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President Meathead

New programs make life easier for non-corporate web developers like Kevin Flewitt


The living room in Kevin Flewitt's apartment looks more like a corporate tech department than somewhere you'd come to relax at the end of a day. There are no couches or coffee tables, just an amalgamation of servers, monitors and other gizmos. "That's Meathead, that's Bligh," he says, grinning, as he points to the various machines he's named. Actually, they're the host names of the servers, but coming from this bass-strumming former assistant to Rush, it's as if you're meeting the guys he works with.

Within the confines of these oddly monikered servers, however, live the homepages of some big-time corporate clients. Flewitt has done work for Hitachi, Rush Backstage and others he won't name because they might not want it known that their sites are housed in a non-corporate environment. "They get better performance here. They're connected to some serious backbone," says Flewitt. "There are a couple of T1s worth of bandwidth just one short hop away."

A number of advances in the web development field are making it even easier for small operators to compete with the monoliths. Flewitt has been delving into the world of PHP, a server-side scripting language which has seen a recent surge in popularity because of its ability to create dynamic HTML and its propensity for rapid development. "It's been around for a long time, but it was only for the hacker," Flewitt says. "It has developed into quite a useful language. Like Javascript, it's kind enough to tell you where the problems are. And because new machines are so fast, it just runs."

Flewitt got his start about 20 years ago implementing a computerized payroll for a 300-employee company, and later ran one of those online bulletin board systems which were the creaky yet promising forerunners to the Internet. But these days he can work in just about any operating system. "I'm not some 20-year-old kid; I've had exposure to stuff," he says.

Recently, another thing Flewitt's taken kindly to is Linux, the operating system made by developers for developers. Based on the Unix platform, Linux offers users the chance to be a part of the brave new world, and it's free.

"It hasn't been embraced
by corporate America," says Flewitt of the utopian upstart. "They want someone they can call up and complain to when it doesn't work."

Flewitt cites economics and anti-Microsoft sentiment as well as Linux's trend toward user-friendliness as reasons for its growth. "With [Windows] NT you need $1,000 to be legit, plus more for memory, but with Linux you can run it on Intel boxes, and people are starting to take this very seriously."

With conglomerates and HTML how-to-book grads fighting over a static amount of business, Flewitt sees himself in the position of being able to offer all things to all clients. "When you deal with me, you're dealing with the president and the lackey," he says. "I could do a job for $2,000, and the big boys will charge you $10,000. Also, when you call, you're going to get me on the phone."

The Linux roars

Listening to the hype surrounding Linux these days, you'd think it was only a matter of time until Bill Gates was singing for quarters in the streets of Seattle. Unfortunately, reality stands in the way of that beautiful dream.

Linux has made some great strides lately. The Free Software foundation has released Gnome 1.0, which gives Linux a user-friendly, desktop-style operating system. There's an emulator that allows users to run Windows applications and, overall, Linux has become the darling of the IT media and utopian-minded developers alike. Realistically, at this stage of the game, Linux poses no real threat to Microsoft's iron grip on the desktop operating
system market, and they've been quick to make that known. Microsoft has not hesitated to highlight Linux's shortcomings in terms of support for other applications, long-term vision and, most importantly, a very high-end learning curve for new users.

Linux's true strength may lie with the current backlash against Microsoft and subsequent great interest in its future development. Should this trend continue, and should inroads in setup and support continue to be made, in a few years Linux could become the major player the media has already dubbed it. -- MS

Torstar Corporation Torstar Digital