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We're Going to Need Bigger Disks

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Ken North discusses the Internet's role as a pipeline for distributing free software.

MP3 audio, running time 3:02. Transcript below.

In the science fiction movie Split Second, police detectives hunting a serial killer make a startling discovery. They realize the killer is not a human, but a powerful mutant, and one of them concludes "We're going to need bigger guns". Hopefully the only people chasing mutant serial killers these days are in the game-playing community. But there's another group involved in a quest. Many people looking for no-cost software tools and developer platforms are experiencing an awakening similar to that movie character -

"We're going to need bigger disks".

The Internet has proven to be a formidable delivery system for software. It's taken the notion of freely-available software to a whole new level. Publishing and distributing the source code of computer programs is not a concept that originated with the Free Software Foundation, the Open Source movement, or even the current generation of software developers. Two decades ago publications such as Computer Languages, Dr. Dobb's Journal, and Micro Cornucopia routinely published source code in every issue. That code was accessible to thousands of readers but the Internet has increased code distribution from thousands to millions. What's also different today is amount and sophistication of the code available for download. The programs published in those tech journals typically presented a solution to a specific problem, such as hidden surface removal for graphics applications. Some of those publications have survived and are still publishing code today, but the Internet has provided a backbone for more extensive code sharing.

Today you can freely-download complete operating systems, web servers, office suites, application servers, SQL database managers, and development platforms for Java and C++ programming. Before you start down the path to collecting free software, it's a good idea to invest in large disks and a DVD burner.

The basic Eclipse platform, for example, is about 87 megabytes. If you add plug-ins, such as the DB2 Plug-in for Eclipse, the download size increases to 126 megabytes. That's the size of the archive compressed for downloading, not the total space required for installation. NetBeans is another open source integrated development environment for Java. You can download a 77 megabyte archives that includes the NetBeans IDE and Sun's Java System Application Server.

Java developers might prefer other freely-available integrated developer environments. Borland JBuilderX Foundation is an 84-megabyte download that uses 238 megabytes of disk space after installation. Oracle JDeveloper weighs in at a whopping 249 megabytes for the compressed download archive.

JBuilderX and JDeveloper are not open source but they are no-cost downloads for developers. They offer a rich feature set including a drag-and-drop GUI designer. Oracle JDeveloper includes an entire framework for developing applications, including UML modeling and pre-built Java components.

If you're looking for XML tools, Altova offers Authentic, there are a variety of free XQuery processors, and there are free XML parsers for C, C++, Java and other languages. For an SQL database manager, you can download MySQL, Firebird, postgreSQL, and Daffodil DB. Two of the newest additions to the free SQL list were formerly commercial products. CA-Ingres is a 76-megabyte download and IBM Cloudscape is a 61 megabyte download that uses 90 megabytes after installation.

If you are looking for an application server, you're probably deciding whether J2EE compatibility is important. If not, the Zope application server is a 9.6 megabyte download. If you want a J2EE-compliant app server, you can download JOnAS or JBoss. With an embedded Tomcat server, JOnAS is a 48 megabyte download. JBoss is a 50-megabyte download that requires 75 megabytes of disk space for installation.

Of course, some developers are interested in the .NET development platform. The mono project is an open source implementation of Microsoft's ECMA standard Common Language Infrastructure. If you want to do .NET development for non-Windows platforms, the runtime download is 17.4 megabytes and the XSP server, class libraries and C# compiler are another 10 megabytes.

Are these open source and free software products popular? Magazine publishers were happy to reach audiences measured in thousands but this software is available to a much larger audience. There have been five million downloads of the JBoss application server and 2 million downloads of NetBeans.

Ken North is editor of,, and

2005, Ken North Computing LLC, All rights reserved.

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