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SEUL.org: Linux in Science Report #8

Apr 03, 2001, 18:29 (3 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Pete ST. Onge)

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"...A few months ago, I saw a page by a lab workstation with an archaic, 8" floppy disk taped to it, and the message "Always transfer your files; Formats change, and you never know when you won't be able to read them anymore." I think most of us, at one time or another, have had to deal with compatibility problems in physical media. More often, though, incompatible data file formats present the big headaches."

"Most Linux software has some very substantial built-in safeguards to guard against this sort of software obsolescence. Many programs use text files to store data, and even those using complex formats (like gnumeric and SciGraphica ) use XML, which itself is text. Although in some cases it may be inconvenient to parse through text formats to get data into a newer version of a given application, common editors like vi and emacs both support regular expressions to simplify large-scale data taming. Of course, combining the power of stream editors like sed and awk with simple shell scripts can also help make short work of large data tasks."

"From a system perspective, Linux has several advantages over most commercial systems to ward off obsolescence. The Linux kernel maintains the full range of filesystem types (minix, msdos, vfat, hfs, ntfs, ext2, iso9660, reiserfs and ext3 - I'm sure I've missed some!) so data and other files stored previously on more mature filesystems are easily read by modern Linux workstations. I'm aware of many labs that use rather old DOS-based programs for some analyses as either nothing more recent currently exists for other platforms, or the equivalents are not yet known. In these cases, it is possible to use an emulator (like plex86) to run these applications."

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