Getting information quickly off the Net always seems to be a lost cause while at university, whether it is downloading Service Pack number 24 from Microsoft, or finding a cure for yet another Word macro virus.
"The BURKS project is to make as much relevant information as possible available to students of computer science at the lowest possible price," and that is exactly what this CD does.
The CD's author is a senior lecturer at the University of Brighton, John English. He has taken his extremely varied interests in computing and lovingly wrapped them together in an exciting package, to keep both computing expert and novice happy for weeks. Taking public domain (shareware/freeware) software, he has put together a compilation of the best and most frequently used utilities and tutorials available on the Web.
The BURKS (Brighton University Resource Kit for Students) project came about when in the summer of 1996, John took the contents of a small shareware archive he was building up for the university and, with university funding, produced 250 copies of the first edition of the CD. Although essentially a resource for students the software proved also to be a success in industry. This success allowed further production runs of the disc and greater exposure.
The second edition, sponsored by GEC-Marconi and Pavilion Internet, allowed an increased production run and a reduced cost to the student. The Pounds 3 price is an absolute bargain. The student is also definitely in mind in the choice of software and information. The content of the CD caters for individuals who do not necessarily own the latest Pentium II processor with 24 speed CD-Rom drive. 486 owners running Windows and DOS users will get just as much out of the CD, using the included copy of Netscape 3.01. The interface is well laid out, with easy access to the eight main areas covered.
Possibly the most useful resource on the CD is a copy of the Free Online Dictionary of Computing, which incorporates more than 10,000 entries from ABENDing (crashing) servers to the ZX Spectrum (remember when 128K was more than enough?) Although there is a distinct lack of diagrams to support the text, there is enough to point the reader to further topics, with a short reasonable explanation for most items. The programming tutorials are well chosen and each of the 24 languages has at least a dozen references. Old favourites such as C/C++ and Modula 2 have been included with corresponding compilers and source code. Having such a collection in one place saves time and money in terms of download costs. This particularly applies to the software utilities that are generally not small in size. The range of material on PC configuration is extensive, but the documentation is only as current as your last visit to Dillons. To solve this there are dozen of references to external sites.
The inclusion of Linux is a godsend for anyone who has tried to download it. It has become one of the fastest growing operating systems among students. It is a complete Unix clone, allowing the running of the X Windows interface and detailed right down to the last command, including the dreaded vi, a powerful yet unfriendly text editor. Linux shares your hard disc with existing copies of DOS or Windows on a separate partition. Full documentation is available .
All of the software on the CD has a handy installer, saving you the trouble of remembering where you put your latest copy of PKunzip. To give the hard-working student a break from coursework, there is a selection of games including shareware versions of Doom and Quake.
The only gripe I have with the CD is that it is not fully searchable. Even so, it is so simple to browse that you will think you are on the Net.
Anthony Hunte is a support analyst at Times Supplements Ltd. He recently graduated in computer systems technology at the University of Westminster.