View Full Version : Complex Freeware Versus Complex Payware
08-20-2008, 11:45 AM
In the Windows 7 thread located here http://www.flightsim.com/vbfs/showthread.php?t=185701 a vigours side discussion of freeware versus payware took place. I had cited the freeware flight simulator FlightGear as a typical example of what happens when the freeware is complex. My issues had to do with the need to compile the system in order to install it. In his post #13 to that thread loki then referred me to a binary precompiled version of FlightGear for Windows, suggesting I give it a try, which I did. The purpose of the thread you are reading now is to report on that experience, and to provide some suggested guidelines for how to ward off bad consequences of the kind of experience I had with FlightGear, which I uninstalled for reasons discussed below.
Before I give any detail you should understand that when it comes to installing new software I always assume that the installer, or the first use of the software, is going to be destructive to my system, and I take steps to be able to recover from any major problems that might arise.
So part of this discussion is going to be about my normal procedure for doing uninstalls. On that subject you must understand that mine is not the only way. In fact, member Asad_Khawer makes a strong case for software uninstallers in a thread he started that's located here http://www.flightsim.com/vbfs/showthread.php?t=185703. I hope that we'll resume that discussion below, but now in the context of removing errant software, be it freeware or payware.
As is common in these kinds of discussions, you're going to see that there is no single right answer. Rather, the discussons are intended to bring out facts, and interpretations of facts, so that you will be able to make informed judgements about what's right for your own particular situation. So when I tell you what I do, and when I tell you why I do it, you must understand that mine is not the only approach. I want to tell you what/why I do things, but I want also that you see what other knowledgable people do along with why they do it.
Those things said, here's my normal procedure for installs in case they need to be followed by immediate uninstalls ...
First, I conduct these trial installations on my flight computer rather than my development computer. That way the current versions of my data files (mainly AirBoss (TM) source code, payware, etc) are not at risk. Secondly, because the removable hard drives on which I do local backups are connected to the flight computer rather than the development computer, my first act is to disconnect them so nothing can go wrong go wrong go wrong with them.
My next step before doing the installation of the new software is to make a System Restore snapshot of the flight computer. Note that these days I always run with System Restore off, a topic for another thread in the near future, but that I always turn system restore on before doing any (repeat any) installation. This will automatically create a snapshot. Now ... Most of the time the installation of software will trigger a second snapshot, but sometimes, as in the case of FlightGear, the startup of the installer did not trigger such a snapshot. Therefore I rely on snapshots made just before the install, and if necessary I make the snapshot myself. In this case I didn't have to do that because I was starting System Restore from scratch and I knew that the snapshot would be made automatically.
So okay ... At the time I begin the installation I have the ability to roll the post-installation system back to the way it was before installation began, and I have the backup removable HDDs disconnected so that nothing can clobberr them.
I then install the software, put the program through its paces, and then make a decision about whether to keep it versus whether to deinstall it. In the case of FlightGear the decision was to uninstall it (see below for the reasons).
Now ... It turned out that the uninstaller for FlightGear appeared to do the right thing -- a complete removal of the system, including the FlightGear folder in ProgramFiles, and including the desktop icon I had requested. This is all a Good Thing, but it says nothing about the state of the registry, or about any errant file modifications that FlightGear might have made. So even though the installer appeared to work, I used System Restore to roll back to where I had been before beginning the installation. Then and only then did I reconnect the removable HDDs and reboot the system to ensure a clean pre-installation state, with all devices re-recognized by XP, and with all network connectivity re-established by XP. After that, I did a quick verification that the system was behaving normally, and then I turned off System Restore, for reasons that will be discussed in the upcoming thread regarding that bit of XP/Vista functionality.
In summary of this part of the discussion ... I'm just as paranoid about new software as I am about the potential loss of data. In each case I take positive steps that will allow me quickly and completely to recover from disaster -- backups in case of data mishaps, and System Restore in case of mishaps with newly installed software.
I'll be back later to update this thread but as you can see, I've not yet discussed what went wrong with FlightGear. I will take care of that as soon as I return from an errand I must run. Why postpone the FlightGear discussion? Because the preventive measures I take are far more important than the details of any given freeware or payware installation. In this case it was FlightGear. In another situation it might be Open Office ... Or even the Revo Installer that Asad Khawer brought up a few days ago.
Before running off I will, however, remark that installation headaches are much more likely with freeware than they are with payware, though I'm 100% paranoid in each case.
08-20-2008, 01:28 PM
Okay ... I'm back and prepared to now discuss the FlightGear experience and how it is typical of the kinds of things that can be expected with complex freeware.
Let me open by complimenting the authors of FlightGear. They have made a flight simulator that works, it's freeware, it's open source, and for as far as they went they must have done a good job because the system has a good reputation. However, if you're after a product rather than simply a system that can be made to work, FlightGear is not for you because FlightGear has not been "productized". It is a bare naked system -- a dune buggy, not a Lexus.
