Originally Published: Friday, 3 September 1999 Author: Maurice Entwistle
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

The Registration Blues

There is a very grey area in the GNU/Linux applications arena. The grey area is the meeting ground between truly "free" software (GPL) and applications that are merely ported. When you read that a program has been ported to Linux, you can usually assume several things. Typically you can assume that the application is a proprietary one that previously ran on MS Windows or one of the other major OS's. Secondly you can assume that the Linux version will be a free download somewhere, with a license for use by one individual owner....

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There is a very grey area in the GNU/Linux applications arena. The grey area is the meeting ground between truly "free" software (GPL) and applications that are merely ported. When you read that a program has been ported to Linux, you can usually assume several things. Typically you can assume that the application is a proprietary one that previously ran on MS Windows or one of the other major OS's. Secondly you can assume that the Linux version will be a free download somewhere, with a license for use by one individual owner.

For Linux, ported proprietary programs weasel their way into the arena without really being free. Usually the source code is not released, but it is free as in "Free Beer." This is not the kind of freedom GNU or the GPL promote, and this kind of porting could lead to a corruption of that freedom. It leads one down the road of convenience, a path Richard Stallman has warned against. An application ported to Linux is a compromise on the way to hell.

So far, GNU/Linux has triumphed even in this. Many programs were initially only ported to Linux, but due to lack of sales as proprietary software and pressure from the open source community, the entire code was released. It would be nice if we could count on this trajectory for all software ported to Linux, but that will not likely be the case. If GNU/Linux is the major OS at a business, and only a certain application does what it needs done, the business will probably pay for the use of a proprietary program ported to GNU/Linux.

What has really frustrated me in the use of these proprietary programs ported to GNU/Linux is the quandaries they get into trying to give it free to individuals, but keeping it from spreading to others and especially to businesses. This leads to registration schemes that are complex, cumbersome and frustrating for the user. As for myself, I am very reluctant to begin working with a word processor, if I can't get the registration working so that I will be able to access my files after 30 days, or if I can't get the "help" files until the registration is complete.

I tried for a week to get a registration number for Word Perfect 8. I even tried registering for WP7, just to see if that code would work. But Word Perfect is a breeze compared to Star Office. In trying to limit Star Office downloads to one user, and keeping it from spreading into business suites, Star Office has made a registration process suitable for only hackers or the very persistent.

Once you enter your name in the registration form to get your release code, God help you if you enter it different when trying to unlock your program -- even a extra blank space will cause your key not to work.

I must have installed and uninstalled Star Office 10 times trying to get it to work with the registration correct. And the most frustrating part is when you do get the code and it won't accept it. There are zeros or letter 0's, but you can't tell which yours is. You even get a note on their program when your code fails, asking you if you exchanged letters with numbers. It was a big problem for me. I would suggest to Star Office: If you're having so many problems with letters versus numbers that you have to put a note in your program, you ought to fix the problem.

So, what I am getting at is this. If you are a vendor and porting your program to Linux, and if you want the Linux community to spread the word that your program is great -- make it easy to register or do away with the registration.

As for Word Perfect and Star Office, they both work on Linux. I found that WP7 or 8 worked fine on an older slower PC as well as my newer one. Star Office was a dog on the old one. On the newer PC, Star Office really shined! It looks professional, presents itself well, and the fonts and the printing all worked on my first try! That was not the case with Word Perfect.

Star Office also sized itself well to the Linux screen with just one click. From my limited use, Star Office is as good as MS Word. Word Perfect would do well to update their screens for Linux. The Word Perfect screens for Linux look dated, like sixties clothing.

I would like to see all Linux ported apps, free as per the GNU/GPL. If that cannot be, at least when you port to Linux, make it easy to register -- your marketing people will look more intelligent. The future remains to be sorted out. At least, lets make the sorting process easier.

Maurice L. Entwistle, maurice@linux.com





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