from the CD and it will load you into a fully functional desktop. Muck about with it all you like, and if it goes pear-shaped, just eject the CDROM and reboot back into your untouched system.


Cheers elvis. Just installed QCad.

Nice work. I was lucky enough to pick up some CAD skills when I had my stint as IT manager for HOK SVE (the architects and engineers responsible for Stadium Australia (later renamed Telstra Stadium), Lang Park / Suncorp Stadium, Wembley Stadium in the UK, and almost all of the Major and Minor League Baseball and NFL stadia in the USA).


If you want some pointers on how to draft quicker and make use of extremely nifty tools like the trim/extend tools, let me know and we'll organise a get together. CAD is one of those things that's not very intuitive, but once you learn some tricks you can draw up almost anything in mere minutes at superb levels of detail.

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If you want some pointers on how to draft quicker and make use of extremely nifty tools like the trim/extend tools, let me know and we'll organise a get together. CAD is one of those things that's not very intuitive, but once you learn some tricks you can draw up almost anything in mere minutes at superb levels of detail.


Now that offer sounds great. When you feel like a trip to the Gold Coast, (or me up your way), we should let each other know. Thanks

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Windows and Linux living in harmony in Enterprise




A short essay on the pros and cons of Windows and Linux, and how they can complement each other and compensate for the other's shortfalls.


This post will be aimed mostly at system administrators, corporate monkeys (like me), and possibly even MCSEs.


Throughout this post, I ask anyone who's familiar with Windows licensing and pricing to consider the direct cost savings of what I talk about (the licenses themselves), as well as the indirect (remote access, unlimited connections, etc, etc).


Windows and Linux - their history


Windows started life as a low-end, single-user desktop system. Over the years, networking and multi-user code was tacked on, and with it came the headache of multi-user system management, file-system security for non-admin users, and a host of other stuff that makes it a rather awful server system to try and implement securely.


Linux is the polar opposite. It started it's commercial life in large enterprise on whopping big servers as a UNIX replacement. Built from the ground up as a huge, multi-user system it too followed the UNIX tradition of being network-focussed from day one. As addons came along like the GUI, they stayed true to the "the computer is the network" philosophy, but while maintaining it made life difficult for the end user. Even today despite it's leaps and bounds, Linux as a GUI desktop still has it's shortfalls.


Both OSes have come far, and have a large corporate following. Both have their obvious pros and cons. Luckily they can exist together happily in the same network, and even leverage each other's strengths to reduce their own weaknesses.


Active Directory and Windows Domains


So you want to run Windows on desktops in a corporate network, using Domain log-ons? Not unusual by any stretch of the imagination. Windows desktops are fairly cheap, and have a lot of corporate-focused software.


Windows Servers on the other hand are often an easy target for viruses and worms, as well as cost big bikkies for licensing. For each connecting user, despite already having bought a Windows desktop license, Microsoft charge you yet another license fee. For small business, that can get exy. Consider your average 5-man small business who has to pay $250 per desktop for Windows XP, and $799 for Windows Server. Add another 5 users, and that's another $250 per desktop, and another $600 for a 5-license pack for Windows Server. That ends up costing the business far more in software and licensing than they probably paid in hardware!


Enter Linux.


It surprises me just how few MCSE's understand HOW Windows works. They know WHAT to do, but frequently not WHY they are doing it.


A quick lesson in Windows domains:


Windows Active Directory and NT domains are nothing magic. They are made up of the following components:


LDAP: Lightweight Directory Access Protocol. A lightweight database system that is "tree" like in structure, and contains a parent/child relationship system of users, passwords, and other attributes (groups, contact and email addresses, etc, etc).


LDAP was not invented by Microsoft. LDAP is an open standard implemented by many pieces of software, including OpenLDAP (previously named Slapd):



Kerberos: An encryption scheme used to wrap LDAP and other data in. Again, an open standard:



CIFS/SMB/NMB: Common Internet File Services / Server Message Block / Name Message Block. Gobbledygook meaning "how to send files over a network". These are the two primary protocols used by Microsoft networking for file sharing, print sharing, mapped drives, NetBios name resolution, etc. Once again, free (as in freedom) implementations exist in the form of the massively useful and widely used SAMBA:



When a Windows Server isn't a Windows Server


Now here's the kicker: OpenLDAP + Kerberos + SAMBA = A Windows server replacement? Cost for 1 user? $0. Cost for 1,000,000 users? $0. License free. Quite often Kerberos can be removed from the equation to lower complexity also.


