posted by Eugenia Loli on Mon 16th Jun 2003 18:20 UTC

"Interview with Vanders, Part II"
4. In your opinion, which OS features today missing from the OS that make the porting of POSIX apps difficult? What kind of apps are in generally missing from Syllable that users usually asking for?

Click for a larger view Kristian Van Der Vliet: Syllable is amazingly close to Linux when it comes to the development and runtime enviroments. We use the same GNU toolchain and Glibc, so very few applications fail to build properly. A lot of GNU and Linux stuff can usually be built with a simple ./configure && make. Where it does fall down is building shared libraries and the sockets API.

We don't have a proper port of libtool nor any libdl yet so generally libraries are built as static (.a) files. It is possible to build shared libraries on Syllable of course, its just not portable and no GNU tools know how to do it. That is currently not too much of a problem and we intend to fix this during development of 0.5.x

The sockets API is incomplete, which can cause problems. The fairly major call setsockopt() is incomplete and buggy, and getsockopt() isn't implemented at all! Along with some general bugs in the IP stack itself it means that some stuff just doesn't work; the Samba deamons or curl for example.

Of course we don't have form of X either! Porting X toolkit based applications usually means having to re-write the entire GUI, so it's usually a major effort. We've known this all along of course, and have no plans on changing that. A little extra work in porting results in a much better application at the end of it. The majority of people on the mailing list are usually pretty fierce about any suggestion that we should port X or an X toolkit in fact.

I think the one major application that a lot of people miss is a debugger. Gdb would be useful to a lot of people but the prevailing wisdom is that it would be a heck of a lot of work to port it. Being more of a printf() debugger myself I'd love to see a port of OpenOffice.org, but we're not ready for that just yet :)

5. What would you advise other developers out there that might want to write/participate in an OS project? What technical and other challenges are lying ahead for these young devs?

Kristian Van Der Vliet: Have a clear idea of what you want to do before you start, and be prepared to embark on a never ending journey. There is always something else to be done, or something that needs to be improved. When you're writing an entire Operating System you have the opourtunity to cover everything, but at the same time it can be overwhelming and you can burn youself out. Don't be afraid to admit you don't know something and put it to one side. When the time comes you'll know it and you'll be able to spend the time on the problem that it needs.

Click for a larger view Buy good books and read them often. Spend as much time as you can thinking about how you're going to do something. I spend 25 hours a week coding, but a good 30 hours a week just thinking and visualising problems. You can usually come up with some very elegent solutions and designs that way.

If you decide to make your work public, be prepared to criticism and bugs. There is always a bug. There is always someone who needs feature xyz. Never let that get you down!

Technically I think the barriers to entry are a lot higher now then they were two years ago, and they'll be higher still in another two years. Writing an OS that boots from a floppy is fairly easy for most people, but a lot of PC's don't have floppy drives any more so they have to deal with ATA drivers and CD-ROMs. Hardware is getting more complex. If IA-64 wins against x86-64 then I think that will kill a lot of hobby OS's; how many people can write EPIC IA-64 assembly by hand? Even today a lot of simple legacy hardware standards are disapearing fast. It used to be a fair bet that a computer had two serial ports and two PS/2 ports, both of which are simple to interface to at the OS level. These days you're more likely to find a USB controller and various HIDs connected via. a USB hub. Writing drivers for that sort of hardware is an order of magnitude harder. In a few years time that will be the only way to do it. Even the BIOS is due to be phased out. Then we have things such as Palidium and TCPA..

6. What new features are we to expect for version 0.4.5 and what new features for the future in general?

Kristian Van Der Vliet: Syllable 0.4.5 is officially the "Fix things" release. We're all running around spending a few hours here and there fixing outstanding bugs and implementing unimplemented features. Not only are a lot of small bugs irritating but the hope is that we'll have something fairly stable for people to use when we start breaking things during the development of 0.5.x! From the things I've seen being worked on outside of the main Syllable developers there are also going to be some nice new features in 0.4.5, and hopefully some more drivers too. We're also currently trying to put together a proper roadmap towards Syllable 1.0.

Table of contents
  1. "Interview with Vanders, Part I"
  2. "Interview with Vanders, Part II"
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