Five Questions: Kristian ‘Vanders’ van der Vliet, Syllable

After Axel Dorfler and Robert Szeleney, it is Kristian ‘Vanders’ van der Vliet’s turn to answer the Five Questions. Vanders is one of the primary developers behind Syllable, the fork of (the now dead) AtheOS which saw the light of day July, 2002, because several AtheOS developers were concerned about the project’s long-term goals. Syllable is free/open source software under the GPL license.1. What are Syllable’s strong points?

It is a complete system where all the parts have been designed to fit together well: Kaj calls this “holistically designed”, which is a good description. We take the best design features from past operating systems and implementing them with modern, mainstream, open-source parts. We are also not afraid to cut out the bloat and implement our own solution if we think we can do it in a way that fits the rest of the system better. This has resulted in a very fast, extremely efficient, remarkably easy to use system. We think we’ve hit the sweet spot between elegance and practicality.

Syllable is fairly complete and has good hardware support, which makes it usable right now. It’s also heavily multi-threaded [ed. note: think BeOS] and supports multiple processors, so it’s better suited to modern multi-core CPUs than a lot of other OSes right now.

2. What are Syllable’s weak points?

We’re the new kid on the block. Although Syllable gains a lot of stability from the mainstream parts we use – only a few percent of Syllable’s total source code is new – not all of our own subsystems are fully stable yet. Because we have our own graphical environment with our own APIs, few native applications have been written so far. This means we have a limited number of users and developers at this point, although attracting more is just a matter of time. Part of the problem may be that Syllable currently only has limited support for languages other than C++ and C.

Hardware support is a perennial problem, even though we do pretty well compared to most other OSes in our class. Getting hardware support to a point that is even as good as Linux will take time. If someone tries
Syllable and it fails to boot, that can irritate them and we may lose a potential new user. We always try our best to fix any bugs and add more drivers, but it can be tough with such limited resources.

3. What applications are sorely lacking from Syllable?

All but a few. We have two decent editors, a web browser and a mail program that are shaping up. We have an integrated development environment that fits Syllable very nicely and is easy to use. We are introducing an address book application and will be polishing up the CD burning application. There are the usual small tools that one expects with a system, and some games. We basically have all of the well-known command-line applications, and SDL and Curses programs are easy to port. Other than that, we have a lot of opportunities for developers to start writing applications. There are the obvious ones that everyone mentions like an office suite or Flash. What a healthy OS really needs is a large number of small applications. As Syllable matures and people pick up on our development environment & layout designer that should begin to change. I’m sure Java and .Net support wouldn’t hurt, either.

4. If there were two features you could magically get from other operating systems, what would they be and why?

Do developers and users count as features? If not, a complete version of REBOL with REBOL/View would be nice, and maybe a working, fully supported port of

5. What project, feature, or application currently in development for Syllable excites you the most, and why?

Only one? Then it would have to be Syllable Server. Kaj has been planning it for a long time and it’s exciting that it’s really happening now. We have already been noticing that it opens doors for us. On the other hand, it’s just a side project to help Syllable Desktop out. Using the Linux kernel for Syllable Server gives us several things: stability, REBOL/Core, and ReiserFS 3. Putting our graphical environment on top of that will make it immediately more usable. People will be able to start writing applications for our APIs without fear for instability and limited hardware support and those applications will be almost trivial to port to Syllable Desktop. We’ll be able to do some exciting things as we integrate Syllable Desktop and Syllable Server.

There’s a lot of other things that excite me, though. Dee Sharpe has been working on OpenGL support and how to integrate it properly. Jonas Jarvoll has been working on oCADis, which is a large scale application that proves Syllable can handle those sort of real-world applications. We’ve just released a new version of ABrowse, which gives us a very fast and well supported web browser.

Thanks to Vanders for taking the time to answer the Five Questions.

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