Where I work right now, we have 1500 users on Windows desktops who all connect to a "Windows Domain". They share files on a "Windows File Server". The tricky part is, none of it is actually Windows. It's all SAMBA and LDAP backend. Adding users by the truckload costs nothing in licensing, as long as Desktop machines have the correct license installed. Very cheap, and very easy to maintain.


Any Windows server admin worth their salt will tell you backup domain controllers are mandatory: and they are right. No hardware is perfect, and servers do occasionally go boom. Once more, Linux to the rescue. Building a "BDC" costs only the hardware you want to implement it on (less if you use Xen Hypervisor "virtual machines" like we do - more on these later).


Want the best of both worlds? A Linux/SAMBA box can happily act as a BDC to a real world Windows Server box. Great for people who need a backup, but still want to maintain their Windows boxes in operation. Happy co-existence for all.


Furthermore Linux makes backup and restore a piece of cake. Unlike Windows, Linux has no registry or hidden information. All information is stored in logical places (/etc contains system-level configuration, /var/lib contains variable libraries, such as the LDAP database). All of these are plain-text files that can be backed up with a simple copy and zip. Then when it comes time to restore, unzip back to their original location, and restart the service. No reinstalls, no license numbers, no headaches. I can have a domain controller built from the ground up and fully functional in 15 minutes. Less if I script it. There's nothing like telling your CEO that even in the event of a "total destruction" fire/cyclone/flood, you can have a site office converted into a working server room in half an hour or less. Disaster recovery under Linux quickly becomes a very tempting alternative to the hair-pulling experience of Windows restores from tape, or the utter shitfit Windows has when changing underlying hardware (more on that later).


Now a quick "gotcha":


Samba is currently at version 3. This implements a full WindowsNT4 style domain and all associated goodies. Currently this means no group policy. This is a must for quite a few businesses, and writes off Samba as a valid alternative.


But have no fear! Samba 4 is now in testing phase, and implements a full and complete Windows Server 2003 (and upcoming Vista Server) Active Directory, complete with built-in LDAP/Kerberos (no need to install and configure a separate system), and complete Windows Server Group Policy objects and control. Release is due probably mid to late this year, and is an exciting prospect for anyone who wants to look at the possibility of implemented a true and up to date "Windows on the desktop, Linux on the server" network.


More to come....

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Windows vs Linux - Hardware support


There's quite a misnomer that Linux has poor hardware support. This is the sort of thing that gets perpetuated when long-time Windows users run Linux for the first time, and can't find downloadable drivers for their hardware.


That's usually because there are no downloadable drivers.


What??? No downloadable drivers? How the hell does Linux work??? Good question.


Linux as a kernel is called a "Macro Kernel" (compared to the BSD and Hurd Kernels, which are "Micro Kernels"). Linux is an "everything and the kitchen sink" approach to making a computer run.


When a Linux kernel is made, it contains drivers for all known hardware. These can be compiled into the kernel directly (handy for embedded devices like phones, PDAs, PVRs, etc) or they can be compiled as individual modules. The latter is handy for distributions like Ubuntu, where the person writing the distro doesn't know what hardware the end user will use.


Distros like Ubuntu, RedHat, SuSE, Debian, etc use the "throw it all at the wall and see what sticks" approach. Each one uses roughly the same Linux kernel, and as the system boots simply tries to load each and every driver. If a driver finds it's corresponding hardware, the driver stays. If not, the driver unloads.


Now this sounds long and painful, but it's not. On a low-end 1.5GHz desktop, you'd be lucky to see this section of the boot process take longer than 5-10 seconds.


The disadvantage is that if your hardware is not supported by the Linux kernel, finding a driver and adding it in requires a bit of Linux knowhow. And if you upgrade your kernel later, it can break the driver support, and you'll have to do the process again.


The advantages of course is that Linux knows about tens of thousands of pieces of hardware. For most users running on common hardware, compatibility with Linux is a no-brainer. Simple install Linux, boot into a clean system, and everything JUST WORKS. No driver installs, no hardware conflicts, nothing. Less time screwing around in hardware manager, and more time doing real work.


Further more, installing new hardware is painless. Power down, install new hardware, power up. Linux finds it, and loads a driver for it. Done.


