Tag Archives: open-source

Linux: The Last OS Standing

One of my favorite films is Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. It stars Toshiru Mifune, who plays a lone samurai who comes into a town where two factions are feuding, and then skillfully plays one against another until he is the last man standing, so it’s no surprise that the film was (poorly) remade as Last Man Standing, starring Bruce Willis, in one of his worst films (all gore, no subtlety, which was the point of Yojimbo.)

I was reminded of this while doing a cleanup/refactoring of the code for Macro SPITBOL.

There has been almost no work on SPITBOL, save the port to Linux, in the last decade. Most of the code has been stable since the mid 80’s, save for ports to different architectures.

SPITBOL has a run-time interface written in C. While perusing this code I noticed the code had conditional text for various operating systems: AIX, BSD, LINUX, SOLARIS, and WINNT. Not Windows, but WINNT, a sign of the age of the code.

I then decided to clean up the code. There was no need for SOLARIS. It’s dead, though its new owner Oracle has not yet addmitted it.

AIX is also an outlier OS now, used only in large servers, so that went next.

BSD, UNIX and LINUX are all variants of UNIX.

That left WINNT. I then realized that, while much of the WINNT code would probably still work, I had absolutely no intereset in supporting it. That’s because Microsoft has not made any meaningful innovation, at least when it comes to Windows, in the last decade or so.

One thing (is it the only thing?) Microsoft does well is to support previous versions of its various OS’s, going all the way back to DOS. For example, the Windows/WINNT version of SPITBOL, last touched over a decade ago, still works, and so is in my view sufficient for Windows users.

I thus edited the source so there is *no* conditional text to distinguish operating systems, because there is only *one* OS of interest. It runs everywhere, and is where operating system innovation can still be found.

So I deleted *all* the conditional text, and changed the source to just use “Unix” instead of “Linux” in the version/achitecture description.

Needless to say doing that edit was a lot of fun. Bye bye, SOLARIS. Bye, bye AIX. Bye, bye Windows. Just Unix is enough for me.

The remaining issue is what hardware to support.

I see only two architectures of interest: X86 and ARM. SPITBOL supports X86 now, and I will port the system to ARM within a few months.

This is one result of working on legacy code. It gives you a sense of what was once important, but no longer is.

It also gives you greater appreciation for the survivors, and all the hard work behind them.

Meld: Outstandanding visual difference program

I’m in the midst of converting Spitbol to use the nasm assembler instead of the gnu gas assembler. As part of that I need to compare various versions of the assembly language files, and I so I went off to the web to find a visual difference program, by which I mean a program with the same — or better — functionality of the standard diff file comparator, but with graphical output.

I soon came across Meld.

I’ve been using it for a few days, and I have found it *very* helpful. I already found one conditional assembly statement that I had unintentionally altered. I doubt I would have found this using standard diff, or at best it would have taken me much longer to track it down.

Meld is in the Debian package list, and so can be found in most Linux distributions.

On having to pay over a thousand smackeroos to release SPITBOL on the iMAC for free

As noted in recent posts, I have just paid over $100 to enter the Apple iMAC developer program.

While I am able to develop SPITBOL releases for most computers I can think of using my trusty Unbuntu boxes, Apple has proprietary hardware, and so I just forked over an additional $900 to buy a refurbished iMAC:

Refurbished MacBook Air 1.86 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo

Originally released October 2010
13.3-inch LED-backlit glossy widescreen display

4GB memory
128GB of flash storage

NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics

Built-in iSight Camera

I have thus paid over one thousand dollars out of pocket — and after-tax — so I can give away SPITBOL for the Mac!

And I thought open-source was free…

SPITBOL/Linux V3.8.1 Now Available

I promised the first release of SPITBOL for Linux by the end of the month.

Here you go:

SPITBOL/Linux git


You can follow the project as @spitbol at twitter.


