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The future of Octave
John W. Eaton
The future of Octave
Thu, 7 Dec 2000 13:30:27 -0600
I've now worked on Octave for almost nine years. During most of that
time, I have enjoyed the challenge of working on a relatively large
project. In the beginning, I wasn't at all sure that I could manage
it (and maybe that is even more true now!). Watching Octave grow to
become a widely used and reasonably successful contribution to the
free software community has also been rewarding, and I am grateful to
all those who have helped with its development. But now I believe
that it may be time for me to move on and do something else for a
while. I'm not yet sure what that will be. It may involve a similar
system for numerical computing, or it may be something completely
different, but I do feel that I am no longer able to maintain my
current level of involvement with Octave's development.
I did not arrive at this decision hastily, nor is it in direct
response to any messages that were posted in the last few days.
Making a change like this is something that I have been considering
for quite some time now.
What will happen to Octave?
Because Octave is free software, it will continue to be available.
By sometime early next year (perhaps by Octave's ninth birthday,
February 20, 2001) I will release a new "stable" version (based on
the 2.1.x sources), which I will continue to maintain to the extent
of fixing serious bugs. I don't plan to work on any new features,
though I may accept well-written patches that include documentation
and ChangeLog entries.
Although I plan to continue fixing serious bugs in Octave, if
someone (or perhaps a small group) is interested in taking over
maintenance of Octave, you should contact me so we can discuss it.
Why are you considering leaving?
There are a number of reasons, but one of the most important is that
working on Octave is no longer the challenge for me that it once
was. Much of what I set out to do with Octave has been done. I am
pleased with what we have accomplished so far, but ready to take on
I never intended Octave to be a Matlab clone, nor am I really
interested in creating such a thing, but that seems to be what many
users of Octave want. It is not very interesting to me to simply
reimplement all the features/bugs of Matlab.
I am finding it too constraining to try to maintain almost any level
of compatibility with a proprietary product for which there is no
standard. It stifles any creativity by the threat of future
incompatibility. I see this is as a real problem, not just an
Free software needs a vision beyond reimplementation of existing
proprietary tools. Those of us who are interested in free software
tools must become leaders rather than followers, and I am optimistic
that this can happen for numerical software. But I don't believe it
can happen if Octave continues down its current path.
What will you do?
I believe that we (users of numerical software tools) could benefit
greatly from a freely available, high quality, high level language
for solving numerical (and possibly symbolic) problems. Octave has
been an interesting experiment, and has shown that, within the free
software community, it is possible to do a lot with limited
I think now is a good time to step back, examine what we have done,
and decide what is the best course for the future. I'm looking
forward to helping to define and implement the next generation of
free software tools for numerical problems.
Octave is freely available under the terms of the GNU GPL.
Octave's home on the web: http://www.octave.org
How to fund new projects: http://www.octave.org/funding.html
Subscription information: http://www.octave.org/archive.html
- The future of Octave,
John W. Eaton <=