Monday, December 29, 2008

Open Source Tools

I just wanted to put in another plug for Maxima, the open source computer algebra system that I use regularly. The great thing about using an open source tool, other than customizability and the ability to "look under the hood", is the responsiveness of the user and developer community.

I found a little bug in the f90() function that caused it to use the old fixed-format FORTRAN77 style line continuation characters when outputting a long matrix expression (bug report) rather than the correct Fortran90 free-form style. I posted a bug report to the list on the 18th of October, I had a reply from another user who understood the problem that same day. A work-around was posted (here by me), and the fix was committed to the code on the 24th of November by one of the project's developers. I had the fixed version of the code shortly after that without any effort on my part because I do automatic updates with yum.

Talk about sweet, if I had sent in a bug report like this to a commercial software company I certainly wouldn't have seen such a quick response, a little nuisance like this with a fairly easy work-around wouldn't rate very high on anyone's priority list (but mine), and they probably would have made me pay for a new version to get the fix when it finally did happen! There's a lot of value in such responsive support that makes up for a lack of some of the fancier (but usually unnecessary) features available in some of the commercial computer algebra packages.

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