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Open Formats, Pilgrim and Linux Desktop Must-haves

Mark Pilgrim is a python/xml programmer who influenced a lot of web developers. I’ve read his great Dive into Python book and caught various essays here and there. But he’s been an erratic blogger. Now I find he is blogging (and even vlogging) on a semi-regular basis, which makes me very happy. Apparently, he has switched from Mac to Ubuntu recently, in response to some concerns about lockin. Here’s his thoughts about a Mac email client:

However, in the interests of fairness, I will amend my previous statement that Mail.app is a roach motel that auto-upgraded 14 years of my mail into a proprietary, undocumented format with no possibility of exporting it to an open format. This is not true. Mail.app is a roach motel that auto-upgraded 14 years of my mail into a proprietary, undocumented format with a tantalizingly broken export feature. I apologize for the confusion.

Here’s his list of essential applications he’s been using in Ubuntu  . He still uses emacs (that bastard!) but some of his other apps are more current. Here’s his rant about why open source apps don’t automatically ensure open standards:

There are more risk factors in the layer above the OS, the application layer. I still need to be vigilant about the formats that specific applications use to store data I care about preserving. Open source != open formats, and there are many examples of undocumented and underdocumented data formats in open source applications. The GIMP is a particularly egregious example. Its default .xcf format can only be read by GIMP and is deliberately undocumented outside the source code. GIMP only exports to formats with massive fidelity loss (you can export the final result but not in any editable form that includes layers and effects and brushes and so on). There are only a handful of third-party converters, and none of them are anywhere near complete. This is no better than Microsoft Office; in fact, it’s probably worse. In practice, Microsoft Office documents have better interoperability, because third parties have spent more time reverse-engineering the formats and handling all the edge cases. (Third parties are working on reverse-engineering XCF too.)

(On a gimp-related note, I’ve been reading up on gimp features and enjoy being able to leverage my knowledge on different PCs. I think Pilgrim is faulting the project when it may simply lack the resources to  document the format and handle the export filters).

Pilgrim mentioned beagle, a nifty-looking tool for searching your personal content. That includes email, multimedia, IMs, files. Apparently this gnome application was already included with the FC 5 default install. Am definitely checking that out soon.

The Beagle demos were made with  a vnc to swf screenrecording program. I’ll try that out next week.

Other interesting apps on the list: tomboy (a notetaking tool) , diva (gnome’s answer to imovie), freemind (a java applet mind mapper), bookburro (firefox book shopbot extension),  backuppc and rsnapshot . I also plan on investigating the itunes-like applications (such as amarok) after I configure my network/backup drive.

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