The SNOBOL Chance in Hell Software License

A few days ago, while working on SPITBOL, I looked up Wikipedia’s SNOBOL entry. While perusing it I came across a section about the history of the name SNOBOL that was new to me. It linked to a blog post by Dave Farber, one of the creators of the language WORTH READING Wikipedia entry on SNOBOL — the TRUE story NOT Wikipedias. I found it immensely amusing.

By the way, when I mentioned this to my friend Peter Capek, he said the story was new to him also, and that he knows Dave Farber. (No surprise there — he knows EVERYBODY.)

I smiled, and moved on. But I’ve just found a way to make use of that charming story, so here we go…

As part of my work on SPITBOL I’m putting together a “library” of documents and example programs: github daveshields/spitbol-library.git.

I’ve started with files obtained from Mark Emmers exellent SNOBOL site, via FTP.

All of these files have been available from the site via anonymous (available to anyone) FTP for at least a decade, some for more than two decades.

Mark either wrote the sample programs or obtained permission to distribute them, but as yet there is no license associated with them.

I plan to include the appropriate license language — most likely two-clause BSD — as time permits, but I see no reason not to put them out now.

However, I know folks are more comfortable with some license language, so until further notice here is license in effect for the examples:

You may copy, distribute, or alter this code as you see fit. It has been freely available for over a decade.

Thus, we are confident there is a SNOBOL Chance in Hell that trouble will come your way by doing so.

Would OSI approve this? I’d like to think so, but I won’t put them to the test.

Why I Use Ubuntu Linux

I mentioned in a recent post to the Mid-Hudson Valley Linux User Group mail list that I used Ubuntu. A fellow member replied by mentioning that they favored Fedora and asked why I used Ubuntu.

Here is my reply:

I *only* use Ubuntu for one reason. Not because it is the “best” technically — though I do favor it because it is based on Debian — but because it has the largest community behind it, and so is the best candidate to make Linux a real contender.

For Linux to succeed its market share must overtake that of Apple. Doing that will really push Linux into the mainstream. Until that day comes Linux will remain on the fringe.

I believe it is only a matter of time, but that time will come sooner if we rally around Ubuntu. Yes, it is fun — and an important educational experience — for try various distros and compare them , but the plethora of current distributions is creating a “Linux war” that I fear is too close to the “Unix wars” of the 80’s that almost destroyed Unix.

Thank goodness Linux came along to keep Unix going. Otherwise we might all be running commercial operating systems today.

But technical merit is not the sole criterion. Were that the case we would all be runing Linux. We need to unite and not keep shooting ourselves in the foot. This, for example, is why I cringe every time I hear the phrase “GNU/Linux” …

Executables for SPITBOL for Microsoft DOS and Windows now available

The DOS and Windows ports of SPITBOL are now available on the SPITBOL Downloads section

The DOS version is S.COM. This is 16-bit 8086 version and can be run under Linux using the package ‘dosqemu.’

The Windows version is SPITBOL-3.7-win.exe. This is 32-bit version and can be run under Linux using Wine. You also need to download 32RTM.exe to run this program. I don’t know why. I just know SPITBOL complains if it is not present.

These are the *only* executable versions of SPITBOL at hand. S.COM dates back to 1983. SPITBOL.exe was last updated a decade or so ago.

Both are as fast as the wind, and a Linux version should be available shortly. 🙂

My First Computer: The Geniac, 1958

While poking about the web I located my first computer, The Geniac. See also this entry in the Old Computer Museum web site: Geniac picture

I can recall building most of the circuits, especially the one that played tic-tac-toe.

There is was a Geniac for sale on ebay: Geniac Vintage Computer Edmund Berkeley Simon.

I just bought it!

It turns out the buyer lives nearby and I hope to pick it up in person.

I had a lot of fun with that computer — back around 1958 — over fifty years ago.

I’m still having lots of fun with computers — except when I have to use Microsoft software.

My first Geniac cost less than $20. My second Geniac just cost me $320.

That is less than $100 more than the cost of a copy of Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 – Retail from Newegg.

The Geniac boots up much more quickly. Just flip the switch on the battery, and away you go.

And you don’t even need the Internet to install new updates every other day…

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