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Educational software for Linux--progress report

   Here's a progress report of the various things I've attempted to try to get more (any)
educational software that runs on Linux.

   I've sent email to RedHat encouraging them to come out with a version of their distro
specifically aimed at the kindergarten through 12th grade market.  I suggested that they cut
some sort of deal with MetaCard to include their IDE with the distro in a manner similar to
how they now include BRU 2000.  I don't know if they are considering it or not.

   I've gotten to the point where I feel ready to start playing with Visual Tcl, and IDE for
Tcl/Tk development.  Two people have volunteered to help in trying to make Visual Tcl more
appealing to HyperCard programmers.  One of them is clearly more familiar with program
development than I am, and has suggested we start by writing up the project design goals
properly.  This sounds like a good idea, but if I'm to do it it will have to wait till
September, as July and August are already fully booked for me for job training and vacation
reasons.  I've also contacted the local school district and volunteered to help their
overworked IT staff (one guy) in whatever way he needs.  I've planted the idea of getting a
Cobalt Qube as a server for district web, email,  and discussion needs, and will see about
suggesting Linux and maybe Netwinders for the high school computer lab at some point.

   I've thought about getting some local HyperCard author (if I can find one) and having him
or her try Visual Tcl to see what's likeable or unlikeable about it.  So far I haven't acted
on that.  I've also thought about trying to find someone to attempt a HyperCard to Tcl/Tk (or
 PERL/Tk, or C, or whatever) translator.  Such a person would have to be familiar with both
the HyperCard data format and whatever was being translated to, which leaves me out.  Anyone

   I've drafted and sent out to ~40 educational software companies a letter requesting them
to support Linux.  (A copy of the letter follows)  I checked with Cliff Matthews, the
president of ARDI, before sending it out so I'm sure that my info about Executor is accurate.
  Cliff also said he'd be happy to talk directly to anyone at any interested companies about
using ARDI's expertise to make porting to Linux as easy as possible.

   That's about it for now.  I'll be mostly unavailable till August 24, but I'll try to at
least monitor my email every few days.


Dear Sir or Madam:

   If I've sent this to the wrong address in your organization, I
apologize; could you please forward it to the appropriate
person?  And could you let me know who that appropriate person is
so I can direct future communications to him or her?  Thank you.

   I know that [insert company name here] has fine educational
software programs for both the Macintosh and Windows PCs.
However, I'd like to speak on behalf of a computer community that
has heretofore been overlooked by the entire educational software
industry; the Linux community.  I'd also like to call your
attention to porting tools that can make moving Windows and
especially Macintosh software to Linux nearly trivial.

   Linux is the fastest-rising operating system in existence.
Although it isn't possible to give exact numbers of Linux users
(the operating system is freely downloadable from the internet),
the best estimates put the numbers at 6-7 million worldwide.
That's more than the worldwide total of OS/2 users and is near
(if not more than) the number of Macintosh users.  In addition,
these numbers should probably be in some part subtracted from the
Windows and Macintosh user figures, as almost all of the
computers Linux is used on initially had Windows or MacOS

   Just who are these Linux users?  They are primarily male,
technically educated, and in their early twenties.  The first two
traits are more standard than the last; Linux users range from
the teens to probably the mid-40s in age.  (I'm 45, so I had to
extend the range at least that far.)  This is a prime demographic
for the educational software market.  These are people who
generally have or will soon move into well-paying jobs in
technical fields, and who are often just starting families.
Linux users are usually not very patient with MacOS or Windows,
and so tend not to see or to consider software offerings for
those operating systems.

   To the best of my knowledge, there are currently _zero_
educational software programs available for Linux.  While many
Linux users will write their own programs if they can't find
anything to fit their needs, that has so far not been the case
with educational software.  This may be because Linux only
originated in 1991, and has only experienced explosive growth in
the last 2-3 years.  The market is completely open.

   This has only recently been noticed by the Linux community.
As more of us have young children, the awareness of the need for
educational software for Linux is growing.  I'm sure it will only
be a matter of time till someone begins to address this need.

   What is the easiest, most cost-effective way to enter this
market?  It's certainly not impossible to start from source code
and rewrite the operating-system-specific routines to work with
Linux.  That's what many Macintosh ISVs did when they wanted to
enter the Windows market.  However, there are easier ways.

   There are "wrapper" programs available for both Windows and
Macintosh programs, which enable them to run on Linux without
having to be rewritten extensively.  For Windows, there is the
TWIN library from Willows Software <http://www.willows.com>.  I
don't have any direct experience with TWIN, but the Willows
website gets quite specific on what Windows routines move across
cleanly and what ones need some touch up.

   For Macintosh programs, Abacus Research & Development, Inc.
(ARDI <http://www.ardi.com/>) has rewritten a substantial
fraction of the Macintosh OS and toolbox routines, and makes this
technology available in two different ways.  Executor is
available both as a Macintosh emulator for end-users and as a
porting tool for Mac ISVs.  Executor is available for Linux, DOS
and Windows.  A demo of Executor for Linux is included on the Red
Hat 5.1 Linux distribution, the most popular commercial
distribution.  The engineers at ARDI are fluent in Macintosh and
Linux and can evaluate how hard it would be to make a Linux
version of your Macintosh software.  In many cases it can be done
without your needing to change a single line of code.  A Linux
version of your program created in this way can easily fit on the
same CD-ROM as your Mac and Windows executables, thereby giving
you a three-OS program on one SKU.  The expenditure required to
open up this potentially lucrative new market is relatively
minor; certainly much lower than the cost of the ports many
companies made in expanding from the Mac-only market into the
Windows and Mac market.

   Finally, a personal note.  The reason I'm moved to write to
you proposing that you enter the Linux educational software
market is my 6-year-old son.  I run Linux because I can't in good
conscience support Microsoft in any way, and because I don't care
for Apple's extremely proprietary hardware and software.  If
there were good educational software available for Linux, I'd
snap it up.  I know I'm not alone; I've heard from other parents
every time I've mentioned the problem in various Linux forums.
There's a market out here waiting to buy your product.  Please
don't disappoint us.

Doug Loss            The time for action is past!  Now
dloss@csrlink.net    is the time for senseless bickering!
(717) 326-3987          Ashleigh Brilliant