The fact is that by any productization standards FlightGear is not ready for Broadway. In fact, not only is it not ready for Broadway, it's not ready for Peoria much less for out-of-town off-Broadway Connecticut. What FlightGear IS ready for is use, mantainence and enhancement by the group of hobbyists that built it. In my opinion this is true of a lot of freeware. There's little to no attention paid to productization because the authors' intention is to have fun with the system, not to productize it. And this is a major issue with complex freeware. The lack of a profit motive basically ensures a lack of productization, because making a system easy to install is not where the authors will get their psychic rewards. There are exceptions like Open Office (which has other issues), but to a first approximation complex freeware usually will be hobbyware, to coin a phrase.
At last I will come to the point. Here's what happened with me re FlightGear ...
The version of FlightGear that was precompiled for Windows and given an installer is version 220.127.116.11, the first post-beta release from about 12-18 months ago as I recall. Regardless of when that release took place, FlightGear has evolved well beyond the original first non-beta version.
This means that any other release of FlightGear, including the current one, requires the same approach that I had found to be not worth my time -- get the GNU C compiler, configure it for my development system, pull together the sources plus other things from 2-3 places, compile FlightGear, play some hacker games to get it installed, and so on. This is absolutely typical of hobbyware.
Nevertheless, loki is right. I have an incentive to test AirBoss with even version 18.104.22.168 of FlightGear, so I went ahead and installed it. Here's what happened ...
The installer itself was very simple to operate though I can't say whether it caused any of the problems reported below. FlightGear was then easy to start up, and a few simple menu choices put me in the cockpit of a 172 at a plausible runway of a plausible airport. I had chosen the 172 because based on FlightSim.com statistics it is the single most popular aircraft out there.
It was intuitively obvious how to advance the throttle to takeoff power and I did that. Then I released the brakes ... or rather, I did what the instructions said would release the brakes ... but nothing happened.
So okay, the 172 has a problem on my particular machine. I then decided to load a different aircraft, this time the A-10 Warthog -- whereupon the system hung. It's not that FlightGear crashed when I told it to load the A-10, it's simply that control passed to FlightGear and never came back. The mouse wasn't frozen so FlightGear might not have been in an infinite loop, but then Task Manager was unable to shoot it down. My only way out of the situation was to reboot the flight computer.
And that's where I lost interest, deleted the FlightGear installer and then went through my normal uninstall procedure.
What went wrong?
My strong suspicion is that it was some kind of configuration dependency. Some people would say "Well, it's just a configuration dependency. If you had downloaded the sources, installed the GNU compiler, tweaked or update the video driver source code, blah blah blah, it would have worked on your machine.
That's a major problem with complex freeware, folks. The hobbyists have neither the time, nor the resources, nor the interest to test and fix the system on a wide variety of configurations within the Windows family. (Much less all the other platforms that they go through the motions of supporting.)
The fact is that only Big Software can do this kind of broad configuration testing, and it can only be done by paid testers whose full time job it is to run tests, fix problems, and isolate and fix problems reported by beta testers and early customers.
So what I'm really a fan of is Big Software. However, for Big Software to remain active they must recover all their costs and then make a profit, which means that I have to pay for their stuff if I want to use it. If they're not allowed ot make a profit, investors will take their capital elsewhere and Big Software will go away, leaving us only with Little Software, who, when it comes to complex systems, usually makes only Hobbyware.
(An analogy ... Do you want to buy your gasoline from a Texaco station, whose supply and quality is ensured by a regional refinery, which in turn is served by a pipeline fed from an offshore pipeline that is fed from supertankers that fill up in Saudi Arabia, the whole transport process costing something like 10 cents per barrel? ...
... Or do you want to roll the clock back to the days before John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil (became Esso became Exxon)? Remember ... Those days meant buying petroleum of uncertain and highly variable quality from intinerant wildcatters and then refining it yourself to produce your own local brand of gasoline from which you supplied your own gas station and maybe a few others in the surrounding area. Is that really what you want? Oil (software) from Ma And Pa Kettle (hobbyists)?
Or do you want your gasoline (heavy duty software) to come from Big Oil (Microsoft) so you can get it at a much lower price and have it be of a much higher quality ...
Because you see, folks, your time is worth money. Complex freeware is usually worthwhile only if you place value on your time as a hobbyist.
End of sermon,
Now let's hear from other people without their using terms like "bloatware" or names like "M$" ...
I took the Flight Gear Challenge. I'm a mad man. I was downloaded (172Mb base pkg.), installed and in the air flying a Cessna 172 at 800x600 res., max graphics and clouds in 12.5 minutes (including download). Circled the Oakland airport once and landed 5mins later. No problems.
