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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.

Tim O'Reilly on "Open Sources"
"Open Sources: Voices from the Revolution" was published in January by O'Reilly & Associates in book form, but was this week made available online on its Website.

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.

[ image: The book now online]
The book now online
The foundation lays open the source code of its software for others to change and improve upon, and then redistribute. The practice among programmers around the world has led to the development of a global library of free reliable software, such as the Linux Operating System, to challenge the proprietary software of corporations such as Microsoft.

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'

Tim O'Reilly on the manual animals
Tim O'Reilly, whose authoritative manuals on Open Source software feature distinctive animal prints on their covers, says this particular book should not be open to changes:

"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.

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