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Free Software is Reliable

by John Sullivan Contributions Published on Apr 28, 2005 12:18 PM
Free software has a reputation for reliability throughout the user community. Day in and day out, its users expect it to perform with few or no complications in every type of application.

Selecting the right software for our encryption scheme between Telefonica Argentina, leading telecommunications operator, and the Federal Administration of Public Revenues, Argentine Government Agency, was about choosing strong cryptographic algorithms, command line power, accessibility of source code, and a cost-effective solution.

We chose GnuPG over proprietary counterparts. Why? I hadn't "promoted Free Software", but rather it was clear that GnuPG was the only solution that met our needs.

Ramiro Castro

Telefonica Argentina

Longevity is an Important Attribute of Free Software

"How long does a document last? In the past, that question was answered by consideration of the materials that the document was written on or whether the document was reproduced often onto new materials."

"But in the computer age, the longevity of documents were defined by the useful life of the programs that read and formatted them. Documents which are "just" words could be created using a character set, say EBCDIC or ASCII. As long as the medium is readable and there is a record of the code translation, they are readable into the far future."

"But documents written using programs with 'closed' encodings become encrypted when the programs are no longer available or runnable. Reading them becomes an archeological or cryptographic exercise.

"Since the mid-1970s I have used nroff and troff to write documents. While it is true that some of the macro sets have disappeared into the dust of history, the words in those documents are made up of ASCII characters and therefore still readable. And, due to the existence of free software implementations and documentation of the more popular macro sets, they are still formatable. They may not be great literature, but I have a few troff documents from the late 1970s and beyond that are still readable and most are formatable. (Those that do not format cleanly could be made to with relative ease.)"

"So free software and the open nature of the specifications they implement make a computer readable document that can remain readable for decades with little or no effort."

"Beyond that, because troff, and its successor groff, are rich mark-up languages, the information density is very high. Simple documents are insignificantly bigger than the character count of the words. Most complicated documents carry a very modest increase in size due to macros and mark-up. Similarly images, graphics and other non-textual elements exist as separate entities included in the documents, rather than integrated entities that disappear under the closed document encoding. The file formats of those non-textual elements are likely to outlast that of the documentation system."

"And, a fact that I think is very important and frequently overlooked, it is often a trivial exercise to compute a well-formatted document from raw data. I have numerous short shell scripts that take information and turn it into very pretty presentations."

Mike Bianchi

Foveal Systems

"As a technical user I loved it, the flexibility of the system, the control and feeling of security online is great. I have never had a virus on any of my machines and have also found that they are damn near impossible to crash (and believe me, I've tried). I use free software for all my needs, from office work (OpenOffice) to multimedia (Xine/Mplayer for DVD's, streaming media, you name it...) and development ... I have also recently begun teaching myself the C programming language because I want to be able to contribute to the free software community as well, so as to give something back for all the great software they've given me."

Nick Boughton

Temporary Systems Administrator

IPS Web & Data Services

Cambridge University Press

"We have found GNU software to be better supported and of better quality than any proprietary software that we've tried."

M Carling
CIO, Axis Personal Trainers and Spa

"To mention GNU software, GCC (the GNU C language compiler) was used to compile software. No problems, didn't ever give it a thought. It simply worked."

Peter J. Darke
Program Consultant
General Practitioners Network, Australia

"I have never managed to crash GCC in nearly a decade of trying, and have never had a program break because GCC compiled it wrongly. Other FSF tools, like GAWK, are used on a daily basis in responding to new issues as clients present them, and countless utilities like BASH and the bin-utils operate so reliably that we often forget that they're there."

Leon Brooks
Systems Administrator for a small Internet Service Provider
Claremont, Western Australia

"[GNU/]Linux has been extremely reliable. We are able to run the primary server unattended in a remote location. It has never crashed, despite two occasions when a runaway process exhausted all memory."

Jeff Breidenbach
The Mail Archive

In industries like nuclear engineering, companies cannot afford to compromise reliability in their tools:

"For your information, at JET, the world's foremost research project for the development of nuclear fusion technologies for production of electricity, ... GNU software is well used and appreciated. GNU Emacs is used almost universally. GCC/BASH/GAWK and many others likewise."

Colin Manning
JET Project

"When my co-workers can't get their proprietary tools to do the job they need, they frequently come to me. A recent example was one of our top programmers trying to track down a bug... He tried to enable exceptions on his commercial development environm ent (Microsoft's "Developer Studio") and was met by constant crashes of not only his program, but in fact the debugger and his entire computer. In frustration he asked me to load the code into gdb (the GNU debugger). I had never used floating point exce ptions before, but I easily determined how to enable them on my [GNU/]Linux system, and gdb gracefully caught the SIGFPE [exception] moments later."

Adam Wiggins
Software Developer

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