LJ Archive


Have a Beer, for Free

In Shawn Powers' December 2007 Linux Journal article “Quake, Meet GPL; GPL, Meet Quake”, he states, “As Linux users, we're familiar with terms like, 'Free as in speech and free as in beer'. For the record, I have never understood the latter part of that motto. Beer is rarely free.”

The reason he does not understand the second part is because he is misquoting. The true quote is: “Free as in free speech, not as in free beer.”

I am sadly surprised that the editors of a magazine dedicated to the Linux community did not catch this.


Shawn Powers replies: in the Quake 3 article, I wrote that I didn't fully understand the notion of “Free as in beer.” In the next paragraph, I go on to explain what it means, and left the “I don't get it” part as a silly view of the free beer concept. For the record, I get it. The responses I received via e-mail, however, make me wonder if we, as a community, really do “get it”.

The most common response I got was that I misquoted the free software definition, and that it's supposed to be, “Free as in speech, not as in beer.” The problem is that I wasn't trying to quote the definition of “free software” but rather talk about what is meant by free beer. Trust me, I didn't wrongly coin the idea of software being free as in beer. Just ask Google.

Although I won't ramble on regarding the definitions and social implications of wordsmithing semantics, I will point out something that pains me as a Linux user. If we become an exclusive community that listens only to those versed in the doctrine of the FSF, and we don't remember our grass roots, we're doomed to be an elitist group of snobs.

So, although I understand (mostly) the ideas of free software, and I understand that free beer is referring to getting something for no money, I still say it's hard to find beer for free. So come on in, sit down, and I'll buy you a beer. We can talk about how to get one for free together—and maybe frag each other in OpenArena, because that I know where to get without paying a dime.

Why Dual-Boot?

Regarding James Gray's “The State of the Market: a Linux Laptop Buying Guide” in the December 2007 issue of LJ: if the Linux desktop is so great, why would a Linux laptop vendor not offering dual boot with Windows be considered a negative? Why would Linux desktop users want their Linux laptop to be dual-booted with Windows?

The same could be said of the “My Triple Boot Laptop” article in the same issue. Why is multiple booting with Windows such an important thing?

The real question is, why is the Linux desktop not usable enough to throw Windows away? And, what can we do about it?

Don't get me wrong, I'm a Linux guy and love your magazine!


James Gray replies: Thanks for your message. I get your point and the underlying frustration that comes with it. Although I cannot speak for every Linux user, our community has feistily developed a culture of choice, openness and heterogeneous environments. In other words, we choose the right tool for the job, and make sure every part of the system can interact.

In my case, I am a devoted Linux user 99% of the time, where nearly all of my needs are met. However, for instance, my wife signed us up for the Yahoo! Music service, which I've come to enjoy a great deal. Unfortunately, Yahoo! Music doesn't give a rip (yet) about Linux, and CrossOver Linux won't run the Yahoo! Music Engine (yet).

Actions from companies like Dell, which is now expanding its Linux offerings, prove that the sluggish, mainstream computing world is finally learning what we've known for years—that Linux is here to stay. I and many of our fellow Linuxers keep Windows around as an interim solution until the day of its forthcoming irrelevance.

mkdir Errors Even More Trivial

Upon reading Steeve's letter to the editor in the November 2007 issue of Linux Journal, I was glad to see advocacy of error handling in bash scripts, but I think the “trivial” example provided is elaborate compared to a simple trick that has been available since the days of the original Bourne shell.

The -e flag tells bash to stop executing the script upon encountering any error outside of a conditional expression. Error checking is often omitted simply because it is cumbersome to write. Not only is the -e flag more succinct, but using it makes error checking effortless.

Comparing the two methods is impressive. The longer version produces two error messages:

ecashin@cat ecashin$ cat err-baroque.sh
mkdir -p /foo
if [ $? -ne 0 ]; then
       echo "Error: could not create\
       directory /foo"
       exit 1
echo /foo
ecashin@cat ecashin$ sh err-baroque.sh
mkdir: cannot create directory `/foo': Permission denied
Error: could not create directory /foo
ecashin@cat ecashin$

The shorter version leverages the fact that the Bourne shell design has always made error handling trivial:

ecashin@cat ecashin$ cat err-e.sh
set -e
mkdir /foo
echo /foo
ecashin@cat ecashin$ sh err-e.sh
mkdir: cannot create directory `/foo': Permission denied
ecashin@cat ecashin$

Error handling is a balance between doing too much and doing too little. The -e flag allows us to get the job done without cluttering code or tempting us not to bother.

Ed L. Cashin

Floating-Point Simplicity

I've read Dave Taylor's columns since the first one, and it's nice to see someone writing about shell programming and command lines. In the December 2007 issue of LJ, Dave spoke about the need for doing floating-point operations at the command-line level. You can perform those actions by using a single command line involving bc, as you can see in the following sequence:

$ echo 'scale=4^J11/7' | bc

The ^J is obtained by issuing Crtl-V+Ctrl-J.