Anyone who is still a fan of Windows' manual driver loading process, try this experiment:


Take a working Windows system. Either desktop or server, it doesn't matter. Now power down cleanly, and remove the hard disk. Take that hard disk and put it in another machine with completely different hardware (different graphics card, different chipset, different brand of CPU). Power up, and see what happens. At best you'll spend 15-30 minutes reconfiguring devices, loading new drivers manually, etc. At worst, the system will bluescreen and you won't be able to use it. Reinstall time for you.


Do the same with a working Linux system, and it's a different story. Linux boots, detects the new hardware on the fly, and loads the appropriate drivers. In fact, every boot for Linux is the same - boot, detect hardware, load OS. Whether it's been on the same hardware since day dot, or you change hardware every day, it's the same loading process.


I have on numerous occasions now rescued businesses but throwing known working hard disks from servers that have blown RAM/motherboards/etc into a completely different system, and it's booted fine and the business can continue as normal. See my earlier comment about telling your CEO that you can convert a site office into a working server room in under an hour in the event of your head office being totally destroyed. In terms of business, that's great reassurance.


RAID, LVM and enterprise disk management


RAID: Redundant Array of Inexpensive/Independent Disks


RAID is a way of writing information to multiple disks in one go. Whether it's splitting the information up so each disk writes half as much (so the write is twice as quick - called "RAID0" or "striping"), or simultaneously writing the same data to 2 or more disks at once (meaning that if one fails, the other can take over on the fly and the system notify you that you need to replace the busted one - called "RAID1" or "mirroring"). More complex RAID exists where data can be split over multiple disks (for speed) but also calculate a CRC (Cyclic Redundancy Check) dataset that allows a broken disk to have it's information rebuilt mathematically after a new disk is installed (called "RAID5" or "striping with parity"). Very useful, but touch on resources like CPU calculations.


There are 2 types of RAID: Software and Hardware.


Now here's the tricky bit: a lot of people incorrectly assume "Hardware RAID" means it comes on a card or chip. THIS IS WRONG. Hardware RAID is where a RAID controller has a dedicated RAID calculation CPU (Intel Xscale running at around 300MHz is a popular choice). You will know a card is hardware RAID because (a) The card will cost more than $600 and (b) because the RAID set will appear to your computer like a logical/virtual drive, and you won't see the individual disks.


Software RAID can be done in pure software, or on a card. Cards like these cheap shit "Promise" devices that sit in the market at anywhere from $100 to $300 are NOT hardware RAID. Despite offering RAID via a card, the actual grunt work for the RAID is done in software via a driver that has some extra code on top that makes your system's CPU do all the hard work. The card itself is dumb, and just passes information back and forth.


Linux has a piece of software built into it called MD (Multi Device). In Linux, hard disks are classified as block devices, called HD (IDE/PATA hard disk), or SD (Serial/SATA/SCSI/USB/Firewire hard disk). MD is a kernel-level virtual device that is capable of marrying ANY two disks (you can have IDE and SATA disks mixed in Linux RAID!) and making a virtual disk that can be configured in any RAID level (0, 1, 5, 6, 10 and 15 are currently the most popular RAID levels). Adding and removing drives on the fly is done by simple command line inputs, and realtime statistics on drive rebuilding, drive health, and other such useful info is output via the Linux virtual "proc" filesystem in plain-text, realtime updated readable files (adding the ability to monitor this over network/internet/web-browser is very simple).


Linux only supports RAID1 (mirroring) on your /boot/ partition. Why? Think about it: the Linux kernel needs to be loaded so it can know what RAID is, but how does it do that on a RAID hard disk? RAID1 is an exact mirror on both disks, so what the kernel does is load from one disk, and then once it knows about RAID, loads in the second disk as the mirror. RAID0, 5 and 6 which all involve striping (one file lives half on one disk, and half on another) is not supported for /boot. However, the rest of your Linux system and especially your user data are free to live on other RAID levels.


When using Linux, I recommend one of the two following alternatives:


Use either a REAL HARDWARE RAID card, or use Linux's built in kernel-level software RAID. Do not, under any circumstance, use a cheap and nasty software RAID card. Why? Several reasons:


1) Driver support for software RAID cards is often proprietary, and involves all sorts of painful configuration for Linux


2) Performance of software RAID cards is typically WORSE than Linux's own internal software RAID


3) Software RAID cards often provide no way of adding and removing drives remotely. For someone like me who administrates servers hundreds of KM away, I simply cannot afford the downtime of flying out to a site just to replace a hard disk when a few simple commands could add in a hot spare, and the onsite admins can take their time replacing the busted drive under warranty.


