Slippery open source

If you work with open source software, you've been to the place I'll describe in this column more times than you care to count. It always starts innocently enough. In my case, I needed to re-create a Linux-based development environment on my Apple PowerBook. The essential ingredients were Apache, Berkeley DB, mod_python, and libxml2. Pretty standard stuff, but I'd never assembled all the pieces on Mac OS X.

If you don't work with open source software, it's hard to explain how weird this process of assembly can be. I've never actually run Autoconf (http://www.gnu.org/software/autoconf/), the GNU tool that's used to generate the configuration scripts that probe every nook and cranny of your operating system, compiler, and libraries. But I've run lots of configuration scripts, and I fondly remember the cover of a 1988 issue of The Perl Journal. It depicted an Underwood typewriter, circa 1940, with this transcript rolling across the platen:

# sh ./Configure

Beginning of configuration questions for Perl 5.

Hmm ... this looks like an Underwood portable.

AFS does not seem to be running...

Installation prefix to use? (/usr)

Warning: no "1" key detected. Using "l" instead.

Use which C compiler? (CC)

This perfectly captures the experience of building free software from source. It's rarely so hopeless, but it often turns into a dizzying game of chutes and ladders -- especially on a Mac.

In this case, the slide down the slippery slope began when mod_python told me it preferred Apache 2 to the stock Apache 1.3 that Apple ships. That upgrade went smoothly, but I knew Apple's stock Python 2.3.5 wasn't the one I wanted mod_python to use. So I pointed its configure script at /opt/local, where I'd built a Python 2.4 with the libxml2 and Berkeley DB bindings I wanted. But when I fired up Apache, it reported a mod_python built with Python 2.3.5, not 2.4.

Yeah, I shoulda read the instructions. It's been a while since I used mod_python, and although it used to let you point to any instance of Python, now it will use only the installed one.

Well, OK. I'd been meaning to upgrade to the newest production Python, 2.4.3, which was released last month. And lo, there's even a binary installer for Mac Python. Joy! Except it doesn't include the libxml2 bindings, and when I try to build them, the tool chain can't cope with the universal binaries the installer gave me. Sorrow.

Well, OK. Binary installers are for wimps, anyway. Real men and women build from source. So I try, GCC spews forth alarming messages about "semwait" and "bad file descriptors." Inevitably, I wind up Googling for these obscure error messages.

The first proposed workaround sounds plausible: Switch from GCC 4 to GCC 3. No dice. The second sounds unlikely: Download the source again and start over. But I do, and for no apparent reason, this time it works.

Now admittedly, most of the issues I ran into were Mac-related. Linux is home base for open source software, and things always go much more smoothly in that environment. I can almost understand how some folks throw away OS X and install Linux on Apple hardware -- almost, but not quite. Until Linux feels better than OS X on a laptop, I guess I'll keep playing these games. ... although I've got my eye on a nice-looking Underwood typewriter.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jon Udell

InfoWorld
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?