December 10, 1998:
I love this business! Star Division (a German software developer) has just made the Windows version of its Star Office product available without charge for personal (not corporate) use. The product (which I downloaded and tested earlier today) is interesting on several counts. First of all, it's a Java application, and is available on any platform for which a good Java VM exists. Second, it's file-compatible (more or less) with Microsoft Office '97. It will load Word 97 .DOC files—if they were saved without Word's "fast save" option. Third, it's fast—which surprised me, given its Java parentage. But on a 200 Mhz PII (hardly a weightlifter in today's box olympics) it was every bit as responsive as Office 97. Fourth, it's shipped on every Caldera Linux distribution CD, and runs beautifully under Linux. So some real business applications are beginning to appear for Linux, and they're just as free as Linux is. There are some weaknesses in Star Office, vis-ŕ-vis MS Office 97. You can't drag highlighted text—a Word 97 feature most editors, I'm sure, use almost without conscious thought. The fast-save problem is irritating, too. But overall, I'm amazed. It's free. Yikes. Go grab it and have a look: One caution: The download is 53.5 MB. If you have a slow Net link, you can order a CD for $39.95. Details on their site.
December 9, 1998:
Netscape announced Gecko yesterday, so plainly things are moving in the right direction. Gecko is an open-source browser "engine" rather than a complete Web browser. It's intended for software developers, allowing them to build browser functionality into applications. I haven't downloaded it yet (the final release is not yet ready) so I don't know what form it's in. My guess is C++ source rather than any formal component format…but it seems to me it should be possible to put wrappers around Gecko to make it an ActiveX, Delphi VCL, or Java Bean component. If anyone ever does this, please let me know. Components rule…and this should be so even in the open-source world.
December 7, 1998:
We installed Caldera's Linux at Coriolis today. I have used Linux before, but never a "commercial" distribution—always the "raw" Linux downloaded from the Net and pieced together with a tweezers, and always in text mode. While not as trouble-free to install as Windows NT, Caldera's wizard-based installer allowed it to come together in an hour or so, and sheesh, there it was. I was most intrigued by my first look at the KDE graphical desktop, which is a shell that runs most X applications. It's fast, and completely comprehensible to anyone with more than an hour's tenure on Windows. There's a constellation of four buttons on the task bar that allow you to snap instantly among four completely independent desktops—fine idea! As people who have read me over the years doubtless remember, I don't much care for windowing. Screens are never large enough, and I always maximize whatever I happen to be using. One desktop per app is a fine idea, and KDE makes it easy to pop between them. I haven't done much with the system yet, but I will be poking at it over the coming months, as we prepare a slate of books on Linux and other major open-source software products.
December 4, 1998:
I've decided to update my increasingly gray-haired assembly language book, Assembly Language Step By Step. The book was published in 1992 and is still selling—and even then, the 1992 title was a revision of Assembly Language from Square One, which first saw daylight in 1989. I'd like to extend the book to cover Windows NT console applications. Anybody got any pointers to information about that arcane little topic? I'll be focusing on NASM, the Net-Wide Assembler, for the new edition. Suggestions and goodies to toss onto the CD are hereby solicited. Let me know what you want to see—short of full Windows app development in assembly. That's grist for a much larger (and more advanced) mill than this.