Sensor Web, Geoprocessing, Security & GeoRM, Geostatistics, Semantics, 3D, Ilwis, Earth Observation

Ilwis 4

January 23rd, 2012 @ 10:19 by Martin Schouwenburg
Posted in ILWIS

Ilwis 3.8 is almost done (sigh, finally) and apart from some bug tracking I don’t expect significant changes anymore. I am not sure if I will release it before my own holidays ( after 2nd week of february) but we will see.

The last few weeks a discussion has started internally but also within 52n, about the future of Ilwis. All parties see Ilwis as worthwhile (for different reasons) but also see sginificant risks in the future. The risks boil down to the following points (note that I don’t agree with all points, but I mention them anyway).

  1. Ilwis is based on old technologies, programming wise. This is true. Many choices were made 10-15 years ago when the IT world was quite different from the current IT world. That we are still able to make a quite nice product out if proves that the choices we made were quite reasonable, also in the long term but still the point stands.
  2. Ilwis is based on an old fashioned programming paradigm: Desktop applications. We should change towards a more web/browser/service oriented model as this will be the future. Yes and no. True, our support for web based things is limited, though the options in 3.8 have increased significantly.  Ilwis was designed in a world where the internet played a limited role, certainly with respect to data access and services. That has of course dramitically changed since then and we should better support that. But I question the statement that desktop applications are ‘old fashioned’. Browsers are quite limited in what they can do with local data and doing all processing remote is a pipe dream. In the long run I believe we will see a merge between dekstop and browser enviroments. A bit like Google envisions with Chromium OS; though they are probably not the right party for it to succeed.
  3. Ilwis is based on an old fashioned language, C++. We should change to something more modern like Java. Sigh. People who propose this don’t have a clue in my opinion. First of all, these days, C++ is probably more modern than Java. The last overhaul of the C++ language is from July 2011. Java specs are older.  The C/C++ combination is still king when it comes to raw performance  and Java lags (literally) behind. Some claim that Java is “easier”, but seeing that both laguages are very similar with respect syntax and structure  I don’t see were that claim is comming from( I programmed in both languages). Sure C++ can be quite difficult when delving deep into the generics but this is hardly something you do regulary. Ever tried class loaders to work flawless in Java? urgh. Probably every language has its nooks and crannies were you rather keep out. Anyway, the complexity of big applications like Ilwis is not in the language, but in the size and design of the application itself.
  4. Ilwis is rooted in the Windows enviroment and we should be able to run on more platforms. I agree with this. When Ilwis was designed, Windows was absolute king. It made no sense to make it for different platforms. Sure the Mac was there but nobody used in the field we were working in. That is different these days of course. Windows is still king, but there are other platforms also. Linux (though desktop Linux is still a midget), the Mac is more viable these days, Server enivorments. And then of course the growing market of the mobile applications ( both for smart phones as for tabs). Though I dont have a clear vision what ‘meaning’ Ilwis will have for these (mobile)platforms I still feel we have to prepare in someway for it.
  5. The developer base of Ilwis is too small. True. Basically there are two developers and that is not good. This is partly due to the fact that Ilwis is quite complex to program with. The current version, though there were some overhauls in the last years, is with respect to structure and concepts 15+ years old. Many things were added to it, sometimes in a haphazard way, sometimes in a clean way. As expected the internals of the software are as a consequence sometimes difficult to fathom. Now, this need not to have any consequences for the users of Ilwis. The outside works ok I think. But for programmers wanting to contribute to Ilwis it is another story. So yes, an Ilwis 4 might create a more attractive  Ilwis for outside developers.
Though there are some other points I think these are the main points. What will happen is still very much unclear. It is under discussion and as always money ,time allocation  and commitment are the deciding factors.  Some people like to maintain the status quo, “it works fine now, why change?”, others want it to conform to their pet vision. I do agree that a new design of Ilwis is probably in order. I also think that you should not forget your roots. Slowly drifting away in a cloud of vague future visions and short lived hypes is also not a good idea.

1 Comment »

  1. I’m new to ILWIS. I installed versions 3.7 and 3.8, and worked some data from Mexico. I do not know where to report bugs. Please help.
    Thank you

    Comment by Alfonso Pilatos — February 10, 2012 @ 22:12

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