Mike, I think you are generalizing far too much. I have used many commercial products that are just as bad as the worst open source projects. In my experience, being commercial or open source is not a very good indicator of the quality of software. Many commercial apps I have used leave files and folders behind all over the place after they are uninstalled. And quality control is something that many commercial products don't seem to do enough of any more, so I don't think this can be counted as a benefit.
Something else that I think needs to be clarified is that open source software can easily be produced by companies (see Apple, IBM, Red Hat, Sun and Novell for some examples), not just a bunch of hackers sitting in their parent's basements. Lumping all open source projects together is a mistake in my opinion.
One knock against commercial products like Microsoft Office are the usually proprietary file formats they use. If you want to send someone else that file, they need to have the same program (this is one of the biggest reasons MS Office is so dominant right now). What happens 10 years down the road if you need to go back and open some files and the company no longer supports that file format version? Installing an older version of the application may not be an option due to licensing or technical issues, and reverse engineered import filters don't always work very well, leaving you with the possibility of losing your data. This is becoming a big enough concern that more and more governments are requiring all files to be saved in open formats that anyone can implement to avoid being reliant on one source. Not to mention this opens up competition when software needs to be updated as you could actually switch to another vendor with little worry about losing your data.
08-20-2008, 05:33 PM
You raise an interesting point -- I'll reinstall and try it again at 800x600. (I had put it into 1024x768 mode.)
I would like to make it work but I'm not willing to put a lot of effort into it. AirBoss has no idea what programs it's working with. If the program can accept keyboard input, AirBoss will work with it, unless it's something truly far out like CrossLoop. (And I know why CrossLoop and AirBoss are incompatible -- nothing I can do about it.)
08-20-2008, 05:54 PM
Let me take your points in order. Some I disagree with, some I agree with. Here we go Ö
1 Ė I agree that somethingís being commercial does not by itself correlate with quality, but thatís not what I said, nor did I say that being open source would correlate with quality. What I said was, If <whatever> is objectively better than something produced by Microsoft then <whatever> is payware, to which I will now add, Or a loss leader.
2 Ė I share your concern about quality control. Itís why Iím still on VS6 for example, because VS8 will not compile my perfectly legitimate AirBoss sources, and Iím not going to futz with it at this time, not unless code generated by VS6 turns out to be incompatible with Windows 7. (I already know that Iím compatible with Vista.)
3 Ė The issue is not open source, the issue is freeware. Red Hat did exactly what nobody else did at first which is to productize Linux. And Red Hat product is not freeware, itís for-pay value added, and it actually reinforces my case.
4 Ė Iím in complete agreement with you regarding proprietary file formats. Pardon me for being briefly USA-centric but one of the things that made the USA a powerhouse of manufacturing and technology was standardization. You might argue that we adopted some major but incorrect standards, but the fact of standardization always expands the opportunities for all vendors, and in the end proprietary file formats hurt the proprietor. (But the proprietor never sees the foregone profits so itís easy to be short-sighted. A classic example of what can happen is Sonyís loss of the consumer market for video recorders to Panasonic. Yes, Betamax still dominates in the professional market, but thatís a drop in the bucket compared to what the consumer market had been. Of course itís gone today, replaced by DVD <and BlueRay?> but you know what I mean.)
5 Ė I agree with the need for governments to be able to second source even something as simple as office software. The national security implications for Canada of not being able to do a Canadian second source are obviously bad.
I just went quick install all default except for a few graphic and cloud 'check boxes' which I checked to increase the visuals. My post was more of just a counterpoint so folks would perhaps not get the wrong idea about Flight Gear. Of course how it runs will depend on the individual systems. The option to compile it for different system hardware/operating systems is one of the great things about open source. In my case though it runs great 'as is' pre-compiled. Ive spent the past hour or so checking it out as its been a few years since I last visited it.
Also as a counterpoint if I had a dime for the hours upon hours I have spent 'tweaking' FS over the past 15 years ... well I wouldn't complain. :)
I have to go with loki on this one. Anymore the payware vs freeware arguments really are software and 'need' specific. There is both fabulous pay/freeware and then again there is also disastrous free/payware. Has MS let 'feature creep' aka bloat in some peoples minds slip in over the years. Sure they have. But for some that one feature(s) that was added might be a bonus. Once again it depends I think on what and how you want to do something. One persons junk is another person's treasure.
For instance, I don't use MS Outlook, I don't see the advantage of having something running in the background that takes up miles of resources that I could otherwise have available for FSX, Crysis, Call of Duty, Photoshop, Vegas, Director, VideoStudio, and a multitude of other apps. Not for email. I get by just fine with Thunderbird, free open source and all the functionality I need. In my case MS Outlook wouldn't run on the OS I use for email anyway.
