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How Do You Find the Right Tool for the Right Job ?

Cliff posted more than 8 years ago | from the share-your-secrets dept.

Software 63

Arthur B. asks: "Whenever I try to find a software product, I find myself browsing SourceForge, but it's really hard to find something, when I only know the features I want and not the name of the project. It's hard, once I find a software, to gather information about it's reliability (is it a huge collaborative OSS project, an IT giant driven project or an end of term student project). The same is true about package trees in Linux distros. I'd like to ask the crowd: Where do you pick your software (be it commercial or not)? How do you compare different products? How do you know what a software does exactly before using it? Does a website provide this kind of help? Please let me know your tips and tricks."

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Usenet... (5, Interesting)

gowen (141411) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464045)

I know it's unfashionable, but uk.comp.os.linux is an incredibly good place to hear the pluses and minuses of any software for any task you desire. There are some really helpful/knowledgeable people there.

Google (2, Interesting)

black2d (839906) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464072)

Sounds odd but I find most everything through google.

Re:Google (1)

gowen (141411) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464366)

Google's great for finding software, but I find that if I want opinions, I need the input of people. Find what you want with google. Find out if it's any good by asking people who've had experience with similar problems to your own.

Also, if I don't know the technical term for something, describing it in simple words will enable people to realise what I need, whereas google will be no good.

That's why Google's USENET search is useful. (2, Insightful)

Richard Steiner (1585) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464677)

Otherwise known as Google Groups, or formerly known as DejaNews.

If a piece of hardware or software has been released and used by more than a few people, the chances are quite good that someone has discussed that item or piece of software somewhere on USENET over the past ten years.

Re:Google (2, Informative)

SpaceLifeForm (228190) | more than 8 years ago | (#13465138)

Same difference almost. Google groups is Usenet, at least in terms of the past information, though the usability is different.

Google Groups [google.com] is your friend.

You will find (with some effort) information about problems, products, programs, procedures, etc.

You can waste lots of time searching the web.

That is due to bullshit websites that have lots of keywords but no information.

MS likes to support those sites that frustrate Linux newbies.

Great Question. (2, Informative)

nes11 (767888) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464070)

I've recently been tasked by my supervisor to "Find and evaluate service dispatch software" for our small company of 40. After a few Google searches I got a list of over 150 software packages. Where do you even start with something like that? Is the appearance of their website enough to make the initial cut? How can one tell whether a great product has a poor site or a poor product has a great site?

Re:Great Question. (1)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464132)

It's still a bit of a thumb rule, but maybe a crappy web site speaks about the attention paid to the design of the app as well? Armature web sites generally promote armature apps. Not always for sure, but quite often.

Re:Great Question. (2, Insightful)

nes11 (767888) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464182)

Yeah, but unfortunately that's not always the case. For instance our current solution is a pretty nice program, but it has a horrible site that I would've passed off at first glance. And I would hate to put together an analysis of the best packages for us and then leave off programX that one of the bosses heard about somewhere.

Re:Great Question. (1)

Darth_Burrito (227272) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464388)

I think in general, the crappiness of the site should have a discouraging effect proportional to the necessity of good web design in the project itself. Eg, I don't care what nagios's website looks like because they write server monitoring software with a minimal web interface. However, I do care what dotproject's website looks like because they make web based project management software.

Sometimes you get a case where there's a great web tool with a crappy website, but if this is the case, I think you have to ask why? Is the project mature? Is it stable? Does it have enough resources?

If the concern is CYA with bosses, then you can always say, "but did you see their site... it was a train wreck."

Re:Great Question. [OT] (3, Interesting)

gregmac (629064) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464721)

I've recently been tasked by my supervisor to "Find and evaluate service dispatch software" for our small company of 40.

I recently went through this same search. We were looking for something that integrated a lot of our business processes. I came to one conclusion: If you want software that does exactly what you need, you have to write it yourself.

We've been using SimplyAccounting forever to do accounting, and not really tracking inventory (we have a very high number of different parts, but don't keep a huge stock on hand). Dispatching was done by filling out a form on the computer and printing it -- there was no real tracking system since the forms weren't all that searchable, and you couldn't find unfinished jobs etc.

About two years ago, we ended up purchasing a very expensive program (after looking at mid-high end accounting systems for a while) to do accounting. While trying to implement it, we found it was just too much - it forced us to alter some of our processes to work the way it wanted, and it was just overly complicated (hard to learn). On top of that, it didn't do everything we needed, and for example, I was starting plans to write the actual dispatch tracking part (with it doing invoicing and inventory). We basically abandoned that after a year, when we still hadn't made much progress in switching and they were starting to hit us up for a new support contract.

