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Re: speeding up Octave development

From: John Logsdon
Subject: Re: speeding up Octave development
Date: Fri, 5 Mar 1999 11:59:03 +0000 (GMT)

On Fri, 5 Mar 1999, John W. Eaton wrote:

> On  4-Mar-1999, address@hidden <address@hidden> wrote:
> | I agree that there is a need to lighten jwe's load
> | w.r.t. to development.  Having a cvs tree would be 
> | very helpful.


> My experience has been that, for whatever reason, hackers seem to be
> excited by C compilers, kernels, networking code, gui toolkits,
> editors, and even some general purpose languages like Perl.  But they
> don't seem to be too excited by spreadsheets or programs for matrix
> algebra.  At the same time, I've seen lots of physicists and
> mathematicians take an interest in Octave, but most of them are
> interested in using it to solve some problem, not in extending it.  If
> they do write new functions, it seems that they view their code as
> something that not many people would be interested in, or that is not
> polished enough for distribution (they are probably often right about
> that :-), so they don't contribute their code.

You (plural) might like to look at the way the statistical programming
language R is organised.  Apologies to those Octavists who also use R but
R is a GPL implementation of the new S language, from which S+ is also
developed.  In some ways, S+ has the advantage because it has a degree of
inertia built up but there are some features of R that are better.

The point is that up to about 2 years ago, R development was essentially
by Ross Ihaka and Robert Gentleman but then an R Core team was formed
comrpising about 12 luminaries who looked at different parts of the code
and implementation on different platforms.  Occasional other submissions
are made but the expertise level for really effective (guts-of-) R
programming is quite high.  There is improving HTML-based help
documentation and a number of libraries of useful functions.  These are
all stored at CRAN (Compresesd R Archive) which is mirrored at Statlib and

Thus what appears to be a bazaar type development can actually be
formalised without descending to the cathedral model.

This may have occurred with R because statistical issues are more focussed
and academics tend to meet or at least know each other.  Matrices are such
a general tool with applications in almost all areas that this is less
likely to occur.  However, where there is a will, there is a way. 

> I could go on, but I'll just point out an essay on this topic that
> expresses ideas that are fairly close to what I've been thinking for a
> while now:
> It was mentioned on this list a few weeks ago by Stefano Ghirlanda
> <address@hidden> (thanks!).  It's definitely worth reading if you
> are at all interested in what can make some software projects take off
> (Linux, Perl, the Gimp) and why others don't seem to go nearly as
> fast.
> jwe

I behoves us all (and I am a fairly occasional user of Octave) to minimise
the load on JWE firstly by not having recourse to the list for some of the
smallest problems (gnuplot symbols seem to be irksome and come around
frequently).  Perhaps JWE should contain himself to the development list
and leave the answers to gnuplot problems to someone else, for example?  I
know that may prove difficult!
An Octave core group could enable the development, list and documentation
without putting such a load on one person.  On the point of finance, I was
once flamed (well quite gently and by only one person, so perhaps sparked
it a better description) for suggesting that the FSF should become a
formal avenue for channeling funds into projects.  Perhaps the Octave core
team could set up a Visa account (the easiest way for transmitting cash
internationally) and advertise this for support/development while
remaining strictly within the GPL.  Noting the email addresses of a number
of contributors as being major commercial engineering outfits, perhaps
these companies - plus the myriad of smaller technical businesses to whom
a Matlab licence is out of the window - could drop money into it from time
to time.  It is in the interests of all of us to keep Octave going and
none of us I expect will want to contribute to the marketing and other
junkets on which commercial software vendors spend the majority of their

Just some thoughts.


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