Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New FreeDOS install program

Years ago, I wrote the first FreeDOS installer. It was a pretty basic installer, not much more than an install script in DOS exe form. It prompted the user in plain text mode, and scrolled from the bottom of the screen. This installer supported the FreeDOS Beta 1 ("Orlando") release, in 1998. So it's pretty old. In later releases of the FreeDOS "Beta" distributions, rather than re-write the installer into something that was easy to use, I bolted on the sketched outlines of a text-mode user interface. It "worked", but I always intended it as a "placeholder", something I'd eventually re-write as we got closer to the "FreeDOS 1.0" release.

However, as things sometimes go, I never really got around to re-writing the installer. Others picked up my work just prior to "FreeDOS 1.0", and added some prettier elements to the text-mode user interface, but it was still the basic installer that was written so long ago.

This has always been something I've wanted to fix, to completely re-write the installer and make it easy to use, make it "sane". I'm finally doing that.

I'll add some code and screenshots to my personal page soon, but I wanted to talk about it here also.

The new installer asks the user only a few questions: do you want to install everything, and do you want to install source code? From there, the installer takes over and does everything for you. After you answer those two questions, you can walk away and let the installer do its thing. A very obvious progress bar will show you how far along you are in the install process.

No, the installer doesn't even ask you where you are installing from (the "source") or where you are installing to (the "destination".) The install process should hard-code that, since the install CD is the obvious "source", and we can assume a standard default C:\FDOS "destination" now.

My hope is that the new installer will be a step towards a simplified FreeDOS install process. I'm writing the installer, but am looking for someone else to finish the install CDROM. Ideally, a streamlined install process would do the following:

  1. Select language
  2. Check if your hard drive is already partitioned and formatted with a DOS filesystem for C: (and if not, run FDISK and FORMAT for you)
  3. Run the new installer
  4. Execute any post-install setup BAT files
  5. Done!

The whole process, start to finish, should involve a minimum of prompts and menus. We have a lot of menus and options right now. For example, does the CDROM menu really need to have 4 boot options? It should be:

  • Install FreeDOS
  • Exit

And "Exit" should be the same as skipping the CDROM boot, to try the next bootable device - which we already do in "FreeDOS 1.". This is really useful, for example, when the user forgets the CDROM in the tray after installing FreeDOS.

DOS should be simple. Whatever we can do to simplify and streamline the FreeDOS installation process, we should do that.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Women in Open Source

The SD Times ran an article back in August, "Breaking down barriers for women in open source," by David Worthington. It's an interesting read, and you should check it out.

Free and Open Source Software ("FOSS") is built upon a community of users and developers. That community thrives when everyone is able to contribute, each according to his or her ability and interest. But that community will falter if it cannot achieve a "critical mass" of contributors. It is critical, therefore, for a FOSS project to include everyone in its community. That should be by default, but perhaps should also be by design.

From the article: "Barriers include the perception that the FOSS movement is a "boys' club," a shortage of female role models in the community, the feeling that women are being judged at a higher standard than men, feelings of isolation, sexist behavior, and non-coding roles that are often occupied by women being undervalued." These are serious issues that directly affect FOSS development everywhere.

After you read the article, I encourage you to think about the FOSS projects that you contribute to. Consider if the "culture" of the project community is welcoming of new members, especially women. Is your project a "boys' club" too? Remember, if a project is not open to everyone, it's not really "open", is it?