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Computers & Software

Getting off the Microsoft carousel

Ten years ago, when EP Office (known as EP Database back then) first emerged from the primordial binary soup to crawl across the computer screens at the University of Colorado, the only platform I considered using was Microsoft. The database used was Microsoft Access 2.0. Over the years various features were added to the program, using other members of the Microsoft Office suite to provide features such as report generation (Word) and billing sheets (Excel). Meanwhile the Office suite mutated to Office 97, 2000, XP, and then its current iteration, Office 2003. Office 2007 is reportedly around the corner. Each update meant spending money to buy the new program, and then modifying my program to work with the new Office version. You see, each update to Office changed the format of the Access database file, and changed the syntax of Visual Basic for Applications, with the result that each Office update broke my program. The present version of EP Office works best with Office XP. It will also work with Office 2003, but certain security features added in 2003 cause some hiccups in the smooth functioning of EP Office. But I am sick of living or dying at the whim of Bill Gates and Company.

So, what is the answer? For the past several years I have been working with the Linux (perhaps more correctly GNU/Linux) operating system. Linux is fundamentally a clone of a very old, in computer years, operating system, Unix. Old Unix programs written 25 years ago still run on it. Backward compatibility is obviously a top priority. Moreover, Linux and its applications are open source, so that the source code is always available to the developer. Bugs in Microsoft programs are just tough luck, unless Microsoft decides to fix them. Bugs in open source programs are scrutinized by multiple developers and are fixed quickly.

I am thinking of releasing the source code of EP Office, making it open source. The problem with open source software is that it is difficult to generate much income from it. Anyone can download and make a copy for free. Nevertheless I am seriously thinking of doing this. It would certainly go against the grain of most medical software, which is generally prohibitively expensive. It would have the advantage of allowing others to adapt the program to the ever changing Microsoft Office suite, or allow the program to be cloned to a healthier platform, such as a web-based interface. We shall see…

By mannd

I am a retired cardiac electrophysiologist who has worked both in private practice in Louisville, Kentucky and as a Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver. I am interested not only in medicine, but also in computer programming, music, science fiction, fantasy, 30s pulp literature, and a whole lot more.

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