Best Free Windows Text Editor

The best Free as in Freedom (GNU GPL) licensed text editor I have found for Windows is Notepad++

Like WinClam, it is designed for use on USB sticks - there is an option in the standard installed to not use the %APPDIR% environment variable and use the directory it is run from to store preferences.

Best Free Virus Checker

There is a great Free as in Freedom (GNU GPL) virus checker called ClamAV, and it has a Windows version, WinClam. Best of all, it has a ‘portable’ version that will run from a USB stick.

Best Coverage of YouTube and Google

The big news this week on t’internets is that Google bought YouTube.

Perry Marshall, the Adsense coach, pointed at an insightful breakdown of the money aspect, which is rounded out by the Utube blog.

The best coverage and insights are not made by any ‘official’ news company - put those two together and you have a far better grip on the situation than anything you’ll read in a business magazine.

I really like YouTube and GoogleVideo because they really democratise ‘Internet TV’, its like the golden days of Napster where you can see video of anything you want, very very easily. We need this with the unfriendly Blu Ray stuff that will soon be available in all highstreet TV shops.

Fravia makes a great point on his messageboard that actually the YouTube deal is not as interesting as the ‘Google OS’ that is emerging (and that I feel may doom the Free Software Movement)

Everytime you turn your head… …something new and interesting happens “writely no more” (I’m sure you already know, but if you do not, have a look) forget the snooping/bigbroterish side of the thing… moron don’t care much about privacy and anyway there’s no that much difference between writing a text on line and uploading it anyway on line. thus the simple existence of this new service… the implications for our good microsoft friends are terrific :-) PS: samo as ritz and others I too wish google would stop doing (interesting) sidemoves and concentrate instead on cleaning spam ballast from its flawed results But a free on line spreadsheet and write program… Alle achtung! Also: battle of the clay giants Look look! Youtube in my left hand, see? while silently the right hand is waging real battle against Microsoft office take excel and word away from ms-claws and you have already sapped one leg of the clay giant from redmond too bad spamming and cloaking (and much more) are sawing google’s legs at the same time and vista is coming, expensive! Bad time ahead for gates minions, methinks f+

Good Blog Writing Style

I just saw a great article about Good Blog Writing Style that sums up ‘writing for the web’.

One of the things I really love about WordPress is when you log in to your WordPress website, it lists a load of the latest interesting WordPress stuff.

Ethical T Shirts

I’m trying to run Understanding as ethically as possible, and now have a British ethical T shirt supplier lined up, via ELER - a webcomic amusing only to nerds.


Ellen Lupton’s ATypI Lisbon presentation on the emerging Free Font Movement mentioned Metafont in a way that brought the interpolation magic I’ve been fascinated with into sharp focus:

Metafont, created by the computer scientist Donald Knuth in the early 80s, claimed to be the ultimate realization of the universal grid. Knuth analyzed typography into a set of geometric attributes: weight, stress, width, serifs, contrast, and so forth. Manipulating these variables could, in theory, generate an infinite number of distinct yet related typefaces. It could serve, indeed, as a rational description of any latin typeface—past, present, or future. Metafont was, in short, a universal typography machine.

This sounds remarkably like my good friend Gustavo Ferreira’s Elementar system for bitmap fonts, that he presented at last year’s ATypI Helsinki.

Searching around on Metafont, I found a TugBoat article from 1998:

Knuth said that success with METAFONT would depend on “collaborative efforts between artists and programmers”. One wonders if these classes of people ever meet, because despite the earnest hopes of many, the elegant mathematical and linguistic power of METAFONT has seen little application to font design, and has not been recently used by the commercial type-design industry. Taking in hand once again those beautiful Volumes C and E of Computers and Typesetting, and observing the erudition therein, one wonders how such magnificent engines have seen such little use. Have METAFONT and Computer Modern become museum pieces, like some polished-brass steam engine, impressive to look at, but long since superceded by higher-powered technology? Or were they perhaps ahead of their time, and not yet harnessed to their potential to create? Whatever its virtues as a field of human endeavor, working with type as software seems to stifle one’s yearning to abstract and perfect a physical enterprise in mathematical form. Instead, it seems to stir the passions for raw, un-parameterized, barehanded manipulation of perimeters. You want to grab a shape like a piece of hefty rope, not tweeze some bits of code. Thus fonts today are drawn using direct-manipulation, CAA (computer-aided agony) tools that somewhat speed the brutish task of digitizing and refining outlines. Big publishers have in-house software, and the small-time designers have GUI software such as FontLab, Fontographer, and Type Designer. This author is a true believer in languages as a means to use computers. In respect of font design this could hardly be better implemented than through METAFONT. Yet when it came to the practical problem of creating a few fonts in the shortest time, even these near-absolute principles fell to the expedience of the GUI tools. It is indeed faster to just click and drag, just not to be recommended as a steady job, if you value your sanity.

The article goes on to explain in technical detail how Metafont outputs bitmap fonts from its typeface parameters, because when TeX was created the problems with outputting vector outline fonts was too hard. But for Metafont to have any relevance, this must be solved:

The key, therefore, is the ability to convert METAFONT designs to outlines.

This sounds like the kind of thing that my font wizard friends were talking about back in March, about the serious problems a Free Font Development Tool would face up to. But if FontLab can pay a bunch of Russians a euro an hour to solve them, the Free Software community can solve them too.

