September 29, 2014
 
 
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Case Study: Clusters and Image Processing, Part I - page 5

The Case

  • March 17, 2002
  • By Dee-Ann LeBlanc

One of the biggest reasons I hear companies, organizations, and individuals mention for at least considering an Open Source solution is the lack of software vendor lock-in. Once again, although this was not the primary consideration for the ImageLinks changeover, it has become a distinct advantage. In the past, ImageLinks ran into any number of bugs in the commercial, proprietary software it purchased.

One excellent example of the value of Open Source and dealing with bugs involved wxWindows. This is a cross-platform development environment for Unix flavors, Windows versions, and MacOS. While working on software with their remote sensing Open Source group--see the section "Giving Back to the Community" for more on this--the folks at ImageLinks encountered a memory leak problem that led to segmentation faults. Because this tool was Open Source, ImageLinks was able to track down the problem and then send a fix to the wxWindows team.

NOTE: ImageLinks now uses the Open Source version of wxWindows for all its current GUI development. Doing this ensures that everything interfaces cleanly and also makes it easier in the long run to add other GUIs along the way because ImageLinks has access to all the source code.

Bugs are not the only problem with vendor lock-in. ImageLinks cannot totally dispense of its SGI machines because not all the vendors whose proprietary software it uses have Linux versions of their tools or are willing to produce them. Fortunately, some vendors were willing to take this step. Modis Solutions' (once known as Open Ware)

GUI toolkit libraries, for example, are interwoven with much of the proprietary software ImageLinks uses because this package was developed before modern design practices dictated separating the GUI from the functionality. ImageLinks might have been hard-pressed to decide whether it really wanted to allocate the resources to the immense effort of replacing those libraries. Fortunately, OpenWare responded to ImageLinks's request to provide a compiled version of its libraries that would work under Linux. This, of course, means that OpenWare can now offer this port to its other clients as well, and perhaps increase its client base. Another company, however, was not so keen on building a new version of its offerings.

ERDAS produces the Imagine remote sensing tool. Versions of this program are available for the Compac Tru64 (Digital) AlphaStation, Hewlett-Packard 9000 series 700 and 800 workstations, IBM RS/6000, Microsoft Windows 95, Microsoft Windows 98, Microsoft Windows NT 4, Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional, Microsoft Windows 2000 Server, SGI, Sun Solaris, and SunOS platforms. Unfortunately, ERDAS is not interested in producing a version of this tool for Linux. Mark Lucas points out that ImageLinks would expect to pay the same for the licensing fees for the Linux version that it does now for the SGI version, and would even be willing to assist with porting the application. Dialog about this issue continues between ImageLinks and ERDAS.

Preparing a software version for Linux does not require entering the Open Source realm. Some vendors do seem to equate the two, however. Since ERDAS does not have a version of their tool for the Linux platform, ImageLinks and others find themselves looking for either Open Source or proprietary solutions that allow them to stay with their platform of choice. Open Source will probably get precedence, however, unless the new tool is available on a number of platforms and the vendor seems amicable to porting it if necessary later. Open Source might get precedence because if an Open Source program that provides the same functionality as ERDAS exists, the folks at ImageLinks can port it to whatever platform they need on their own.

The movement to Open Source and Linux also began another set of considerations. Once the Open Source programming tools were selected, the programming team began wondering what else it could make use of for ImageLinks' needs. The two programs the company finds the most useful these days are mySQL and PHP3. Using these two programs together has allowed for the building of a custom job-tracking package that enables ImageLinks to keep track of the time and resources (and more) spent on each particular project.

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