Joao Macedo

We Have Not Won the Battle

I picked up the June 2007 copy of LJ today, looking for one of Dave Taylor's articles on bash programming (I'll have to go further back than that issue to find an answer to my query) and opened it at Doc Searls' article “Picking New Fights”.

I'm not too sure that the battle is won, Doc, and here are a couple of cases in point—admittedly both are Aussie experiences; maybe things are better in the good-old US of A?

We had a segment on prime-time TV a couple of days ago on Negroponte's $100 laptop, which was very interesting, with an in-depth discussion of the thought that has been put into the project to enable its use in areas without electricity and to provide a unit rugged enough to withstand its likely treatment—all in an endeavor to bring the world and its consequent education to those of us who are much less fortunate. A full half-hour presentation of a great community service, and there was not one word about Linux. NOT ONE WORD on such an important factor in keeping the price as low as possible, apart from its obvious absolute superiority in a case like this, where I reckon those young minds will revel in the variety and flexibility that Linux can offer.

Here's another example. When an ad from Mindscape Asia Pacific Pty Ltd for “Family Tree Maker Platinum 2008” appeared in my inbox, I e-mailed them, asking what OSes were supported. There was no information in the ad about operating systems—just the software.

This was their reply:

Hi David, the operating systems supported for the new FTM 17 are Windows XP and Vista.

Kind Regards,

Ann, Mindscape

To which I e-mailed: “No Linux support, eh?”

That message triggered the following:

Hi David, no, I'm afraid no Linux support. That would be something you will need to take up with Family Tree Maker in the US who develops the program. In fact, currently all our programs are Windows- or MAC-based with single-user licenses in most cases.

Kind Regards,


My response, to which I have had no reply, was perhaps a bit terse: “That's interesting, Ann. One wonders if it wouldn't be in Mindscape's own interests to take this matter up with FTM directly rather ask than a disgruntled prospective client of yours.”

Dave Dartnall

And, the Winner Is...

In the December 2007 issue of LJ, Dave Taylor writes “The challenge with bc is to revamp how you interact with it...to write a shell script wrapper that allows us not only to do simple calculations from the command line, but also have them solved as floating-point calculations.”

This isn't really much of a challenge, and it doesn't require a wrapper:

> echo "11/7" | bc -l

What do I win?

Andrew Fabbro

Thank you for your letter. Your prize is seeing your name in print!—Ed.

LinuxCertified Rocks

I bought my Linux laptop before reading James Gray's “The State of the Market: a Linux Laptop Buying Guide” article in the December 2007 issue of LJ. In view of the cons in that article about LinuxCertified laptops, I would like to report that I bought an LC2100DC laptop from LinuxCertified last August (not reviewed in your article), and that all of the features I use worked flawlessly out of the box. During the build of my machine, I had a phone call or two from LinuxCertified suggesting sensible changes to my original configuration, which I accepted. My laptop came with a CD containing various utilities and drivers, and a complete manual for the laptop. I also received a Feisty Fawn install disk, a Feisty Fawn restore disk (containing additional LC drivers), an XP install disk (not a restore disk), and other disks for the CD/DVD burner software and so on. I was, thus, rather surprised to see LinuxCertified put down for inadequate documentation. I have had quick responses to one or two support issues via e-mail. In short, my experience with LinuxCertified has been completely satisfactory.

Bob Ackermann

Additions to the December 2007 “LJ Index”

I thought I'd add a couple more entries to December's “LJ Index” that, although they don't pertain to the US Constitution, pertain to the founding of our country nonetheless and should be noted so as to not sound biased. (A media, and especially a technology-related, entity would never sound biased against religion though, would they?)

Number of times the word “God” appears in the Declaration of Independence: 1

Number of times the word “Creator” appears in the Declaration of Independence: 1

Number of times the word “liberty” appears in the Declaration of Independence: 1

Number of times the word “freedom” appears in the Declaration of Independence: 0

In addition to these, I believe a useful poll question that should be asked is, how many people believe the US was founded as a religious nation (not necessarily Christian)? I'm sure many more people (more than the 55% who believe the Constitution founded a Christian nation) would agree that this country was founded as a religious country as opposed to a secular one. Neither term is mentioned in the Constitution; however, the Declaration of Independence unquestionably leans toward the religious.

Brandon McCombs

Get Out of Town!

I had to smile at the name of the CTO of RapidMind! [See “Picking the RapidMind”, LJ, November 2007.] If he were living in Ireland, everyone would call him “Mick”, which would be unfortunate for Michael, but a constant source of amusement down in the local pub!

PS. Of course, is that the McCool's from Cork or the McCool's from Derry?


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