And if this can be done then a GUI application to set Metafont parameters interactively would be insanely great. Especially if it was coupled with Spiro foo in a bidirectional way. Like being able to code simple Scribus files, open and edit them in Scribus, then programmatically change them again, then re-edit visually. And that sounds kind of like the commandline-gui hybrid interaction Mike Cutler showed me in AutoCAD back in like 1997. All roads lead to lisp, eh…

Is the Free Software Movement Doomed?

Lately I’ve been wondering about the viability of the Free Software Movement. The only person I’ve met so far who runs 100% Free Software is Richard Stallman, who started the whole thing.

I started using GNU+Linux back in 2000, when I found out how amazing and convenient the Debian ‘apt’ system is, and I wanted to learn more about Unix operating systems. But I didn’t think twice about using Opera or Java or Microsoft’s Web Fonts or other proprietary software, especially since it was available in the official Debian system.

At the time I was studying Art and Sociolinguistics in school, instead of courses that naturally lead to a Computer Science degree, because I wanted to understand something other than computers. Bringing my interest in computers and visual art together, I started a Graphic Design degree at Ravensbourne in 2002.

In 2003 my computer was getting very old and slow, and I starting using an Apple Powerbook laptop as my main computer, for the Adobe design applications. I had no problems with this because it was a Unix computer, and I could run (slowly) all the Free Software I was familiar with.

But during my studies I learned about the history of Free Software, and began to feel the restrictions imposed by the proprietary design software, especially regarding font design. I started to understand why it is important to value freedom over features or convenience.

So started to try and extract myself from proprietary software this summer, when my Powerbook packed in a few days after graduating. I bought a IBM Thinkpad X31 on eBay because it was the most similar laptop to my Powerbook that worked really well with GNU+Linux. I installed Ubuntu and stripped out the included proprietary software with one simple command so that I can say I am also using 100% Free Software.

Yet I spend almost all of my time using proprietary web applications, that have slick functionality that desktop software struggles to provide at all:

  1. Google Mail: Slick user interface for dealing with tons of email. A well heeled spool index and a large quota. Integrated AJAX instant messenger, unifying logs with spool. Insanely fast. Mobile phone access with well thought out interaction design. Spam filtration.
  2. Google Calendar: Two way editing and public sharing is very useful; my sister and I live apart and we planned our Christmas holiday using it in a way we couldn’t have with anything else I’m aware of.
  3. Flickr. I’m actually already using a Free Software application, Menalto Gallery, to share my digital photos with my friends. But I’ve been eying up Flickr: It provides real community features beyond public comments - like if I go out with my friends, we can pool our photos together.

So the stuff that Free Software is meant to be about in 1984 - community, sharing with friends - seems better catered for by proprietary web applications in 2006. Desktop software in general provides a functionally richer way to manage email or calendars or photos, but it feels empty in terms of sharing and community.

However there are real problems with hosted web applications. The tyranny of proprietary desktop software is worse - you are forced to run the latest version, even if the old one works better for you and you’d rather wait for the new one to get the bugs worked out. There are important privacy issues. As a simple example of why freedom matters to ‘normal’ people, Flickr can’t be themed to fit into the look of your personal or business website.

Running your own web applications may go some way to fix these problems, but it is much more complicated than running desktop software. There’s also a new kind of application that can only be provided in a proprietary way, and it comes as both web application and desktop software. I’m not sure what its called, but Google Maps and Google Earth are the best examples.

And my ‘100% Free Software’ status is a privileged one because I’ve just been taking time off over the summer. Now Understanding Design is running, I’ll need proprietary fonts to do graphic design, even though GIMP, Inkscape and Scribus are able to meet my application needs.

I’ll also have to deal with the specialist graphic design file formats from the entrenched proprietary vendors like Adobe and Quark. Whereas a lot of effort has been put into understanding the Microsoft Office file formats, the design ones may never be reverse engineered as they’re so specialist. So I’ll need a proprietary OS and those applications handy, licensed at great expense and loss of liberty, even if I do all my own work using Free Software.

And a lot of my friends are starting to adopt Skype, so if I want to VOIP with them, I have to use Skype. There are Free Software alternatives, but no Free implementation of Skype itself.

I’m planning to buy a new computer before the end of the year. Probably I’ll get an Apple computer and run all 3 OS, so I can promote Free Software by demonstrating it on all operating systems, and use proprietary software where I need to. This seems unprincipled, compromised. Yet the only person I’ve met who doesn’t already make such compromises is Richard.

Will this ever change? If it doesn’t, I suspect the Free Software Movement is doomed.

Internet-Ready Business Models

Here’s a good video of Cory Doctorow speaking at a conference about ‘Internet Ready Business Models’. To watch the video on GNU/Linux, click the ‘download’ icon on the right - its a 145Mb avi file that plays in VLC.

Expensive Downgrades

I caught a link to an old post on Ed Felten’s blog today, where he describes how Windows Vista will be needlessly expensive and not designed for real people:

[Vista is] one compromise after another, in which performance, cost, and flexibility are sacrificed … And the cost is high. As just one example, nearly all of us will have to discard our PC’s monitors and buy new ones to take advantage of new features that Microsoft could provide — more easily and at lower cost — on our existing monitors

So it seems Vista will be an expensive downgrade, especially when compared to the latest GNU/Linux systems. Ubuntu 6.10 will be out this month with the snazzy XGL effects included.

The strangest thing is that the source of this information is from Microsoft itself - just buried in deep technical jargon far away from the marketting messages on display in the local PC superstore.