After fixing some staff problems, we started the process again in February. We ended up switching our accounting to QuickBooks, and using a product that can connect to QuickBooks called ESC by Coastal Computer. ESC can create invoices from dispatches, and post those invoices back to QuickBooks. It also has much more comprehensive inventory management and customer equipment tracking.

It still doesn't quite do everything we want (we have filters we need to service every 2 or so years, for example, and it doesn't really have good a way to 'remind' us to call the customer about that, and no way to automatically reset that date after invoicing a filter service). On the plus side it has a backend I can access (MS SQL), and in the past couple days I've written a program that looks for the service codes on an invoice and resets the service date on equipment. It doesn't require any additional interface, which is good.

We've been in this process for about 6 months though. I originally estimated a year (after my experience the first time when I figured a month or two), so we're well on track. We now do all dispatching, invoicing, and accounting stuff from QB/ESC. Most of our inventory is entered though we need to do a physical count again, and a fair amount of pricing information is missing (though getting closer every day).

So here's my advice: don't implement a solution that causes more work (ie, double-entry of data into dispatch, and then accounting) or has a steep learning curve, as people will not like to use it. Also realize that probably no software will ever meet your exact needs, just get close. Pick something that is flexible, or at least open enough so you can modify or add-on to. An open-source project would be ideal here, but AFAIK none exists.

I did consider starting an O/S project, but figured it would take at least 4 months to get something usable, and several more to work the bugs out and get a full feature set. This is not to mention the time to actually implement. It was simply cheaper to buy something than for me to spend the time on it.

Re:Great Question. [OT] (1)

nes11 (767888) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464779)

yeah it sounds like we're in a very similar boat. i looked at ESC, but right now i'm being told to avoid QuickBooks because we're planning on going with something bigger like Great Plains.

Re:Great Question. [OT] (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13465156)

If I were to do it again now, I would avoid Quickbooks too :) It has some stupid problems.. like requiring accessing with single-user mode to do certain regular tasks (something to do with liabilities).. This of course means that the ESC server (QB connector) has to be stopped so QB can go into single-user mode, and then started again afterwards. It's a real pain in the ass. I've talked to QB support about it, they just say 'thats the way it is, theres no plans to change it'.

Unfortunately, there's very little in the mid-sector accounting world.. you basically get the $100-300 range programs, and then the $10k+ programs. There are a couple O/S applications starting to look promising though. Compiere [compiere.org], WebERP [weberp.org], OSSuite [sourceforge.net], and SugarCRM [sugarcrm.com].

I'm actually looking at deploying SugarCRM along with our current software. It has SOAP connectors, so I should be able to link the customer database with the ESC customer database. That's a couple months off though, there are other priorities first.

Anyway, good luck!

Re:Great Question. [OT] (1)

djweis (4792) | more than 8 years ago | (#13478811)

Approximately how much is the ESC software? It looks pretty thorough.

Re:Great Question. (2, Interesting)

Zphbeeblbrox (816582) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464837)

I basically look at just a few things when trying to decide what package to try:

1. does it have the features I need listed currently or are they just on the future roadmap.

2. Do they have screenshots of the app in action? Screenshots can tell you a lot about the design philosophy of the app and what features are actually implemented.

3. How much documentation is there on the App. The more actual user documentation there is the more mature and established it is (for the most part anyway).

4. Google for people using it. A strong userbase drives OSS development forward.

That will cut down the choices quite a bit. After that you really just have to try some out. It won't cost you anything if they are OSS and you can get a first hand look at the App in action.

And we wonder why God Almighty... (1)

mosel-saar-ruwer (732341) | more than 8 years ago | (#13465849)

After a few Google searches I got a list of over 150 software packages. Where do you even start with something like that?

And we wonder why God Almighty invented salesmen.

Oh ye of little faith...

CPAN (2, Funny)

bhima (46039) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464078)

I know that sounds crazy but that's usually where I wind up anyway

Re:CPAN (2, Funny)

anti-trojan (741754) | more than 8 years ago | (#13465379)

I think you make a signature for yourself to find the software you are looking for.

Re:CPAN (1)

ottothecow (600101) | more than 8 years ago | (#13554217)

I've found that for some things that that actually works very well. I've found programs, scripts, and even the .wad files for the first 3 DOOMs by simply asking in my .sig.

It also seems that the better the comments you post, the more inclined people are to help you.

Re:CPAN (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13490063)

Ha! Ain't that the truth. I only wish the Python folks would stop being Ostriches and implement a CPAN, because I'm ready to end my Camel ride as soon as they do.

