Enterprise Software

UNIX in the house

V. Edward Gold describes many of the benefits that you can have by running UNIX or a UNIX-like OS on your home computer, and he includes explanations of several free applications.


I had worked with computers since 1980, yet I refused to own one. I hated MS-DOS and Windows, and I just didn't want to subject myself to the torture of dealing with either. At work, I had the computing equipment that I needed, and the tools that I would need were costly under MS-DOS and Windows. In 1991, when I heard about Linux, I bought my first home computer. Linux gave my 66 MHz, $3,000, 486 PC all of the same capabilities that I demanded from my $10,000 Sun workstation. I’ll begin this article by discussing examples of the tasks that I perform with my home UNIX system. Perhaps you’ll see the advantages and consider trying it out, too.

I’ll begin by explaining that UNIX is a registered trademark of the OpenGroup . Technically, Linux, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, and NetBSD aren’t "UNIX," but they are UNIX-like operating systems. Functionally, they’re identical to UNIX, but they lack the official blessings of the Open Group (which gives fairly expensive blessings, I understand). When I mention “UNIX" in this article, I refer to these "UNIX-like" operating systems.

Primarily, I use my computer to write, test, and execute programs, which allows me to enjoy one of the biggest advantages of FreeBSD and Linux. If you buy MS-DOS and/or Windows, you have to pay extra for the compiler! If you accept FreeBSD/Linux for free, you get the compiler, the debugger, and an endless supply of free example code. These tools are available on many other platforms, including Sun, HP, DEC Alpha, and SGI. It offers a definite portability advantage. The compiler can target embedded system development for a number of different microprocessors, such as 8080, 6800, 6502, 68000, and many more.

Frequently, I need to plot data graphically. The gnuplot application, which plots 2D data, 3D data, and mathematical functions, comes free with FreeBSD and Linux. It easily plots multiple items on the same graph. I can’t say enough good things about this software.

Back in the days before PowerPoint, I drew flowcharts and other figures with an application known as tgif, which is free and available for any UNIX platform. I still prefer this application for its intuitive user interface and extreme ease of use. It supports its own internal format, as well as postscript and encapsulated postscript. A number of other free drawing packages are also available for UNIX.

When it comes to doctoring photos, nothing beats xpaint. This application is what Microsoft Paint could have been if Microsoft had really put any effort into it. Xpaint allows you to copy and paste images or submerges. It also allows you to draw over existing images, which is perfect for annotating photos or drawing a route onto a map. (I won’t begin to discuss how I got sent to a Corporate Ethics class over my [mis]use of this application!)

Another free UNIX application called the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) nearly makes Adobe's PhotoShop obsolete. This package is perfect for generating professional-looking logos and graphics. It includes all of PhotoShop’s capabilities but none of the Windows-related memory management limitations.

I could write volumes about all of the fine software contributions that are freely available for UNIX. In upcoming articles, I plan to discuss how UNIX can solve your existing problems, prevent future problems, and save you money. Additionally, I’ll showcase various algorithms of popular interest and occasionally throw in some UNIX/computer brainteasers.

V. Edward Gold graduated from the University of Louisville in 1986 with a master’s degree in electrical engineering. His master’s thesis involved the design and implementation of a real-time infrared search-and-track system. Edward has more than 13 years of image processing experience with massively parallel Single Instruction Multiple Data (SIMD) computer architectures. He has over 15 years of UNIX experience and 12 years of C language experience, and he’s fairly capable in BASIC, FORTRAN, Pascal, RPG II, and COBOL. Edward can claim some expertise in MS-DOS and CP/M (but he’s not particularly proud of those skills), and he’s fluent in various flavors of UNIX and UNIX-like operating systems, such as Linux, FreeBSD, Solaris, and HPUX.

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

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