Friday, April 28, 2006

Atonement of the Programming Language

"Sometimes, people ask me if it is a sin in the church of Emacs to use the editor Vi. It is true that Vi-Vi-Vi is the editor of the beast. But using a free version of Vi is not a sin but a penance." - Richard Stallman.

I'm not a religious person (and in all honesty, neither is RMS).
But, in the same manner that not being Christian doesn't prevent me from debating Kirkegaard's philosophy, being a secret member of the Cult of VI doesn't prevent me from accepting the wisdom of St. iGNUcius regarding the Evil inherent in proprietary software.

Biggest problem from my point is inherent in the choice of the language of the scripture. True advocates of the One True Freedom (or the 4 freedoms of the apocalypse) know that software made with proprietary tools can never be free. And so came the GCC (GNU Compiler Collection), a free software tool that allows ye followers to compile code. This is all fine and dandy when it comes to the "classic" hackers languages, such as C, C++, Lisp, and today's Perl, Python et al, which are released under free (as in free-for-all) licenses.

But here's my problem, I use COBOL. The ancient, monolithic, elephantine language, which has the style and elegance of a Rube Goldberg machine without the humour. Until recently, the only way to create COBOL software was to use proprietary tools. Not that there is some sort of voodoo mystery surrounding the language, since the specification for it are available as an ANSI standard for decades. However, it isn't exactly a hacker favourite, so no one bothered developing free tools for it.

But, those days are long past, as now, not only I am able to enjoy two excellent GNU compilers, but I was also able to install them by using Debian/Ubuntu's own .deb format. The first, TinyCOBOL, compiles COBOL-85 code to GNU assembly, and the other is Open-COBOL which goes a bit extra by converting the code to C and then compiling it using GCC, however, Open-COBOL does offer support of the later 97 (COBOL2000/OOCOBOL) and the 2002 standards.

The homepages have the source code for both projects, however, to install them apt-get style, head here for the TinyCOBOL packages, and to the Debian Repositories for the Open-COBOL project Packages.

On the other hand, nothing I've just said can explain Vigor


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