Demos (3, Interesting)

Apreche (239272) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464082)

I usually don't go looking for software that does X, Y or Z because I usually just know. But if I have a need I often just ask people or use google. Also, I lookin Gentoo Portage using the esearch program. 99% of the Linux software you ever want to use is in there.

As for knowing if the software is good or not I run a demo, or I just install it if it's free. If I know what I want it shouldn't take more than the install time plus a few minutes to know if it's good or not. If there is no way to try the software for free, screw it. I wont even consider something I can't try before even knowing if it's what I want.

But most of the time I learn about new software isn't because I go looking for a program with certain features. It's from keeping track of things like del.icio.us pouplar [del.icio.us]. If there is a new program released that does something cool it will be there.

Huh? (2, Funny)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464107)

Whenever I try to find a software product, I find myself browsing SourceForge, but it's really hard to find something, when I only know the features I want and not the name of the project

If you knew the name of the solution to your problem, you wouldn't be searching for a solution to your problem, now would you?

Freshmeat (4, Informative)

slashflood (697891) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464117)

Get an account on Freshmeat [freshmeat.net], so you can sort the results of a query by rating, popularity and vitality.

Stay informed and up-to-date all the time and not only if you've been delegated to a project.

Re:Freshmeat (1)

GypC (7592) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464285)

+1 Informative.

freshmeat.net is one of the first places I go.

Re:Freshmeat (4, Insightful)

toddbu (748790) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464727)

But don't stop there. Type the name of the package into Google and look at the number of results that come back. Browse the results and see how many of these are requests for help. Check the answers to see if they make sense, which means that there are knowledgeable people willing to help. Finally, check the date/time stamps to find current queries.

Re:Freshmeat (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13469473)

There are some F/OSS projects where you can't decipher by looking at the project homepage if the code is still being actively developed or maintained, or will even compile cleanly. Google wont always help you with that.

I usually check out the changelog, web based view of the VCS (also because I don't run code written by morons) and finally public mailing list archives.

Note to everyone: It's very important that documents and news/status updates are dated **SIGH**

Re:Freshmeat (1)

BinLadenMyHero (688544) | more than 8 years ago | (#13471588)

Sourceforge is not a software directory, it's a central host for development.

Freshmeat, while being really a software announcment site, happens to be a much better place to search for software. I always sort by popularity. The activity score is important too. The dates of project initial announcement and last update, the popularity and activity scores are displayed also in the search results, giving a quick hint where the good choice may be.

Re:Freshmeat (1)

Silkejr (856308) | more than 8 years ago | (#13475502)

Those freshmeat ratings are nice. Somebody should integrate that into Synaptic so you can see it when you're installing packages too, that'd be cool.

Portage (2, Interesting)

dmayle (200765) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464188)


For those not in the know, that's the package repository used by Gentoo. If I know what I'm looking, I search there first. (It's based off of the *BSD port trees.) If I know the genre, I can also search there by category.

For those packages that I have no clue for, I generally search the gentoo forums at forums.gentoo.org [gentoo.org]. Even for non-gentoo linux issues, this forum is very helpful, especially for scratching an itch.

This may seem a bit like zealotry, but portage is the main reason I've abandoned all other linuxes. Almost every time I've wanted software, it's been in the portage tree. The very few exceptions have meant I looked in gentoo's bugzilla for a package that hadn't made it into the public tree yet, and the only time all of this had failed, I wrote my own ebuild and posted it to bugzilla for others to use.

Gentoo: came because I was intrigued by the flexibility, stayed because I don't like installing software, or re-installing OS's, and portage and the rolling upgrades have been fantastic.

Re:Portage (1)

EllF (205050) | more than 8 years ago | (#13465293)

A-yup. That's why Gentoo rocks, and why it rocks -far- more than the other distros. It has little-to-nothing to do with speed, and everything to do with ease of use, flexibility, and an amazingly good set of user forums.

Re:Portage (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13469497)

Gentoo's kernels suck and most packages are several releases behind, I always seem to need features only availiable from pulling the latest tarball and building myself. Portage has its place but after running "emerge -uD world" and regular manual updates of firefox, inkscape, gimp and a host of other apps on my 32-bit desktops and AMD64 laptop, any myths surrounding portage have vanished.

Also, gentoo is a great desktop but I wouldn't run it on servers unless I had a rack of identical machines updated from a single build machine, that would just be a waste of resources.

Trove & use cases (3, Insightful)

MarkusQ (450076) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464206)

That's one reason I wish more projects would categorize themselves in the trove software map or something similar. It typically only takes a minute or two, and it's a nice break from coding (or something to do while you wait for a compile).

