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2003/01/29 - Owen Taylor


An interview conducted by Alain Buret
Alain Buret - Please present yourself to our readers. What is your current job at Red Hat ?

Owen Taylor - I'm a member of the desktop team; that covers a pretty broad-ranging set of responsibilities related to making Red Hat work well for the end user. I spend a large fraction of my time on library work; mainly Glib, GTK+, and Pango, though I also handle our fontconfig and FreeType packages. But beyond that it's often a matter of hacking on whatever task needs doing.

Alain Buret - Huge improvements about internationalization have been made in GTK 2.0 thanks to the introduction of Pango. What is now possible to do that is not possible with other free toolkits?

Owen Taylor - The entire free software community has been making big strides in this area of the last few years; not just GTK+ but Qt, Mozilla, and so forth. So, anything I say may be wrong by the time people read this. But two things I would point to are the support for rendering Indic (South Asian) languages, and the ability to switch between input methods for different languages on the fly.

Alain Buret - What is for you are the greatest advantages of GTK+ over other toolkits, and why? [ NOTE: Changed to plural to avoid having to apologize for evading the request for a single advantage :-) ]

Owen Taylor - A couple of major advantages of GTK+ I would point out: first, it works well with a range of languages; for GTK+-2.0 we already have very strong and complete bindings for, among others, Ada, Python, and C++. The second advantage isn't a technical one, it's the licensing. The LGPL licensing of GTK+ means that it is the only complete modern GUI toolkit that anybody can use for both proprietary and open source software royalty free; a side effect of that is that there is a devoted community of people working on GTK+ outside of the framework of any one commercial enterprise.

Alain Buret - What are the plans for the next releases of GTK+ ?

Owen Taylor - GTK+-2.2 should be out before FOSDEM. The big change in GTK+-2.2 is multihead support ... support for connections to multiple displays and multiple screens within a display from a single application. It also will go along with a 1.2 release of Pango which adds support for Indic OpenType fonts, fontconfig, and Xft2. Fontconfig and Xft2 are exciting because we we are finally are getting a standard modern font system for Linux.

The follow-on release to that, GTK+-2.4, will concentrate on filling in some of the places where the current GTK+ widgets aren't as strong as we might like; for example, the file selection widget and the combo box (drop down) widget.

Alain Buret - No free toolkit under Linux is currently thread-safe. Is this a problem? Will it change in the future?

Owen Taylor - I don't see thread safety as a black-or-white issue; no toolkit or windowing system I'm aware of is completely thread-safe to the point that the application programmer doesn't have to have some knowledge of where the pitfalls are. GTK+ makes you do a lot of stuff manually; part of that is a conscious effort to keep the pitfalls in plain sight. But certainly writing apps that use GTK+ from multiple threads can be pretty cumbersome.

There hasn't been that much interest in adding more automatic threading to GTK+; people complain a bit but then either figure it out or structure their application another way. Perhaps this is a sign that people are writing more new applications for Linux than porting existing apps from other toolkits.

Getting GTK+ to a level of automatic thread safety similar to, say, Motif, wouldn't be a huge job. We don't have an immediate plans to do that, but if someone showed up with interested in doing the work and prototyped it to the point where we could get data about the performance effects we wouldn't turn them down out-of-hand either.

Alain Buret - GTK+ has been ported to Win32. Are there many applications that are using that port? What are the general plans about Win32 support ?

Owen Taylor - The GIMP is definitely a GTK+ application people are using on Windows. There are a lot of questions from people developing with GTK+ on Windows so I know that's just the tip of the iceberg, but I haven't spent much time investigating what's out there.

The Win32 support is driven by the interest people have in hacking on it rather than any overriding agenda from the GTK+ team. Tor Lillqvist has has done an amazing job on it over the years, and other people have made substantial contributions as well.

The windowing system abstraction in GTK+, the GDK library has been a bit of a moving target over the last few years with almost a complete rewrite for GTK+-2.0 and the introduction of multihead support in GTK+-2.2. This has left people working on ports to windowing systems other than X11 playing catch-up. With our attention turning to the higher layers at this point, I expect to see the Win32 support firm up and become really solid.

Alain Buret - What are you expecting from your talk at FOSDEM and from the interactions with other developers present at the event?

Owen Taylor - Most of the times I get to Europe I'm speaking at conferences that narrowly target the GNOME community. I'm looking forward to a chance to interact with a broader spectrum of the European free software community at FOSDEM.


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