Now a corporation or busy individual may need Outlook and its more elaborate features so as to be compatible with those they communicate or do business with. In that type of environment the hardware and software is probably 'balanced' and provides the tool(s) needed and only those tools. After all in the end a computer set up right should provide the tools necessary for the job at hand be it sims/games, office productivity, media or code development etc.
I run all different flavors of OS and hardware. I use whats needed to get what I want done. I have a mix of freeware and payware, and both present occasional problems or fail to do whats intended. Both types also provide the many things I do want in a system and as loki says there is both good and bad in both types.
I have run Vista since it was released, and it was, in my opinion, beta then, now things have improved but I'm sure its not 'fixed' yet. Another example would be XP and the years of patches and service packs. Linux is the same way, whatever your flavor - both OSes, freeware and payware, evolve and sometimes add features. It is I think just the nature of the tech. Just like the Egyptians all those years ago, once king of the world because of their tech and philosophy - now not so much, so may Microsoft follow. Rome wasn't built in a day but they also are not now what they once perceived themselves to be. In a way Rome still is around, it's just not called 'Rome' anymore. Everything and everyone evolves, some leading the way, some kicking and screaming. I 'll leave it to the dear reader to figure out who is leading and who is screaming, because even that is up for debate. :)
It is to each his own really.
08-20-2008, 08:08 PM
I generally agree with your attitude -- use what works.
My wife and I used to run a graphic arts and printing business and for that business emphasis on Macs for desktop publishing was not just sensible, it was mandatory. It had nothing to do with system architecture, but everything to do with the software that was available at the time, which was roughly 1995 to 1999. Macs had "owned" the desktop publishing business for almost ten years by then. If you wanted to run PageMaker (and we did), you ran it on a Mac.
Toward the end of the nineties some desktop publishing software began to come out for Windows platforms. Or rather, the major software vendors started doing Windows ports. Today it probably doesn't make much difference though I don't really know, our having exited the business in 1999.
But most of what I've written above and in the other thread was in reaction to the unwarranted use of a stupid term like "bloatware". As you observed, an obscure feature might actually be useful to some identifiable fraction of the user community (my interpretation of your words).
And my point is that Microsoft goes out of its way to load software down with features. That isn't bloatware, that's the result of market research. It's like buying some consumer thing. If you buy a top-of-the-line product then you will never have to buy twice, and you will never regret your original purchase decision.
So it is for me with Microsoft, just as it used to be for other people. With a few minor exceptions you can't go wrong buying from Microsoft, just as in the days of IBM ascendancy you couldn't go wrong buying from IBM.
Now ... You hinted that you consider tuning FS to be as much or perhaps a more difficult job than tuning FlightGear. Well, I have news for you ...
... I don't tune FS at all to speak of. I buy off-the-shelf packaged computer systems, and whatever default FS performance I get out of it I pretty well accept. (Though I have to say that I was not satisfied with FSX till SP2.)
So I stand by my observations regarding FlightGear. It isn't plug-and-play so to speak whereas FS is -- and at this point in my 45 year career as a technical programmer and heavy duty user of computers and software, I really only want plug-and-play.
I suspect that most users feel the way I do. If they didn't, Red Hat would not exist.
EDIT: I did do a basic tuning of FSX based on first principles, but after that I locked the sucker at 10 fps. I'm happy with that frame rate and it frees up CPU time for increasing the level of detail in each frame. But I don't agonize over that stuff.
08-20-2008, 08:17 PM
Counterpoint posts such as you made above are exactly what this forum is about. For any given issue there are usually many "right" answers because situations and requirements differ. My goal when asking webmaster Nels Anderson to create this forum had been, and still is, educating the readership on all sides of the various issues. All the pluses, all the minuses.
But to bring all the information out where the readership can see it requires a certain amount of back-and-forth. In that vein, my real complaint with FlightGear is productization, not the technical merits of the system. I take it for granted that once installed properly (which for your system was trivially easy) the system will run well and, in some respects, might actually be superior to FS just as X-Plane is superior to FS in some respects.
For me as an end user the real strength of FlightGear is that it's available in source form. I'm going to try to get with the fellow who packaged up 22.214.171.124 for VS6 (might have been VS8) because I saw on the site that he's still very active in developing features and addons for FlightGear. Whatever he's using as a development environment might work for me provided it's Windows-based. (Actually, I have a machine I could turn into a Linux system if I felt strongly that this would help me.)
You see, I've been maintaining the Rich Probst 727-200 panel for FS2004. This would not be possible if it weren't for the fact that Rich did it open source. (He even requires that any redistribution be under unmodified Perl Artistic exactly as he included it in his final distribution.)
So I don't think my attitudes are at all unreasonable. It's just that when there's an elephant in the living room, I'm not willing to call it a mouse.
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