For that matter, writing up a few use-cases can help clarify your thinking, and posting them can help people find your project and decide if they want to use it. The problem with screen shots (which seem to be much more common) is that they aren't searchable.


Several useful steps. (3, Informative)

hackwrench (573697) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464271)

Not in any particular order:
Look up the terms on Google and see if there is an overarching concept involved.

Look for Wikipedia entries for those terms and the overarching concept. See if any of them have links to Wikipedia pages on software.

Do the same thing with sourceforge.

Do a google search for the software you find. That may lead you to pages that say how good the program is as well as other programs that do similar things.

Jesus. Just Jesus. Jesus.... (0, Offtopic)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464398)

Your web site brings up FIVE THOUSAND pounds of spam. Get a real host, or put it on your machine at home!

Re:Jesus. Just Jesus. Jesus.... (1)

dantal (151318) | more than 8 years ago | (#13466022)

Get a real browser, Firefox/adblock and I got no adds at all.

Re:Jesus. Just Jesus. Jesus.... (1)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 8 years ago | (#13466267)

Get a life, and stop pushing your opinions on other people.

Re:Jesus. Just Jesus. Jesus.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13468296)

C'mon man, you're being rude.

That guy could say the same thing about your advice.

Do not use Gugul (1)

aminorex (141494) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464621)

Use Vivisimo instead. Then the results are broken down into categories. Can't find what you want because it's buried on page 10 amidst mountains of unrelated crap? Vivisimo to the rescue.

I do this a lot (4, Informative)

L. VeGas (580015) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464384)

I do this a lot.
I run a freeware review site [nedwolf.com] [blatant plug] , and I basically scour delicious.org/popular and software, digg.com / software , freshmeat, FileForum Beta News and a few others. I download 'em, try em, and see what's what. It's a little easier for me because I'm limited to freeware, but these are good places to start.

Re:I do this a lot (2, Informative)

hubie (108345) | more than 8 years ago | (#13465255)

You have a very nice site which I will certainly bookmark. I did find it interesting that you do not have a link to TheOpenCD [theopencd.org]. I would think it would complement your site very nicely as it provides a nice ISO containing a lot of the software you recommend, which makes their installation very convenient.

I only did a quick run through of your site, but am I correct that it is a Windows-only software site? I will certainly pass your URL around because I work with some people who seem to feel that software isn't any good or reliable unless they paid someone money for it.

Re:I do this a lot (1)

L. VeGas (580015) | more than 8 years ago | (#13465591)

Very kind of you.

Yes, it's Windows-only. Frankly, I felt that to include Linux software would be largely redundant since so much of it is already free, and I don't know enough about Mac software to include that.

I should put the OpenCD link on there. I'm familiar with it and have downloaded it before. Good stuff.

Re:I do this a lot (1)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 8 years ago | (#13466153)

MOD PARENT UP. Excellent site!

Michael Moore on Bush incomptence [michaelmoore.com]: Not a good writer, but good ideas

Re:I do this a lot (1)

ottothecow (600101) | more than 8 years ago | (#13554353)

his site is really good...too good

I was browsing through it and I kept installing things and now I dont evern remember everything I installed.

Hopefully the ones I am forgetting are those little useful utilities that show up when you need them (like foldersize) but you dont have to actively use.

This site solves the problem for Windows users. (1)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 8 years ago | (#13466277)

MOD PARENT UP. Excellent site!

Whoops! Hit the submit button before I was fully ready.

What do you think of TugZip [tugzip.com]?

I would like a way to limit searches on your web site to Open Source software. I think it would be good if each listing on your site mentioned if the package is open source.

Michael Moore on Bush incompetence [michaelmoore.com]: Not a good writer, but I agree.

Download.com (2, Informative)

Sundroid (777083) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464409)

Download.com (http://download.com/ [download.com]) has improved a lot, most significantly its pledge that none of the software on its site have spyware or adware. Download.com is operated by C/NET.

Their editors' rating is fairly reliable, if not, the users' comments usually set them straight.

IRC (1)

dasunt (249686) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464417)

I go to certain IRC channels where the question wouldn't be off-topic and ask "I'm trying to do in , and I've found several different projects out there by googling. Can anyone recommend a specific application for ?"

Of course, that takes knowing the right IRC channels, and there is no way I'm posting that for the /. trolls. :)

Certain usenet groups and mailing lists are also very helpful.

The zen of jedgment (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13464465)

Acolyte: Master, how can I be sure I have good judgement?

Wiseman: You will gain good judgment only with experience.

Acolyte: How do I obtain this experience?

