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Re: The future of Octave

From: Kevin Straight
Subject: Re: The future of Octave
Date: Thu, 7 Dec 2000 22:09:51 -0800 (PST)

Long-winded ramble follows:

jwe's point is well taken.  Octave is a very solid and useful application,
but it is impossible to escape the fact that it is based on yesterday's
technology, not today's.  It does what it does very well, but it is
inherently limited by design considerations.  Working on my degree in
applied math over the last three years I have become increasingly
convinced that we are long overdue for the next evolution in
mathematical software.  I think we-the open source community-should be the
ones to come up with it, and let the commercial teams scramble for
bug-for-bug compatibility with US.  

What form will this revolutionary new application take?  I don't know, but
here are some ideas I've come up with:

1) Flexibility.  If you're like me, you own at least one each of the
following:  numeric software (ie octave), statistical software (minitab or
whatever), CAS/symbolic software (maple, derive, etc), technical document
prep software (ie latex), and spreadsheet.  If you're in engineering you
also probably have CAD and flowcharting software.  All of these duplicate
features found in some or all of the others.  NONE of them interoperate
worth beans.  They all use different interfaces and commands to accomplish
the same thing.  

I submit that the world is ready for a well integrated SUITE of
open-source technical applications--designed to work together and have the
same (highly customizable) look-and-feel.  I DO NOT think we should simply
take existing applications and glue them together--but instead design the
whole thing from the top down.

2) Innovative Interfaces:  Octave's command-line interface is fast (for
all of us who have been using it for years) and takes few
resources.  Those are the only good things that can be said about it.  The
new application should have both modern graphical worksheet interfaces and
the old standby command line.  The worksheet should be fast and bug-free
(which is more than can be said of Maple, for instance).  It should also
be intuitive.  Lets face it...we're the old guard.  Most of my students
have never seen a command line, and they're the ones who will be using
this thing 9 years from now, so we should make it "pretty".

3) Distributed Computing:  Now that MPI, clustering, and other kinds of
distributed computing are finally coming of age, it would be stupid to
design mathematical software without planning to take advantage of them
from the very beginning, while still being usable on the old
"one-station, one processor, one user" model.

4) Native high quality graphics:  I think the next project should draw its
own graphics, and draw them well, instead of using an external program
like gnu-plot.  

5) Portability:  This goes without saying, but obviously we want it to run
on everything octave runs on, plus emerging systems.

Well, there you go.  Maybe all of that is impossibly big.  Surely no one
person could even design it, much less do the programming.  Maybe I'm the
only one who wants it.  If it was to happen, though, I can't think of
anyone more able to do it than the readers of this list, especially
jwe.  There, would that be enough of a challenge for you?

 On Thu, 7 Dec 2000, John W. Eaton wrote:

>   There are a number of reasons, but one of the most important is that
>   working on Octave is no longer the challenge for me that it once
>   was.  Much of what I set out to do with Octave has been done.  I am
>   pleased with what we have accomplished so far, but ready to take on
>   something new.
>   I never intended Octave to be a Matlab clone, nor am I really
>   interested in creating such a thing, but that seems to be what many
>   users of Octave want.  It is not very interesting to me to simply
>   reimplement all the features/bugs of Matlab.
>   I am finding it too constraining to try to maintain almost any level
>   of compatibility with a proprietary product for which there is no
>   standard.  It stifles any creativity by the threat of future
>   incompatibility.  I see this is as a real problem, not just an
>   imagined one.
>   Free software needs a vision beyond reimplementation of existing
>   proprietary tools.  Those of us who are interested in free software
>   tools must become leaders rather than followers, and I am optimistic
>   that this can happen for numerical software.  But I don't believe it
>   can happen if Octave continues down its current path.
> What will you do?
>   I believe that we (users of numerical software tools) could benefit
>   greatly from a freely available, high quality, high level language
>   for solving numerical (and possibly symbolic) problems.  Octave has
>   been an interesting experiment, and has shown that, within the free
>   software community, it is possible to do a lot with limited
>   resources.
>   I think now is a good time to step back, examine what we have done,
>   and decide what is the best course for the future.  I'm looking
>   forward to helping to define and implement the next generation of
>   free software tools for numerical problems.
> jwe
> -------------------------------------------------------------
> Octave is freely available under the terms of the GNU GPL.
> Octave's home on the web:
> How to fund new projects:
> Subscription information:
> -------------------------------------------------------------

Kevin Straight
University of IdahoŠþstra9456

Octave is freely available under the terms of the GNU GPL.

Octave's home on the web:
How to fund new projects:
Subscription information:

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