LJ Archive

Letters to the Editor


Issue #46, February 1998

Readers sound off.

The Fujitsu 420D

The Fujitsu 400 series [Lifebook 420D Notebook Computer] that I reviewed in November has recently been discontinued in favor of the Fujitsu 700 series. I have been assured by Fujitsu Technical Support that they will continue to honor their warranties and support “legacy” systems such as these. Anyone who succeeds in picking up one extra cheap can be reasonably sure of support for the foreseeable future. Still, it's a bit alarming that a six-month-old machine can be thought of as a “legacy” system. This industry is just nuts sometimes.

—Michael Scott Shappe mshapp19@idt.net

I2O Restrictions

I read the comments about the new I2O device-driver architecture by Phil Hughes just days before my Embedded Systems Programming magazine arrived. In it was an article by Larry Mittag describing I2O in some detail. He did mention the NDA and license restrictions. He reported that the reason for these restrictions is not the I2OSIG itself, but the lawyers and owners of the software patents for this architecture. Apparently, this architecture has been used before in mainframes and the techniques were patented. Thus, it cannot be freely implemented by others unless a license fee is paid.

For this reason, an e-mail campaign to I2OSIG will not be successful. After all, they must comply with the law. However, it sure would have been nice of them to communicate with Linux Journal to clarify the situation.

The League for Programming Freedom (http://www.lpf.org/) is fighting to overturn the concept of software patents. This would not prohibit programmers from copyrighting their code; it just means that an idea—which is what an algorithm is—could not be patented. Their belief and mine is that patents are for physical devices and processes, not for mathematical algorithms.

The only way I see to create a unified driver environment is for developers to refuse to use the I2O specification.

—Jeff Root


It was nice to see an article presenting noweb, one of my favorite tools [Literate Programming with Noweb, Andrew Johnson and Brad Johnson, October 1997].

Although the article did a good job of describing the technical intricacies of creating a noweb-literate program, it did not properly present the idea behind literate programming (LP), nor did it convey the idea that LP can be used by serious software developers. Noweb does not require that the source be in a single file; my preference is to put each project component in a separate directory and to use one noweb source file per subcomponent.

One of the key LP advantages is that the documentation is next to the code, in the same file. Other LP tools that also support multiple programming languages are nuweb and FunnelWeb; check the LP FAQ.

Another noweb feature is that the tangled (extracted) code is readable, indentation and line breaks are respected; therefore, the tangled code can be distributed as if it were the actual source.

Users unfamiliar with LaTeX might be pleased to know that there are several noweb modes for Emacs (I wrote one of them), and that with color highlighting the source file becomes quite readable.

Those interested in LP applied to software engineering can check the low traffic moderated newsgroup comp.programming.literate, and the following books: Knuth's The Stanford GraphBase (Addison Wesley 1993), Fraser and Hanson's A Retargetable C Compiler: Design and Implementation (Benjamin/Cummings 1995) and Hanson's C Interfaces and Implementations (Addison Wesley 1997).

Noweb works perfectly under Linux (or any Unix variant) and there are also versions for Windows 95. Wouldn't it be nice if the full Linux kernel sources were available in noweb format and published as a book? After merging with the Kernel Hacker's Guide it could be used in Operating System courses and perhaps become the next standard format for kernel sources.

—Alexandre Valente Sousa avs@ismai.pt

Comments on LJ issue 43

I was looking forward to receiving my copy of Linux Journal Issue 43 (November 1997). After checking the LJ web site I was drooling about reading of the GIMP and faxing from Macs. However, when my copy arrived I was disappointed at seeing no examples of the GIMP in use. How on earth can you cover a graphics program without any graphics? Sadly, this article seems to have set a precedent as the later article on Linux as a Telephony Platform by David Sugar was also without any illustrations. I hope that this trend does not continue.

Our office FAX machine is antiquated and in need of replacement with something that we can use from our desktop Macs. So I was also expecting good things in Faxing From a Web Page (using HylaFAX on the Mac) by David Weis, but sadly the short article did not address the issues in any depth. An example of the web page used would have been preferable to reproducing just the HylaFAX logo.

They say that if you're going to criticize something or someone then you have to make three positive comments. First, the Linux Means Business article [Highway POS System, Marc L. Allen] was interesting to read. I've worked on EPOS systems so I know some of the pitfalls especially when trying to use MS-DOS machines. Although short, this article did capture the author's obvious enthusiasm for Linux. This series of articles has always been inspiring and thought provoking. Second, the update on IP Masquerading was very helpful. Keeping up to date with all that is happening with Linux kernel issues is not easy, so this article was a timely reminder of what is actually happening. (It also had some illustrations, examples and figures to support the text.) Third, the Take Command, ssh: Secure Shell [Alessandro Rubini] article also served as a timely reminder to be careful out there.

—Trevor Jenkins Trevor.Jenkins@suneidesis.com

Three negatives and three positives—a well-balanced letter. Michael sent in a very long article on the GIMP that just wouldn't fit in one issue, so we requested that he split it into four parts. Our November cover was built with the GIMP and used the graphic that went with this first purely introductory article. We always request graphics and images to go along with articles, but it doesn't always work out—this was the case with the two other articles you mention.

November Issue

I have every issue of the Linux Journal. The issues vary from good to great, which is really just another way of saying that the subject matter of some issues is of more interest to me than others. However, with the November issue, you outdid yourself. I am not sure I can complete it before the December issue arrives. Every article and column was worth a read and then a re-read. Excellent, keep up the good work.

—Richard Parry rparry@qualcomm.com


Please allow me to describe my feelings about all of this: Linux is over my head.

