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Re: porting troubles

"SB" == Sergio Brandano <sb@dcs.qmw.ac.uk> writes:

   SB>  Out of blue, why is that Linux now runs stable on six (6)
   SB> different platforms but commercial software like Star,
   SB> Corel, Adobe and IBM, just to mention a few, are only
   SB> available for ix86? Are there any political or technical
   SB> reasons for it?

There are some possible technical issues.  For example, Alpha and
PowerPC processors do some things in radically different ways than
x86 processors.  As a result, sloppy code will break on these
systems.  (SPARC processors can emulate some of the things that
x86 processors do, so most software written with x86 assumptions
will still work fine on SPARCs.)  Code that does a lot of ``on the
metal'' work -- that is, relies on tricks that only work on the
x86, or contains a lot of hand-tuned assembly code -- will also

But I suspect that most of the problem is political and economic.
Linux, you see, is one of the hottest buzzwords around, making
``Linux compatibility'' an important feature to keep your
stockholders happy.  But a corporation is only interested in
making money, and from their perspective, most people running
Linux are people who were (or still are) running Windows on their
x86 machines.  That makes x86 the biggest market.

Combine the market size with the fact that the Linux kernel
originated on x86, and Linus still concentrates on x86 in his tree
(arguable, except that Crusoe emulates x86 processors), and you
have a situation where corporations equate Linux with x86.  Other
architectures are dismissed as ``insignificant market segments'',
and ignored.

It doesn't help that every time a large corporation makes a
formerly Windows-only application available for x86 Linux (often
requiring WINE, which only works on x86), Slashdot and the other
Linux news sites mindlessly trumpet the corporate press release
with headlines such as ``SuperWhatsit for Linux!'' or ``HugeCorp
ports applications to Linux!''.  You often can't find out that the
application won't run on anything but x86 until you hunt through
the company's Web site, and sometimes not even until you find
their x86-only RPMs.  So long as no one calls the ``news sites''
on their behavior, they'll continue, and corporations making
x86-only software will be able to claim to the world that they
build ``Linux'' software, and be able to show press clippings from
Linux sites to prove it.

That said, one of the big advantages of open-source software is
that people can take the code and port it to other architectures.
Well-written code will compile on non-x86 architectures with few
or no changes.  Merely sloppy code (assuming chars are unsigned
and that it's okay to use them instead of ints) can also be fixed
pretty easily.  Only code that does lots of scary stuff is really
hard.  (The best example of that kind of code that I'm familiar
with is FreeAmp, which runs under x86 Linux and MacOS, but not on
PPC Linux.  Yet.)

Sun is making the source for StarOffice available under an
open-source license (see <http://openoffice.org/>, and we may find
that it will compile ``out of the box'' on PowerPC.  If not, it
will probably be possible to port it.  We'll see when they show us
the code.


 Behind the counter a boy with a shaven head stared vacantly into space, 
 a dozen spikes of microsoft protruding from the socket behind his ear.
   C.M. Connelly               c@eskimo.com                   SHC, DS

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