[conspire] Prospective attendee wants advice, and is RSVPing

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Wed Aug 31 19:29:06 PDT 2005

----- Forwarded message from Rick Moen <rick> -----

Date: Wed, 31 Aug 2005 19:27:41 -0700
From: Rick Moen <rick>
To: Adam Cozzette <mystagor at sbcglobal.net>
Subject: Re: RSVP

I wrote:
> Quoting Adam Cozzette (mystagor at sbcglobal.net):

> > My primary goal is to get Linux installed so that I can poke around
> > under the hood and learn how things work; a distribution with
> > compilers and whatnot for Python, Java, C, C++, etc. would be great
> > too. As I understand this is somewhat standard for Linux, but let me
> > know if I should bring my own copy of a distribution.  
> You are so right. 

So, as long as I have a few more biological clock-ticks to spare for
correspondence:  This touches on yet another traditional flamewar:
proprietary licensing.

For most traditional (e.g., MS-Windows, Mac OS) microcomputer users, all
software licences are the same:  It's that screen you click "OK" on, to
install the thing.  You got the software either preloaded on your
machine, or shrinkwrapped in a store, or downloaded from some authorised
distribution site on the Net -- or, hey, semi-furtively from your cousin
or neighbour on a shadowed street-corner.

Part of the point of Linux and its BSD kindred, however, is to have a
core suite of software that may be lawfully duplicated by anyone, modified 
by anyone, redistributed by anyone, and applied to any purpose
whatsoever, without needing to consent to any limitations or get
additional permissions.  Some people _also_ add, on top of that,
software whose publishers' terms restrict redistribution or usage --
dubbed "proprietary software" -- and some people don't.

(Proprietary code means merely that _some_ of those rights are withheld;
e.g., I could write a program and say "You may use this program for any
purpose and give copies to anyone in source or binary form, and don't 
have to pay anyone for the privilege, but you may not modify it."  That
is a proprietary licence, albeit a generous one.  Thus, proprietary
code, as a conceptual category, divides further into codebases that are
freely redistributable and those that are not.)

There are proprietary C/C++ toolkits for Linux (though I couldn't name
one off the top of my head).  There's a proprietary Python toolkit at
least for Windows (Activestate's), though I'm not sure there's one for
Linux.  And, there are a couple of proprietary JDKs.

Alongside that, there are non-proprietary (dubbed "open source" or 
"free software") toolkits for each of those language environments --
and, of course, many more:  more than you can shake a forest of sticks
at.  It's one of the things the open source world is known for.

Sun's JDK is of course the canonical "full" Java development
environment.  It's proprietary.  Traditionally (and largely, still
today), if you wanted to do serious Java work, you had to keep installed
and working either that JDK or an authorised variant of that codebase
from a group of Linux coders called the Blackdown Group.  There is also
a third proprietary JDK from IBM ("IBM Developer Kit for Linux, Java 2
Technology Edition").  Possibly also other, lesser-known ones.

Open-source coders have repeatedly been obliged to play catch-up with 
Sun's moving-target JDK standards, for numerous reasons, some arcane and
some simpler, e.g., the sheer size and scope of Sun's enormous
collection of Java class libraries.  Nonetheless, the state of
open-source Java is now, in 2005, finally at least fair to middling.
I try to track that picture, here:

"Java" on http://linuxmafia.com/kb/Devtools/
That page details the standard gcj/gij/Classpath toolkit, among other
things -- which is by no means a complete replacement for Sun's entire
JDK, but nonetheless is increasingly popular among coders wishing to
avoid proprietary-software headaches.

Anyhow, that's a verbose way of getting around to explaining that, if
you need Sun's (or Blackdown's) Java support software (either the full
JDK or just a JRE), then you might have to retrofit it to your software:
Because Sun not only uses proprietary licensing but also imposes
limitations on redistribution rights, Linux distributions that aim to
have lawfully redistributable CD/DVD images cannot include Sun's JREs or
JDKs; only retail-licensed Linux distributions can do so.

The same is true of a number of other popular "goodies" that some users
new to Linux seek out:  Macromedia's Flash player, various nicer font
collections, Adobe's Acrobat Reader, Adobe's Acrobat Distiller,
Moneydance (personal finance, somewhat similar to Quickbooks), the Opera
Web browser, a couple of fancy fax / printing / scanning packages, several
packages (Cedega, CrossOver Office) for running Win32 software in Linux, 
some of the more polished corporate backup suites, Nero for Linux,
Sun Star Office, Borland Kylix, Novell Groupwise, Novell ZenWorks, etc.

One of the points of distinction among Linux distributions -- and one
you'll hear about surprisingly seldom from Linux users -- is how much if
any non-redistributable proprietary software they include.  My list of
recommended-for-newcomers distributions, in my earlier message,
concentrates on distributions that heavily include such packages.
(More-seasoned Linux users tend to use few or no such packages, for
various reasons, some intensely pragmatic and some less so.)

----- End forwarded message -----

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