Monthly Archives: January 2007

Windows Vista versus OpenGL

I just finished reading Tom’s Hardware’s benchmarks comparing Vista and XP. I remember hearing that Microsoft was dropping OpenGL support and Tom’s confirms it with their benchmark of OpenGL apps. I don’t follow the graphics community as much as I’d like but this really has to be a blow for some of them. If not that, then it’s a blow for them upgrading to Vista.

Back on my Digital Content Creation with Eclipse soap box, I guess this kind of spells doom for the OpenGL work that’s been going on with Java and, by extension, SWT. I have always thought that it would be very cool to have a 3D modeler built on Eclipse and nicely integrated with the CDT to build games and such. Most of these modelers are built using OpenGL and probably don’t work well on Vista.

So the question becomes, when will someone build DirectX support in Java in an SWT window?

It also provides a twist for the work I’m doing on Windows development. I’ve been torn between whether Windows developers should use the Windows SDK or MinGW with the CDT. I’m not sure how mature the DirectX support is with MinGW compared to their OpenGL support, so my feeling is that the Windows SDK with the DirectX SDK will be what developers will want to use. Which means I better get that Windows SDK integration done…

My Take on Eclipse PluginFest

Well, I’m finally home from my trip out to the Eclipse PluginFest. I made a side trip to Karlsbad, Germany to visit a customer, where it was pretty cool to see them adding their own plug-ins. Eclipse is indeed everywhere. And I was met by a very Canadian-like snow storm there. While it was fun to drive in, I missed out on a lot of sleep with the late arrival. But it was still warmer there than the -20C here.

Ian has a really nice summary of the PluginFest event so you can read that to get the general gist of what happened. From my seat, it went way beyond my expectations. I found everyone who attended to be very open and we all filled up our laptops with trial versions of each other’s products and tried them all together. I was concerned that being a commercial event there would be a lot of protectionism happening. But it turned out that most of us already knew eachother from past Eclipse events, so were instantly comfortable with each other.

For the most part everything worked, but that is to be expected given the clean plug-in architecture of Eclipse. But it did point out an important requirement that everyone be on the latest version of the Eclipse plug-ins. Happily we made that decision at QNX last year and it paid off for everyone who did. It was cool to see other plug-ins work with our product and that should open the door for some pretty cool environments for our customers. And the sentiment was shared by the other vendors there as well.

But as Ian mentioned, the value of the event went well beyond testing our plug-ins. It was a great opportunity to talk to everyone who was there. I had a lot of people ask me CDT questions, including a couple asking how to get involved and contribute the CDT changes they have had to make for their products. I also got a chance to talk to a couple of the CDT committers that were there to go over design issues we need to resolve. Meeting face-to-face this way is pretty expensive, but it certainly has a lot of value for the people that get to go.

We definitely need to do this again, maybe after a year to give us all a chance to get onto the Europa platform. The gang at Symbian were great hosts, but I have a feeling a lot more vendors will be interested in this next time and we’ll probably need a bigger venue. This was our first try at bringing vendors together for inter-operability testing and it really shows the value of the Eclipse architecture. And I’m sure all vendors building on Eclipse would be interested in this. I see big things in the future for the Eclipse PluginFest.

When is your problem my problem?

I just got off a conference call we hold semi regulary amongst the committers working on the CDT indexer. Now that we have people from four different organizations working on it, we need this level of co-ordination to ensure we don’t trample on eachother. And it is a cool example of open source development at work.

Now when you get this many interests working on a common code base, you are likely to run into times when requirements start to conflict with each other, and you end up with conflict amongst the developers. This has started to happen with us and it is giving me an opportunity to really learn the right approach to take to make sure everyone walks away happy, or even whether it is possible for that to happen.

Taking a big step back, I think the first thing you have to do if you have a requirement you’d like the open source project to satisfy is to convince others in the community that it is their problem too. Now sometimes that isn’t possible because the requirement really is particular to your customers. In that case, I think you need to convince the others that the changes you are proposing will have minimal impact on them and others who want to build on and use the project. There are times, especially with young projects, where people might bend over backwards to help you. But you certainly can’t count on it, nor should you.

At the end of the day, what it really boils down to is that you have to convince people. Influencing is a critical skill that an open source developer must have to be successful working with open source. In a corporate environment, you have it easy since you can always go complain to management. But in open source, all the committers are peers, there are no managers, so they need to work out any conflicts with eachother. And that demands great people skills.

It is pretty interesting that our little indexing group has such great influencers and the discussions can become quite heated. But we do respect eachother and will continue to hammer out these issues and try to come up with the right solution for everyone.

And if this does work out for us, it’ll make a great chapter for a book on working in open source. There may be a book out there already that I need to read, or maybe not and someone needs to write one. Because I see this happening on almost every open source project I see.

Eclipse is … an Opportunity

Despite Doug Gaff’s wish to have the last word on the Eclipse is You/Me/Who? issue, I do have one more thing to say on it (Sorry, Doug :). I was at the Device Debug meeting in Toronto last week, and for me it was deja-vu all over again. We had similar meetings on the CDT many times in the past, ones where a big number of people, 30-40 say, get together to talk about Eclipse projects, but in the end only 4 or 5 of them are actually planning on contributing anything to the project despite there being a need for many more.