4) Hardware RAID provides true, independent RAID calculations on the card itself (ironically, most true hardware RAID controllers run a small embedded Linux or BSD subsystem!). Drives appear to the operating system (Windows or Linux) as a single SCSI drive, and the end user is largely ignorant to what goes on "behind the scenes". True hardware RAID cards are preferred to software RAID cards because it can continue working even if the OS has crashed. The downside is that all but the most expensive multi-thousand dollar cards support remote access, and it means that if a drive dies, you're on your bike out to the site to replace a hard disk manually. Although you can add in auto hot failover on failed drives. And if you work in the office where the server is, it's not as huge a drama.


As Linux MD RAID devices are considered true block devices (Linux considers them a "real" hard disk), they can be used in all sorts of tricky ways. Enterprise users will know terms like iSCSI and Fibrechannel. Under Linux, an MD can be exported as either. Using a cheap Linux box and dozen SATA drives, you can build your own iSCSI disk to use on any system you like (where I work we have 2 Linux-iSCSI machines that serve as hard disks for Windows servers), but at around one third as much as commercial iSCSI devices cost!

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LVM - Logical Volume Manager


Migrating drives sucks. You've all been there: your workstation or server disk is full, and the users are bitching that they want more space. You know buying a bigger file server costs money, and the migration is a headache.


Enter LVM!


Linux LVM is a virtual layer that sits over any device. It can live on top of real hard disks, USB hard disks, MD RAID devices, iSCSI and Fibrechannel connects, etc, etc. What it does is create a virtual disk over the top of the physical disks which can be created, destroyed, resized or extended in a few simple commands.


So, lets look at a real-world scenario. I have a graphic design client who chews through disk space like a fat kid goes through ice cream. I built them a Linux server (with SAMBA and LDAP for Windows and Mac file sharing and Domain log-ons). In it I put 2x 80GB hard disks in a Linux-software RAID1 mirror for boot and OS (called /dev/md0 by Linux), and 4x 320GB hard disks in a Linux-software RAID5 stripe+parity (giving them 960GB of space - one disk's worth of space is lost to CRC, but it means they can lose one disk out of the set and keep working without data loss). This is called /dev/md1 by Linux.


Now here's where the smarts come in. Over the top of the 960GB set, I put LVM (which Linux calls /dev/mapper/data, containing one drive called /dev/md1 (which is really 4 drives, but LVM doesn't care). On top of that, I put a normal Linux file system, and then share it all via SAMBA. Each morning, users log on to their Windows workstations, and see their network server share (mapped to drive S:\ in Windows) as 960GB of space.


6 months later, the disk is full! What the hell these guys do, I don't know, but hey - it's their business and not mine. They want more disk space! What to do?


Simple. I run out and buy another 4x320GB SATA hard disks. I plug them into the Linux box. I tell Linux MD RAID to combine them as a single RAID device /dev/md2. I then tell LVM that /dev/mapper/data now extends across two hard disks, /dev/md1 and /dev/md2. Tadaaa! /dev/mapper/data jumps from 960GB to 1920GB (1.9TB - Terabytes). I "unmount" the Linux file system, tell it to resize itself to fill up the rest of the disk, and remount. In 15 minutes, the users now have double the disk space, and there was no need to migrate data to new servers!


LVM has another neat trick called "snapshotting". This is a means of pausing a file system and taking a "snapshot" in time of it's contents. This snapshot can be stored on spare space at the end of the disk, or compressed as an image and sent to another server. If your server blows up, you can either repair it and restore from the image, or simply fire up the image on your spare server, give it the same network details and all of a sudden it's running on a different box, yet none of the users know the difference! Remembering again that Linux servers store all of their config data in plain-text files. No need to restore registries or other complex binary-only files that you can't read. Reconfiguring a server is a matter of overwriting some plain text files and rebooting!


Again, visiting my earlier comment about having a site office become a server room in under an hour. And again for the Microsoft Windows Server users, remember that all of what I describe costs $0 in software. None of what I describe here is Linux-only by any means. But all of what I describe here costs tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in software, licensing and proprietary hardware (most of which is built on embedded Linux/BSD anyway).


