Friday, May 21, 1999 Published at 17:44 GMT 18:44 UK
Rewriting the Web
O'Reilly manuals' animals have mysterious links to the software
By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall
A classic book, on a free software revolution that may challenge the dominance of Microsoft, is itself being made freely available over the Internet.
There was an instant call for O'Reilly to make its specialist computer manuals on Open Source software to be made Open Source themselves.
Readers fixing the books they read
"Next I hope that O'Reilly and authors will join to permit redistribution and modification of some of their manuals describing free software packages - to help fill the great gaps in documentation that remain in our free operating systems," said Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation.
Richard Stallman is one of the authors of the series of essays that make up the book. Others include Eric Raymond of the Open Source Initiative. Larry Wall, the inventor of the free Perl language and Linus Torvalds, the Finn who first developed Linux.
New book is 'primary source'
"Unlike computer source code, you don't want people changing the primary source material, so the licence allows redistribution only without modification," he said.
The book promises to be as influential with programmers as Tom Wolfe's "The New Journalism" anthology was to the post 1960s US and British media.
"'Open Sources' is important as a primary historical source," says Eric Raymond, "It is front-line reporting from the people who were there when the wave broke."
Amaya and Third Voice democratise Web
While text may not be rewritten in the same way as code, new ways of annotating are being developed for the Net.
The World Wide Web Consortium announced the latest version of its browser, Amaya, this month which will allow users to add to others Web pages.
One new feature is update checking, notifying the user when pages they want to publish have been updated by another user. "This can be seen as the first step toward a cooperative authoring tool," says the W3C.
On the commercial front, the Silicon Valley startup Third Voice introduced an ingenious means of annotating Web pages this week.
Users can download a plug-in for their browser which allows them to add notes, similar in style to the Post-It ones, to pages. They can choose public, private or group notes so the comments can be anything from personal reminders on their own Web page, to office discussions about an online document to a reaction perhaps to the story you are reading now.
In the latter example, News sites could have a layer of interactivity which could obviate the need for chat, discussion threads or other feedback areas.
The comments are indicated by small arrows inserted in the text of the page by Third Voice's servers, clicking on them brings up the comment windows.
If the idea catches on in the same way as technologies like Real Audio, the Web would be democratised in a whole new way. But some sites may express concerns at the way their content could become cluttered with arrowed comments and over how unmoderated the contents might be.