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2003/01/20 - Hilaire Fernandes


An interview conducted by Alain Buret
Alain Buret - First and traditionnal question: please present yourself

Hilaire Fernandes - I am Hilaire Fernandes. I am living in France, not so far from Bordeaux, with my wife and 4 years old son. Prior to that we were living in Taiwan-Taipei for five years. I was teaching mathematics at the Taipei French School. Beside being a mathematic teacher I also hold a Master in HCI & Education Engineering giving me, I hope, good
feeling in UI design. I learnt the GNU system during my stay at Taiwan from a friend there and finally stopped using anything else.

Actually I am not teaching anymore but I am working in a local governmental agency. There, I provide services in the ICT domain for teachers: professional training, web application development, software support and fixing various problems around. Also, I promote and support the use of the AbulEdu solution to the local schools.

Alain Buret - Why did you start a project like Dr. Genius? Was it a personnal need?

Hilaire Fernandes - I did not start Dr. Genius because of a personal need. Why do I start it then? It is mainly because of some sensibility and strong believing in some value.

In fact, when I start to work in interactive geometry software, the project name was Dr. Geo. It was around '96 and at this time I did not know about the GNU project nor the Free Software philosophy. I heard about the concept of interactive geometry from our teacher, but she did not get the opportunity to demonstrate to us this concept with the
excellent Cabri software developed in a lab of the local public university.

In a few word, the interactive geometry software allows the exploration of geometric figure and theirs properties. It allows various approach to teach geometry and it is helpful in the proof concept in geometry. It is a fine example of added value by the computer in the field of teaching geometry.

Unfortunately Cabri is a bit expensive and a lot of school cannot purchase it. This is what happened in my school then. Therefore I decided it deserved a free implementation which can be freely shared among teachers and students in the same way they share knowledge.

In about two years I developed a gratis interactive geometry software named Dr. Geo. Because I did want the software to be gratis, I restrict my self to use only free (as free beer at this time) development software. I was "lucky" enough to find myself using DGJPP (the MSDOS GCC port), glibc, Rhide, Allegro; all free software. As I was in Asia at this time, I even developed for Dr.Geo a text system based in Unicode. Therefore Dr.Geo is as far as I know the only
interactive geometry software available in classical Chinese, it was very fun to do that. In 2000, the AFUL - a francophone LUG - contacted me to encourage a port to the GNU system. I then switch the development with GTK+ and I adpated DrGeo to it. One of my preferred idea was to include into DrGeo an interpretor language from where advanced user could script a geometric figure. Finally I merge DrGeo with George Lebl's Genius calculator into DrGenius (DrGeo for the geometric engine and Genius for the calculator). It was not successful so I decided to use Guile instead of the GEL language of the Genius Calculator.

Concerning the future direction I am totally recoding the UI design which prove to be difficult to maintain and this is really an issue for the future evolution of the software I want to bring. For that occasion I am using an object oriented widget, it really brings an higher level of abstraction and clarity into the source code. Also I am thinking about designing a smarter file format of the figure document than the actual XML one. Concerning the UI design there are interesting field to explore with the unusual input devices.

Alain Buret - Where is it used? Do you have some feedback from users?

Hilaire Fernandes - I do not know if Dr. Genius is used regularly in education institution. I do not think so, otherwise I would get more user feedback.

However, I received a contribution to translate the current DrGenius User Guide in Spanish. Also I got various exchange with Indian teachers and institutions willing to use Dr. Genius.

Dr. Genius is really a tool to be used in pedagogical situation organised by a teacher. Therefore this really restricts the user audience and most teacher still use Windows or Mac environment. In top of that, this is not the kind of software parents will figure out how to use it effectively with their kids. All in all this restricts the
user audience. However I am convinced that very good free interactive geometry software are fundamental to get the GNU system into educational institutions.

Alain Buret - You are a member of the OFSET project. Can you talk a bit about this?

Hilaire Fernandes - I am the President of OFSET. It was started in 2000 in the hope to encourage the development of free educational software. OFSET is really limited to end user software development. As Bruno and I are the only active members of OFSET, we are only developing two software: GCompris and DrGenius. I also wrote various tutorials in GNOME/Python programming to show how not so difficult it is to develop simple educational software under the GNU system.

We also start in mid 2000 the Freeduc project within OFSET. The philosophy of this project is to clearly and simply tell which free software are available for teachers and educators. The first move was to set up a directory divided in teaching section. This directory helps to list, to evaluate and to eventually build Debian package of the interesting software not yet in Debian. Therefore it was a very good news that Raphael Hertzog started the Debian-Edu project with-in Debian. Of course fitting the Debian distribution to the education institution needs is a boarder task and we will help by developing and eventually packaging additional software.

Back to the Freeduc project, I am working in the last part of the project, we want to let these software to be easily available to the teachers in the form of a live GNU system on CDROM disk. This tool will also be used for the promotion of the education oriented free software.

Alain Buret - what do you expect of your FOSDEM presentation?

Hilaire Fernandes - To have some good time :) And eventually convince a lot of people to collaborate with us at OFSET to develop innovative free educational software.


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