So that's part 2 of my enterprise Linux intro. Part 3 is coming later, and will cover virtual machines, virtualisation, hypervisors, and a way to use Windows Server and Linux together and not need to worry about drivers and hardware dramas ever again. :)

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Elvis, this is a wealth of very useful and informative information... and I amongst others appreciate it. You're obviously (!!!) very passionate about Linux.


On the other hand, damn man these are some long posts... it must take you a while to put together... shouldnt you be utilising some of this time for the projects you keep wanting to progress (stickfreaks?)


Your perogative of course, but dont sacrifice your all-important DIY time for preaching to us heathens :D

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On the other hand, damn man these are some long posts... it must take you a while to put together... shouldnt you be utilising some of this time for the projects you keep wanting to progress (stickfreaks?)


Your perogative of course, but dont sacrifice your all-important DIY time for preaching to us heathens :D


When I'm stuck at work waiting for compiles, backups and other such stuff, it only takes me a minute or two to type out the above. I'm a fast typer, and sitting on my arse waiting for things to finish means I can shoot out a post or two quickly.


When I'm at home and the kids are in bed, I'm building sticks and not posting here. :)

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all sorts of free operating systems here




im yet to try this



MenuetOS is an Operating System in development for the PC written entirely in 32/64bit assembly language, and released under License. It supports 64 and 32 bit x86 assembly programming for smaller, faster and less resource hungry applications.


Menuet has no roots within unix or the posix standards, nor is it based on any particular operating system. The design goal has been to remove the extra layers between different parts of an OS, which normally complicates programming and create bugs.


Menuet's application structure is not specifically reserved for asm programming since the header can be produced with practically any other language. However, the overall application programming design is intended for easy 64/32 bit asm programming. Menuets responsive GUI is easy to handle with assembly language.

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Menuet is FAST. The beauty of writing your own stuff from the ground up is you can go nuts on speed and avoid the overhead of big bloated systems like UNIX and Linux.


Menuet is a great candidate for things like Point Of Sale machines, web terminals, etc. If that sort of "ultra small device" thing floats your boat, check out GumStix:




An entire hardware system with wireless ethernet in the size of your average chewing gum stick!


Wikipedia has a list of FLOSS (Free/Libre/Open Source Software) OSes here:



Nice comparison of what architecture they support, what their legacy design was based on, etc.

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Got a challenge for you Dan, Im looking for a GNU alternative to Motion for Mac (made by Apple). OS doesnt matter.


Video editing and compositing will be a topic I cover in depth later on.


For now, check these two out - these are both at the high-end of 2D/3D comp and editing. Definitely not your low-end home movie stuff (I'll cover that later):


Cinelerra: http://heroinewarrior.com/cinelerra.php3


Jahshaka: http://www.jahshaka.org/


Jahshaka in particular has grown crazy quick over the last few months. From what I hear, a few coders from some big Hollywood production houses (George Lucas' ILM and others) have been chipping in development time and making it a really professional tool. Just between you and I, I know a lot of Hollywood studios are getting pretty pissed off at people like Apple, Adobe and Discreet/Autodesk for making low-end crappy software and not letting the studios fix it in house. It seems that at the really high-end of production, open-source software is a must if people want to meet deadlines and deliver cinema-quality footage on deadline.


Unlike medium size business like here in Australia, most Hollywood studios have a team of in-house developers who can fix program bugs quicker and better than most dedicated software companies can. For these guys, even stuff like Motion, Shake, Flame, Inferno and the "big" systems fall short in quality, and open source is the answer.


Dan's tip: learn Jahshaka well. You might end up using it working for a game company or film studio one day!

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Slightly off topic:


One thing I really find funny are online articles that make fun of Linux. I'm as guilty as the next Linux nerd of really taking it all too seriously some times, and websites like the following help me keep it all in perspective.


Uncyclopedia's entry on Linux:



How to install Linux on a Dead Badger:



Funny stuff, especially if you know OSes well (see the "Linux" screenshot which is actually a hacked shot from the failed "Microsoft Bob" project).


Anyways... enough silliness. When I get time I'll finish off the "Enterprise LInux" section with Virtual Machines like Xen, VMWare, QEmu and Parallels. Then I'll get back to talking about the desktop with Audio and Video playing and editing suites.


And please by all means post requests for recommended software if you want to. If you want to try Linux but need a very particular type of application that is essential to your work/hobby/whatever, ask away and I'll try to recommend something that might suit your needs.

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