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OpenT : A Free Alternative to Holtsoft’s Proprietary Turing IDE

Pre-alpha GUI

Many high school computer science students have heard of Turing, a proprietary language/IDE developed and owned by Holtsoft. The fact that Turing’s development environment is proprietary poses many problems to students who try to do their schoolwork at home. The $75 price tag is hardly justified, considering the limitations of the software’s functionality and support. In contrast, just about every other programming language has a compiler freely available. So the students either hope that the school has a distribution license (and apparently enough don’t), or they attempt to obtain the software (to do their assignments!) via less legally approved means. Obviously, this is not a good thing, and has a negative impact on a student’s learning experience, something the senior members of CompSci.ca do not want to happen.

A few months back, there was mention on the forums from Andy, talking of creating a free, open-sourced alternative to Holtsoft’s Turing programming language and an editor. Tony then split that topic, deciding that such an idea was deserving of it’s own thread. It can be found here. Tony has also published a post, discussing the legal aspects of an open sourced Turing compiler. If you don’t want to read through all four pages of posts, there is a lot of discussion on ways and means. However, general interest has died out and the project went cold for a while.

In the last couple of weeks however, rizzix has brought the subject back up. At first, some people seemed reluctant, however, I am happy to say the project seems to have taken off. Richard Drake (rdrake on the forums), has graciously registered OpenT.ca for the project and it is the headquarters for the development, announcements, and downloads. Currently,
Alex Reidler (Ultrahex on the forums) is in charge of developing the GUI for the actual IDE, and Richard is in charge of the documentation and the site.

If you have any additional questions about the project, or wish to help out, you can contact rizzix (the lead), or any of the aforementioned people, as well as myself, in the #compsci.ca IRC channel on AfterNET.org, or you can leave the questions here in the comments.

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  1. Posted by McKenzie | July 11, 2007, 1:02 pm

    When you mention Turing’s $75 price tag, I think it’s important to point out that Holt does offer Student Distribution licenses as well. It’s a one-time cost to distribute within a major version number (e.g. 4.x) It cost our school $750 (based on the number of machines we have that run Turing) and I charge students who want a copy $2, with the hopes of one day paying off the $750.

    That said, I’m not sure I understand Holt’s business model. Seems to me most of their income comes from selling books. Charging for their software in an environment of excellent open source software might just cause schools to look elsewhere for their programming languages.

    As far as the project goes it would be great practice for you guys to work on, and I’m sure you would find enough students who would love to use it at home.

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  2. Posted by Nick | July 12, 2007, 11:35 am

    I think it is great that this project is under way and I hope that it is a success. Just one thing that I’m wondering about and think might be an issue. A major problem with Holtsoft’s Turing is that it is quite slow. How will OpenT compare to Turing in terms of speed? I would think that it would end up slower since Turing was written in C , and OpenT is in Java, but I may be wrong.

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  3. Posted by Tony | July 12, 2007, 12:02 pm

    @McKenzie – if all the schools had distribution licenses, we wouldn’t be seeing “download turing” search queries in our reference logs ;) In the real world, HoltSoft’s business model should have failed, but the problem is that they sell to school boards. As with any other large corporation / vendor / etc, having paid for a product gives an illusion of support. No, I have no idea what kind of support one could possibly require for Turing, the installation process is limited to copying all the files to the same folder.

    @Nick – well first of all Java is not that far off from C plus plus (apparently the plus signs are stripped out of the comments). And that’s not even the problem. Turing’s slow execution speed has to do with it’s poor implementation of the interpret/compile process. Notice the 600Kb “Hello World” executables.

    OpenT will be a much faster implementation of Turing.

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