Friday, January 16, 2009

Finally a work-related post -- about Windows?!

I decided to force myself to make a technology blog. Its because I have made a very important discovery.

For a long time I've been a linux user working in a world where windows is overly common. Luckily though, I have often been able to make the argument to my bosses that cross-platform development is important, and that free-software tools are high quality and save much time and effort.

What often stymied my noble efforts however, was the pain in the arse, not in making cross-platform code, which is a problem well attended to over the decades, but the trouble of getting something to build on all platforms.

You have autotools on the unix side, Visual Studio solution-files on the windows side, and well-meaning cmake in the middle, with a down-trodden, lonely, underused look on his schoolboy face.

This is issue is oppressing me as we speak at work, with us trying to integrate the powerful and flexible Telepathy messaging framework, and its companion libraries GStreamer and D-Bus. All of it portable C. All of it buried under mounds of steaming autotools.

For the past week we have been doing the slop-work of trying to reverse-engineer the intended build process codified in the dead languages that make up autotools, and re-implement them in cmake in the hopes that it might be accepted upstream, and one day be liberated from the shackles of 1987.

It's not Happy.

And neither was I until I stumbled across this little gem. Long story short: Fedora 11 will ship with a fully functional windows cross compiler.

Autoconf-based programs can generally be cross-compiled by doing:

yum install mingw32-*
./configure --host=i686-pc-mingw32

Project page here.

That however means that the binary will not be build with VC++, rather GCC, which may cause some windows programmers to cringe. I'd like to learn just how much performance is really lost. I also wonder what sort of ABI boogie-men are lurking.

To summarize

1. Portable code - Done
2. Cross-platform build system (with no need for windows license!!) - Check
3. Broad binary compatibility - Future is Hazy

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