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Everyone likes a bargain. Be it money, time, resources or whatever, people like to save it.

A deal on something for lunch? Perfect. A good price on a nice dendrobium? Doubleplusgood — my black thumb means that I can always use another one. A copy of a mostly bug-free program for solving the coupled system of nonlinear differential equations that describe the growth of a bubble of false vacuum expanding into a background of true vacuum? I already have one of those, but heck, if that’s not the perfect birthday present I don’t know what is. I’ll take a dozen, all different colours.

Bargains are cool.

You may have noticed that one of these things is not like the others. It’s free software (I wrote it, as far as I know I still have ownership of it and it’s yours if you should happen to need it.) Technically it’s both free software and open-source software; there are subtle distinctions between the two terms. Today’s T-shirt (well, yesterday’s now) is sort of about free software but doesn’t really explain the differences. Bummer.

Software is like sex: it’s better when it’s free.
Linus Torvalds

For a lot of reasons (not just the pithy quote by a guy from Helsinki) I’m a huge fan of both kinds. Sturgeon’s Law applies, course, but then Sturgeon’s Law applies to everything. The best free software is at least as good as the best non-free software. (In some cases better — some iconic pieces of free software are arguably better at what they do than anything else IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. Even I (and I am not a talented programmer by any stretch of the imagination) have occasionally written software (in an afternoon!) that can outperform its commercial counterpart.) I’m not naive enough to believe that free software is the only way to go, of course. I recognize that there are non-free alternatives, some of them quite good. (Some of them, of course, are the only game in town.)

What this all means, though, is that I tend to think about software perhaps more than I need to and I keep my eyes open whenever I see it in an unexpected place: what is it? Is it free? Is it doing a good job? Am I likely to need something like it? If so, where would I look for it?

And so on.

All of this was going through my mind on a sunny morning in the cradle of Canadian confederation. Ms. Rose was doing responsible adult stuff and interacting with human beings while I shambled around town (alone — no unnecessary human interaction for me) with visions of tanks, lawn mowers and carrot cake in my head. It being spring, the ridiculously long NHL playoffs were underway.

I passed a sign, one of those ubiquitous portable signs that are a visual blight on the contemporary urban landscape. It said

Half price apps during playoffs

“Cool” I thought “if a little odd. I mean, why is a restaurant selling software and furthermore, why are they having a sale during hockey games? Would that really bring people in?” I kept walking. And thinking. (At least, I claim it was thinking.) “I wonder what they’re selling. I wonder if it’s any good. There’s a couple of things I could use. Maybe I’ll go there for dinner and see what they’ve got.”

It only took me about two blocks to figure out that they weren’t talking about software so I went to a chip truck instead.


The Author

Rose Glace is the pseudonym of nobody important.


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