Notes on Free Software

kol-yisrael.org – In the realm of software, those who believe in the infallibility of the adage, “You get what you pay for” may be disappointed: There is quite an extensive body of extremely high quality, copyright-protected, well maintained and up-to-date software that can be had essentially for the asking. The terms under which you can obtain such software vary from item to item, and you might want to read the licenses that are included in the packages, but as long as you don’t intend to use the software for commercial purposes, these terms are almost never stronger than requiring you to permit the supplier to make a record of your downloading request. And if you don’t want to be bothered by downloading off the Internet, much of this free software can be had in a variety of remarkably low-cost CD ROM collections. (Is $50.00 or so reasonable for a package containing a complete operating system, development tools, application software, network software, windowing shell, and a lot more? We think so.)

While it is true that many of the programs in the free-software world are labeled “beta,” don’t let this mislead you. That “beta” designation is generally there not because the code is untested or buggy, but simply because it does not contain all the features or elegance the author would eventually like to add. Our experience with this software over the past several years indicates that it almost invariably performs very much “as advertised,” and that the documentation is quite honest about both strengths and weaknesses (including bugs). Now there’s a breath of fresh air!

Unfortunately, because of the high quality and “low cost,” the same free software can be found in many, many locations, and, pressed for time, some site administrators have grown a bit careless about assuring that they have the latest versions of some packages. In view of this, we have elected to limit our directory to a small number of “critical items” that will either provide inexperienced users with a good introduction, despite some potential difficulties, or are specifically targetted to the Jewish community. For reasons that will be clear shortly, those users experienced enough to know how to use mirror sites are strongly encouraged to do so.

For the user totally ignorant of the sort of high-quality freeware we have been referring to, there is probably no better location to browse than the Sunsite Archive at the University of North Carolina. However, precisely because of its quality, this site is extremely busy, and you will frequently have difficulty accessing material. Keep trying. The site is rarely “off the air.”

It is to be noted that you will find Hebrew fonts and other Hebrew-language software in several different locations at Sunsite. The best gateway to these locations is probably the Hebrew-HOWTO for Linux. While this document is directed primarily toward implementing Hebrew-language facilities for the Linux operating system (a very high-quality UNIX implementation), it contains a great deal of material that is useful for other UNIX implementations and even DOS.

For experienced users, the Hebrew Unix Archive at the Technion, in Israel, is an excellent starting point, even for DOS users. However, service from the Technion server is sometimes a bit slow, although we have never had difficulty gaining access.

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