Tuesday, May 16

Software reviews

I've decided to add a new element to this blog: software reviews. I use a ton of software for a number of tasks, and I have played with hundreds of titles in my quest to find just the right tool for the things I like to do with my computer. More often than not I can find a solution with little or no monetary cost, and I want to share the knowledge I have gained in my Web travels.

Before I start down the road of sharing my favorite software with readers, I want to describe my method. Each review will contain the software's Web location, price, download size and will let you know the version number I'm using as a basis for my comments. I'll talk about the type of users for whom the software is designed, why I use it, and what sets it apart from other applications designed to do similar things.

I'll also tell you about the license under which the software is distributed. I'm a big fan of a movement often referred to as FLOSS; i.e. Free/Libre and Open Source Software. (I didn't come up with the acronym; I just use it. It's pretty silly, of you ask me.) The addition of the word "Libre" is crucial: since the word "free" has multiple definitions in English, Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation have chosen to make explicit the difference between software that is available for zero cost (as in "free beer") and software that is liberated from constraint (as in "free speech"). Free/Gratis is the term used to describe the former, and Free/Libre the latter.

Open Source software is that for which the programming instructions (i.e. the "source code") used to create it is available to be seen, reviewed, and even contributed to by anyone with the knowledge and ability to utilize it. This ensures that the program is as error-free as possible, since the world at large is invited to make comments and help in its construction. A common analog with which many people are more familiar is the online reference Wikipedia, the community-driven encyclopedia that owes its level of accuracy to the fact that there is a worldwide community that polices its content.

While I have a strong predilection for FLOSS, not all applications I mention here will be open-source. I'm also cheap, so if I find a closed-source project for which the download is nevertheless free I will likely include it here. Also, the vast majority of my computing is done on a Macintosh, but I will do my best not to focus solely on applications designed for Apple's OS X. The best part about most FLOSS, though, is that it can be easily used on a variety of operating systems, so I will also refer to versions for Windows and/or Linux when they are available.

Later, I will devote my first review to that flagship of open-source programs, Mozilla's Firefox web browser. Look for it (hopefully) within the next week.

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The Geek Code desperately needs updating, but in any case here's mine (as of 2010-02-28):

Version: 3.12
GIT/MU d+(-) s:+>: a C++> ULXB++++$ L+++ M++ w--() !O !V P+ E---
W+++ N o++ K? PS PE++ Y+ PGP t !5 X- R- tv+@ b++ DI++++ D--- e*++
h--- r+++ y+++ G+

If you really care about knowing what that all means, you either know the code already, or you can get it decoded for you here.