An interview with Peter NaullsPublished: 21st Sep 2001, 16:23:42 | Permalink | Printable
He ported Lynx and he's answering our questionsThe verb port might be a something new to you. Basically porting software means to take a program from one computer platform and bring to another. Due to the recent Unix popularity boom, a huge range of software is now available as open source, which means all the required programming code that builds the programs is freely available for people to adapt and play with. Lynx porter and Nettle co-developer Peter Naulls has already ported quite a bit of software from the wibbly world of Unix to RISC OS and as we're in porting season, drobe.co.uk decided it would be nice to treat Peter to our first interview. So late one Thursday night we met up online and the following discussion about unix, RISC OS and the details of porting ensued. Drobe is in bold, Peter is in normal text. Enjoy.
What is Unix?
"Roughly speaking, it's a way that programs should behave and the sort of environment they provide working with an OS."
Why do you use Unix?
"Because I run a Unix-based OS, Linux."
What has Unix got to offer RISC OS?
"Quite apart from the OS aspects and arguments about preemptive mulitasking and so forth, it has many thousands of programs, with available source, potentially available to run on RISC OS."
What do you think of Open source? Do you think everything should be open source?
"Software should be whatever's deemed most suitable by the author. Certainly, the open source ideas have done great things, but fanatics just annoy everyone."
Which software on RISC OS and Unix is your most favourite?
"RISC OS, I don't think there's a favourite, but I'd have to place highly something like Richard Hallas's 'Woolly Jumper'. Unix is a harder question. Many of the programs considered good by other people are things that already have good alternatives on RISC OS. Many unix programs are actually quite easy to dislike due to dismal interfaces, so no firm favourite either."
What first got you involved in porting software from Unix to RISC OS?
"Probably there was some Unix program that I needed that didn't exist on RISC OS."
What's been your most succesful / fun port?
"Lynx was probably most successful. It's had over 700 downloads"
What do you use to port software?
"gccsdk (itself a port), any unix tools (if cross compiling) and maybe any other Unix ports to hand. One program I wrote to convert filenames to RISC OS format was !Reverser"
What is this 'gccsdk'?
"It's an environment for development of the RISC OS port of GCC. Its output is a Unix cross-compiler for RISC OS, a native gcc compiler and various other tools."
What do you mean by cross-compiling?
"Cross compilation is a very involved topic, but at its simplest it means that a program is compiled on one system to run on other. This might happen for a number of reasons."
(Peter also mentions that a new release of the GCCSDK is expected soon which means a new version of the GCC compiler for RISC OS -cw)
So you build RISC OS programs on a Unix machine? If this is true, do you recommend it to other developers or is this something you just prefer to do?
"It depends on the program. And of course you need a unix machine available. For some programs, the amount of work to have them build is so ridiculous I might never hard attempted them without cross compiling."
"Lynx. It's 5MBs of source, and relies on various tools not available in RISC OS to be built. At the very least to do it in RISC OS, I would have to rewrite all the makefiles."
So porting software (without using cross-compiling) is a lengthy process?
"As I said, it depends on the program. Some programs will easily compile in RISC OS natively."
Why do you do port software to RISC OS? What motivates you?
"Because there are too many people sitting on their arses complaining about lack of RISC OS development who can't be told to fix the situation- they need to be shown."
Would you like to see others port software?
"Only if they're into that sort of thing. I'd like to see people making constructive steps towards pushing RISC OS forward. My projects initiative is another aspect of this, and was done for similar reaosns."
What programs needing porting do you suggest to someone with reasonable programming experience who wants to port some software to RISC OS?
"It's not programs which are the problem right now. It's libraries. Gnumeric for example, relies on about 15 different libraries which don't yet exist on RISC OS."
Libraries, could you name a few that RISC OS needs?
"A native xlib, lesstif, GTK, qt, many many others."
What do you have lined up in your 'to port' list?
"As much as possible. I'd like 1% of the Debian package list as a starting goal. Debian has (aprox.) 10,000 packages, by the way. Many with serveral programs in them"
Don't suppose there's anything specific you want to pubically hint at? You've already published a snippet of your GTK port on the newsgroups
"..You can visit http://riscos-builder.sourceforge.net/"
How useful do you think sourceforge.net is?
"Very, according to the thousands of projects on it. It's good if you can't or don't want to host a project yourself."
What type of RISC OS computer(s) do you use?
"2 RiscPCs. One to edit on, the other to crash on."
Are you happy then with your RPCs hardware wise?
"As far as RiscPCs go, they are ridiculously specced up, but I wouldn't say no to a faster machine."
Is there anything in particular you want to say regarding unix, porting or RISC OS?
"Yes, don't ask me for advice."
Finally, Zap or StrongEd: what do you prefer to use?
Chris Williams, cheif proofreeder
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