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From the Editor: May 2005 - Development

Keep Your Options Open

Don Marti

Issue #133, May 2005

Good technology doesn't make you pick sides. Stay flexible with today's most versatile tools and standards.

Last time we did a special issue with a focus on software development, we called it the Cross-Platform Development issue. But really, the overwhelming majority of the software that runs on Linux is cross-platform.

Sure, there are some Linux-exclusive tools, like the kernel debugger Kprobes (page 22). But the rest of the stuff in this issue, from Mozilla's Sunbird (page 14) and Firefox (page 86) to the versatile compiler suite GCC (page 78), is all wonderfully choice-preserving. Want to switch architectures? Use a different operating system? Even swap out your company's business model?

One software vendor I know decided to go from being a “pure software play” to a hardware company and pulled it off in a matter of months. There are even companies that will take your software load and turn it into a Linux appliance with your logo and everything, almost as easy as sending in a CD and manual for duplication.

Some OS vendors profit by imposing a high cost of switching away. But in the long run, it's good to have users who can walk away. It makes you stay good at what you do and gives you instant feedback when you slip. Today's Linux users can get the same applications on a different platform with a quick visit to TheOpenCD.org or fink.sourceforge.net. We're not staying on Linux just because we'd lose time or mangle data by switching away—can any proprietary OS say the same?

As a software developer you have more options today than ever. You're not just choosing open source or proprietary or deciding between direct sales or channel. Develop for Linux and you can easily offer your software as download, shrinkwrap, service or appliance. Get started with development before you have to make a final decision on the business model.

Speaking of choices, Greg Kroah-Hartman has a warning for you: don't try to read files in the kernel (page 38). He and the rest of the core kernel team just don't like it. But guess what? You have the freedom to read files in the kernel anyway. So if you have to do it, do it. An OS developer's decision that something is Bad doesn't apply to you.

In conclusion, beware of any technology that has an “evangelist”. If a platform gives you enough choice that you don't have to trust it, it's a good sign that you can.

Don Marti is editor in chief of Linux Journal.

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