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Silicon Carny by Rich Morin

Welcome to the midway!

In his debut column for SunWorld, Rich Morin trains his eye on the Perl Usage Survey

January  1999
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SunWorld's newest columnist, Rich Morin, offers his interpretation of the latest standings in the Perl Usage Survey and gives us a heads-up on a couple of noteworthy conferences. (1,100 words)

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Although this is my first column for SunWorld, it isn't my first column for an industry publication. Consequently, readers of my work in SunExpert and Performance Computing (then known as UNIX Review) will have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

But, for the rest of you, here's the charter for Silicon Carny: computer lore, opinions, and rabble-rousing, in a varying blend. I'm a big fan of free (now known as open source) software, so you can expect to see quite a few references to it in the column. I also have some opinions about civil liberties, particularly in cyberspace, so be prepared for a rant on that subject from time to time.

Finally, a word about the column's title. Aside from the fact that I'm a worker in this great Silicon Carnival, the title has no deeper meaning. Really. Anyone who says different doesn't know beans about it!

Perl Usage Survey
A few months into the event, the Perl Usage Survey has warmed up quite a bit. In fact, the odor of sweating camels has caused some of our more delicate audience members to retire to the delightful bistros that line the avenues of our fair village.

So, for their benefit, here's one writer's report from the field. It's a real mess out there, with camels slogging through a track left muddy by the winter rains. Nonetheless, the determination and enthusiasm of the contestants makes this an exciting event to watch.

Linux, the underground hero from the crowded bazaar, has dominated the event from the beginning. This animal, of no certain breed, seems to have an overwhelming energy and an imaginative, aggressive racing style.

Next in the standings, though far behind Linux, are Solaris and Winstar, the pampered contestants of Grand Sultans McNealy and Gates. These animals are racing neck and neck, snarling and spitting at each other in disdain. Clearly, some sort of grudge match is involved!

Grand Sultan Gates has left the arena for the moment, claiming he has some legal affairs to handle. It also appears that he is disconcerted by the strength of the bazaar's champion. He may have muttered something about some sort of legal tactics, but I couldn't hear his exact words.

Grand Sultan McNealy continues to enjoy his cup of Java and cheer on his preferred contender, Solaris. He has been noticed, however, casting foul glances at his former contender, SunOS. Much to his displeasure, SunOS is still a favorite with many in the stands.

SunOS is also a real contender in the race, slugging it out with Mac OS for fourth place. Mac OS is a relative newcomer to Perl racing circles, but is showing a brash enthusiasm that may win the crowd's favor in time. SunOS is an old camel, but a strong racer still, as the standings demonstrate!

HP-UX, a rather heavy-set animal, is still in sixth place, but the pack is closing in fast. AIX, DecStar, IRIX, and StarBSD are all straining for position, so the ultimate standings are anyone's guess. If you have a chance, come over and see the event for yourself:

Perl Usage Survey
Top 10 most-used platforms
Win 95, 98, NT2,914
Mac OS1,521
FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD829
DEC Unix, OSF/1543
Respondents so far: 6,256 (as of January 4, 1999)

Seriously, if you use Perl, give your favorite operating systems a boost in the standings by filling out the survey form. If you don't use Perl, give it a try! It's free (in both senses: gratis and libre), powerful, and increasingly popular. Visit for more information.

Travel notes
Two great conferences will be held this summer in beautiful Monterey, CA. If you can convince your boss to let you go to either event, you're certain to have an educational and enjoyable time.

Before I get to the events, however, here's a travel suggestion: allow yourself a day or three to play tourist. Big Sur, Carmel, and Monterey are world-famous for their beauty; the Monterey Aquarium is world-famous (and deservedly so!) as a fascinating and educational place to visit.

O'Reilly & Associates will be presenting Perl Conference 3.0, August 21 to 24 (see Resources below). This isn't just a Perl conference, however; O'Reilly has expanded the event to cover a wide range of open source topics. If you're an open source enthusiast, this will be a great place to learn and make new friends.

A bit earlier in the year (June 6 to 11), the Usenix Association will be holding its Annual Technical Conference. This is the event for serious Unix hackers; papers span the range from novel applications to obscure kernel hacks. If you want to know where Unix is headed, here's the place to find out -- from the folks who will be taking it there!

The conference includes a Freenix track, which covers current developments in the open source community. So, even if you miss the O'Reilly event, you can still find out what's coming up in open source software.

If all this sounds a bit too theoretical for you, take heart. Usenix holds several extremely practical conferences and workshops throughout the year. Visit the Usenix Event Calendar ( for details.

Tune in next month, and I'll tell you all about my recent experience with a Perl hack.

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About the author
Rich Morin operates Prime Time Freeware (, a publisher of books about open source software. He lives in San Bruno, on the San Francisco peninsula. Reach Rich at

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