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Re: The future of Octave

From: Paul Kienzle
Subject: Re: The future of Octave
Date: Fri, 8 Dec 2000 10:34:59 +0000
User-agent: Mutt/1.2.5i

On Thu, Dec 07, 2000 at 10:15:20PM -0500, Andy Adler wrote:
> On Thursday, December 07, 2000 2:30 PM, John W. Eaton wrote:
> > I've now worked on Octave for almost nine years.  During most of that
> > time, I have enjoyed the challenge of working on a relatively large
> > project.
> I think the first thing to be said is a big _congratulations_


> for John. I've been using octave for four years now, and I've
> really come to appreciate the design. I find it far easier
> to find my way around in the octave source than in any of the
> proprietary projects of similar size I've worked on. In fact,
> I used to be very suspicious whether C++ actually provided anything
> useful to programmers, other than giving them more rope with
> which to hang themselves...  Octave convinced me that C++ can
> be a good thing.
> >   Because Octave is free software, it will continue to be available.
> >   By sometime early next year (perhaps by Octave's ninth birthday,
> >   February 20, 2001) I will release a new "stable" version (based on
> >   the 2.1.x sources), which I will continue to maintain to the extent
> >   of fixing serious bugs.  I don't plan to work on any new features,
> >   though I may accept well-written patches that include documentation
> >   and ChangeLog entries.
> > 
> >   Although I plan to continue fixing serious bugs in Octave, if
> >   someone (or perhaps a small group) is interested in taking over
> >   maintenance of Octave, you should contact me so we can discuss it.
> I would very much like to see octave development continue. I believe
> that this should be possible. In the last year the user community
> seems to be becomming much more active. Perhaps, looking at the most
> optimistic scenario, John's stepping down will motivate enough of us
> to get active, so that development can even accelerate.
> In order to do this, however, much needs to be done:
> 0. First, how important is keeping octave development alive anyway?
>    Do enough people care?

I have had a number of contributions to my Matlab compatibility package,
so I would say that people still care.  If more people coming over
from Matlab recode the routines that are missing (or fill in missing
features) then it would grow even faster (at least for the parts that
people care about).

> 1. The "communitity" needs to come to a clear consensus about
>    the goals of future development.
>    How important is Matlab compatability?

I started using Octave because it was said to be the most Matlab compatible.
Since I was using somebody else's code which was under active developement,
it was important to me that it run without change.  I did have to spend a
couple of months reimplementing a large hunk of the signal processing toolbox
in order for it to run, but it was worthwhile.  Especially since there is
a large body of other freely distributed interesting scientific code out
there coded for matlab.

Besides which, if you want to the spanking new exciting feature rich
language, just follow John.  I hope he chooses to write a new interpreter
based on liboctave so that both projects can share improvements in
the base.  It will be a little more work for Octave but better for both
projects in the long run.

>    There are now various contributions that exist all
>    over the net.  How easily should these be added to the
>    source base?

Octave itself will do much better with an "owner" who decides what goes
in and controls releases.  Preferably somebody with enough familiarity
with the code to assess patches and enough time to help new contributors
to make their patches better.

>    Should octave have additional "non-numeric" features to
>    support all sorts of generic scripting language features?

Do scientific programmers need to do string processing? database access?
GUI interfaces? process control? cgi scripts?   How about a web interface
to the data taken at your beamline which allows you to select a particular
sample and applied field, perform a variety of fits and produce a graph
of the results?  The project I have in mind is being written in Java, but
it would be nice if something like octave could handle it.

>    My opinion is that contributions should be accepted fairly
>    easily. This will broaden the developer base, although it 
>    will reduce the cleanliness of design.
> 2. There needs to be a new maintainer/ maintainer group?
>    Ideally this can be done in a way that everybody is
>    happy with, encouraging contributions and preventing
>    the temptation to fork.

It's not forking that is the danger.  It is all of those half-baked patches
which work well enough for your particular case but aren't yet ready for
general distribution.  A single site which collects them until they can be
beaten into shape for general distribution would be a good thing.  And, no,
searching through seven years of submissions to help-octave, octave-sources
and bug-octave is not my idea of a collection.

> 3. Where will octave be hosted? Where will FAQs, mailing lists,
>    etc. be kept.
>    One option would be to move development to sourceforge.

I agree that sourceforge has too much on it, especially since there is no
way to move your project from source forge.  Sure you can move the tarball
of the sources, but all the mailing lists and bug tracking and so on are
there at the mercy of a hostile takeover of VA Linux.

There are a number of other sites which do project hosting, such as SEUL,
but I don't know of their relative merits.

> Well, that's my 2c worth. What do others have to say?
> _______________________________________________
> Andy Adler                     address@hidden
> -------------------------------------------------------------
> Octave is freely available under the terms of the GNU GPL.
> Octave's home on the web:
> How to fund new projects:
> Subscription information:
> -------------------------------------------------------------

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

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