I'm no slouch when it comes to computers. I'm freshly trained, and now on my own as a system administrator with a few Suns, an SGI, an Intergraph and 1 PC (Win95) on a subnet. While my knowledge base may be limited, I'm catching up rapidly. I'm also not a programmer, nor is anyone I work with—they are all just operators. So, hacking a kernel, writing code and everything else that seems to be necessary to use Linux at home is beyond my capabilities and those of most people I know.

I like the Unix environment at work and would love to have the same control at home. As long as I could do on Linux the simple stuff I enjoy on a Windows machine, I'd be happy. Things like surf the web, balance my checkbook, pay bills and e-mail my parents. I know I could if I could only code, but I can't; so, Linux doesn't seem to be for me. Until it is accessible to people like me, the vendors who support Linux will never make the money that that “other” OS does.


More and more applications are being written to make Linux more accessible to the average user. E-mail can be done through your ISP using Eudora or other mail programs. Surfing the web has been available for some time. The majority of web servers are Apache servers running on Linux boxes, and there are many browsers that work with Linux—even Netscape. Applixware and StarOffice take care of word processing and other office needs. Databases abound as this issue proves. Check it all out—it may be easier than you think.


I have been getting Linux Journal since the first issue, and it has always been a great resource. Although I have twenty years experience with Unix and systems work, I still have days like last Tuesday. All I wanted to do was move my printer to a new machine that had a new version of Slackware. I spent all day and never got it working. Arggghhhh! Yesterday, my new LJ [November 1997] came in, I read Bill Cunningham's article Power Printing with MagicFilter last night, came to work this morning and got the printer up and running in no time. Thanks again for the right article at the right time.

—Dennis Director dennis@is3.com

November cover

I just wanted to comment on the November 1997 cover of Linux Journal. It's by far the best one to date, really fantastic! The articles aren't bad either.

—John Wagner jwag@together.net

Kudos from India

This off-and-on LJ subscriber in faraway India feels a terrible urge to let you know that he thinks LJ #43 (November 1997) is a great issue.

I am a Linux user who has had to get things the hard way. When I started (with an SLS distribution on diskettes), Linux was unheard of here in India. As times went by, its popularity grew, but resources were hard to find—no Internet in India until 1995 was one of the main problems.

I subscribed to LJ, and bless you guys every day (I am a datacomm consultant for huge multinational corporations operating in India and Linux is my main battle axe).

In the past two years, India's #1 computer magazine (PC Quest,http://www.pcquest.com/) has distributed Linux on its cover CDs twice. This has helped the number of Linux users in India shoot up in a near vertical fashion. India has always been known as “Unix country”; since we have the world's largest pool of technically-qualified, English-speaking professionals, knowledge of any kind of Unix is a major plus point when one goes job hunting. Many kids are now playing with Linux, which gives them a huge edge when their time comes to pass out resumes.

Unfortunately, LJ is not a “stand-mag” around here, and no local subscription points is another problem (subscribing in US$ is a major pain here). It would be great if you guys could tie up with someone in India, so that more people could get the point. Here, as in many countries, a field/application/OS is treated as serious only if it has publications associated with it.

Keep up the good work. You have an excellent magazine, and your work for the Linux cause is not going unnoticed—even here in far-away India.

—Atul Chitnis achitnis@cbconsulting.com

Imagine1 URL

The URL for downloading the free Linux F compiler from Imagine1, Inc. was left out of my article, Portability and Power with the F Programming Language, published in the October issue of LJ. The correct URL is http://www.imagine1.com/imagine1/.

—David Epstein david@imagine1.com

Comment on your article

I'd like to comment on Mr. Hughes' article in the November issue of Linux Journal.

He offered four suggestions that would make Linux a better solution. Two of them were application programs or packages. I agree that creating new applications would be useful, but I'm also concerned with existing Unix freeware that has yet to be ported or compiled on Linux. There is a huge amount of this freeware available but getting it to build on a Linux box is something else again.

What is needed is a software porting project: a central site to collect information about porting specific applications to Linux. Information such as what changes are needed in the makefile, imakefile or prog.tmpl to get the program to compile. Additionally, information about the problems encountered in trying to compile the app would be very useful. This kind of information would help others who are trying to port applications to Linux. So, the site would be a learning resource as well, and this is perhaps most important.

As the knowledge and ability to port software to Linux increases, the number of applications ported will increase at a faster rate. The site wouldn't need to archive binaries or source code, just the specifics about how to compile and the problems encountered. In addition, it would be useful to include information on who's currently working on which application. This would allow communication between groups or individuals working on the same problem and prevent duplication of effort. More applications will make Linux a better solution, and the easiest way to get them is to port existing Unix freeware. A dedicated site would greatly facilitate the endeavor by effectively harnessing the knowledge and ability of the Linux community.

—George Timmons gwtim@2xtreme.net

vi, most used text editor

First of all, let me tell you how much I appreciate LJ, for the accuracy of the information it gives and the nice tone it uses.

I write you in reaction to the 1997 Readers' Choice Award that the text editor vi received in the December issue. I'm an old addict of this program, and I still find it fast and useful. But I have always promised myself that I would learn Emacs one of these days, thinking I couldn't remain an old dinosaur using such an old tool. The problem is that I always found Emacs far too complicated. So when I saw the Award, I was genuinely surprised so many people think like me and I had a good laugh.

In short, after reading LJ, I decided that, despite vi being an old and ugly editor, I'll keep using it without any remorse for being an Emacs loser.

—Pierre-Philippe Coupard coupard@mipnet.fr

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