Who are the rest? Well they are developers sent by their managers to make sure they keep tabs on what is going on. What it really tells me is that these companies don’t really need anything from the project, not yet at least. But if something does come up that they can use, at least they know about it and can start making plans for it. But really, they are a long way off from having the compelling business reason that their managers need to allocate resources towards making any contributions back.

We’ve talked about the difficulty at making that leap from user to contributor. The biggest is just the expense of allocating developers to something that may not be their core competency. And, in fact, they may not have the Eclipse expertise on staff to actually do it. And it’s really unfortunate, because without help, Eclipse projects have a hard time getting to the point where they would be useful enough to justify contribution. I feel Doug G’s frustration at trying to start new projects in this environment.

So it got me wondering, looking at other examples in the industry, whether these companies would be willing to pool, not people, but money towards hiring shared developers. I know of a few small consulting companies that get paid to work on open source. I think this has the potential to solve some of the staffing problems that we’re seeing on these projects. But I’m no expert on whether this is a good, or at least sustainable, business model. It would be interesting to see if people are willing to work together this way. And I encourage such consulting companies to ask around and see if they can make it work.

EasyEclipse for C and C++, half way there

In my previous entry, I yearned for a single install of Eclipse, CDT, MinGW, and some libraries to get you “Kickstart”ed using the CDT on Windows. As Chris, zx, quickly pointed out, EasyEclipse already has some of this done and hooked me up with Phillipe Ombr├ędanne from nexB who created EasyEclipse. Of course I already know Phillipe who led the Google Summer of Code project for Eclipse and who is scheduled to give a talk on the C/C++ Eclipse ecosystem (amonst many others I see) at this year’s EclipseCon.

EasyEclipse for C and C++ is definitely a great start at what I wanted to acheive. And I see from the comments on the site, there are people already asking for MinGW to be included.

So I’ve altered may plan and will work with the gang at EasyEclipse to complete EasyEclipse as a full fledged IDE offering. They already have a thriving community so it will be cool to build on that and get more C/C++ users involved.

Time for a CDT Kickstart?

I subscribe to Google Alerts and get notifications whenever something new pops up mentioning the CDT. I’ve been seeing a lot of blog entries lately which is a cool sign that people are talking about the CDT and spreading the word. Unfortunately some of the comments deal with the difficulty of getting the CDT up and running, especially on Windows.

So I think it’s about time to do something about it. One thing I’ve wanted to do for a while now is to create a Windows installer that bundles up everything you need to start building applications with the CDT. As a product manager I used to work with said, “How do you call it an IDE when you don’t bundle a compiler with it?”

So my plan is to bundle the Eclipse Platform and the CDT run-times with the MinGW gcc build tools and gdb debugger. I will bundle in SDL, Simple Directmedia Layer, as a library to start building multimedia apps. I may look at bundling wxWidgets for building traditional GUI apps. I will also look at bundling a JRE so users can get Eclipse up and running with minimal effort, although I’m not sure if the Sun redistributable license will let me do this with an open source app and I’m not sure what other options I have.

Unfortunately a bunch of these components are GPL and LGPL so I won’t be able to release it from Eclipse itself given the IP rules. I’ll also need to figure out how GPL affects the package and it would be very disappointing if it prevents me from doing this. Sourceforge is probably the best place for this. I plan on using the Nullsoft Installer since it seems to have the most flexibility in any of the other free Windows installer technologies and is used by other open source projects such as MinGW itself.

So I’m interested in peoples’ opinions on this, if this is the right set of components for example. Is it worth my time putting together? The idea is to keep it simple so it doesn’t take me too much time to start and keep up to date. But I think it’ll be a boost to help new users get a start with the CDT, a Kickstart if you will.

The D Programming Language

Well, if you are keeping score at home, you know that I hate Java even though I spend 95% of my coding time in Java, really like C# as Java done right, but not as much as I love C++ which though tough to learn does almost everything right, but can never forget C which is used by most of my QNX customers. And also not to forget Ada which has the best type safety system I’ve seen. But even with all these choices, I’m still searching for the ultimate programming language that maximizes quality and productivity when building complex systems.

So, of course, I had to check out the D programming language when I learned that it will be releasing in a 1.0 version “real soon now”. From the dates on the spec, the idea has been around for a couple of years now. To sum up this new language, it essentially takes the best from C, C++, Java, C#, Python and Ruby in an attempt to make the uber systems programming language.

It is a valiant effort and does have my favorite language features such as garbage collection, delegates, strong typedefs, templates, overloading, etc. It also compiles to native code eliminating the need for a Virtual Machine, although given that it has garbage collection, it still needs an extensive runtime library. But with that and with a smooth integration with C and with Windows C libraries especially, it stays true to the systems programming paradigm.

But the language is huge, almost rivaling the size of Ada. I can see why it’s taken quite a while to come up with a 1.0 quality compiler. And we really need to ask the question whether the world needs another systems programming language, especially when it doesn’t really add anything new to the collective pool, other than collecting the pool.

I’ll keep an eye on its progress as it starts to take on the world. At the end of the day, of course, it’ll be the programmer community that decides whether D is so good that it is worth climbing the learning curve and adopting a new toolchain and maybe even a CDT integration.