Wiseman: Bad judgement.

apt-cache search (1)

swillden (191260) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464618)

It's far from the only tool, but at least 95% of the time it does the job for me. Debian has packaged such a massive collection of software that there's something for nearly every task. Two or three somethings, usually.

Re:apt-cache search (1)

CAPSLOCK2000 (27149) | more than 8 years ago | (#13464982)

I've got to second this one. apt-cache search is very usefull. And if apt knows about it, I can install the software in seconds, and most of the time it has a sane default configuration. Enough to give me a good picture of it's features and quality.
Ofcourse this doesn't work for all software, but it's always my first step when looking for software.
The next steps are freshmeat and google, but usually those take a lot more time, because of searching, compiling and integrating it with my system.
BTW, I use the date of last release, and the amount of documentation as important metrics in my search. If there is a lot of good documentation, the software is probably good as well. As you probably know, programmers don't like writing documentation. So if they, or someonelse cares enough to produce docs, the software shoud have received a lot of care as well.
The number and date of releases tells you something about the dedication of the authors to their product. It will tell you if the programm is just an experiment by a rabid programmer, or if their is dedicated team doing regular releases behind it.

apt-cache search <whatever> (2, Informative)

hummassa (157160) | more than 8 years ago | (#13465078)

for every type of software I need, usually there is a Debian package :-)

Re:apt-cache search (1)

SharpFang (651121) | more than 8 years ago | (#13465555)

Still doesn't solve the problem. Browse several 1000's of packages in dselect? Depend on the limited search capablities of APT? There's still no mapping of functionality->name beyond basic "webservers", "productivity", "office" or such.

Re:apt-cache search (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13467418)

Don't browse, search!
I used gentoo and eix to search the portage tree... its instantaneous.
eix "bittorrent client" | less

Notice I mentioned "apt-cache" (1)

hummassa (157160) | more than 8 years ago | (#13469585)

Not dselect/synaptic. But even synaptic/aptitude can (or will?) search by debtags, which brings us exactly for the type of keyworded-search (webservers, productivity) you want.
Let's try an example. Say I want to install some electrical circuit design/simulation in my computer. So, I do "apt-cache search electrical":

atlc - Arbitrary Transmission Line Calculator
electric - electrical CAD system
ksimus - KDE tool for simulating electrical circuits
partlibrary - Electrical and processing parts and symbols for QCad 2
transcalc - microwave and RF transmission line calculator
vipec - network analyzer for electrical networks
x10 - Operate X-10 electrical power control modules.
xfig-libs - XFig image libraries and examples

In a cursory examination, I select ksimus and qcad (with partlibrary). Now, I can kynaptic/aptitude away and voilà: I have what I wanted. That's the system I have used for the last five years (four of them in MS-less desktops). If it's not in Debian, I search for it in http://apt-get.org/ [apt-get.org]

Real simple.

Freshmeat.net! (1)

Phreakiture (547094) | more than 8 years ago | (#13466137)

I have been using Freshmeat.net [freshmeat.net] for seven or eight years. It is a great place to get open source material. It includes not only sourceforge projects, but other OSS and non-OSS projects as well. The search function seems to work well enough for me to find good solutions to my needs.

Do what I do... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13466463)

...and submit your question to Ask Slashdot.

For the life of me I don't know if this comment is +1 Insightful, +1 Funny, or -1 Troll.

In My Pants, of course (0, Troll)

infonography (566403) | more than 8 years ago | (#13466502)

Such a self-serving question deserves a sarcastic response.

Like everybody here I look on slashdot, theregister and google. I ask my friend who in turn ask me on other topics. There simply is no true and absolute source for answers. And to be frank, Slashdot it's really a place to find answers. Too bad slashdot limits the size of you sig or I would have used this;

Linus Torvalds on Slashdot

"Gaah. I don't tend to bother about slashdot, because quite frankly, the whole _point_ of slashdot is to have this big public wanking session with people getting together and making their own "insightful" comment on any random topic, whether they know anything about it or not."

Help Me, Too (1)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 8 years ago | (#13467351)

I've been looking for a clone of MS Project that runs in MacOS X for ages, and so far all I've gotten is, "you want Project? are you a pointy-haired boss? LLOLOL"

Any advice?

Re:Help Me, Too (1)

Black Perl (12686) | more than 8 years ago | (#13490100)

I think you got your help, you just don't realize it. Project management using Gantt charts and waterfall diagrams is so 90's. You may want to think about updating your methods.

Ask somebody (1)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 8 years ago | (#13474322)

Open source software isn't just software, it's a community. If you're looking for software, ask someone else who does what you want to do what they use. If you don't know anyone who does what you want to do, then you need to find them.

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