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Interview: MorphOS developer Jacek Piszczek
Many of our readers know Jacek Piszczek by his browser Wayfarer, first released in early October 2020, and his email program Iris, first beta version released at the end of March 2018, both for MorphOS.

But the developer has been active for MorphOS for much longer: the first mention of him in our database is in a news item about VirusExecutor 2.24 from July 2002, in which he is mentioned as the author of ReqAttack. With his transparent digital clock TranspoClock from December 2003, he is recorded on our website for the first time with an independent news item. High time to find out a bit more about this busy developer and talk about past and current projects.

Amiga-News (AN): Dear Jacek, thank you very much for taking the time for this interview. Tell us three key facts that the reader needs to know about you.

Jacek Piszczek (JP): Hello. Jacek Piszczek, 39yo and an Amiga users since 1996.

AN: Since you develop for the MorphOS operating system: what hardware do you use for it? And: do you use MorphOS as your main system?

JP: The three main systems would be a 2.3GHz PCIE G5, a 17'' 1.67Ghz PowerBook upgraded to a FullHD panel and a silent upgrade Mac mini. I have several more spares, but those three are the ones I do all testing and a lot of development work with. I especially love the PowerBook. As for the main system: how do we even define that these days? I use MorphOS in the evenings (unless I'm playing games), Windows for work and macOS on my PC. Since WebKit is pretty demanding, I'm using XCode and a Debian VM cross-compiler to build Wayfarer, but I try to do all the other MorphOS work on either the G5 or a PowerBook. Luckily Iris just links against pre-compiled WebKit binaries so I can work on it on MorphOS.

AN: Our readers know you as the developer of the MorphOS applications Iris and Wayfarer. But can you tell us how you got into retro systems in general? Even as a "simple user"? Were you focused on MorphOS from the beginning?

JP: They weren't retro yet when I've started playing with the Amiga. I went through an A500, then A1200/PPC which gave me a chance to learn E and C programming languages. A transition to MorphOS happened simply because that was the one available solution at the time.

AN: Did you also write software for other operating systems or only for MorphOS?

JP: I've started programming on Amiga 500 and a C64 so no, not just MorphOS. I've mostly been working as a programmer the past 20+ years and so I've had the opportunity to write code for a lot of platforms besides the Amiga.

AN: Can you remember your first (small?) project? Or did you start right away with Iris or Wayfarer?

JP: Haha, I wish I were talented enough to be able to come up with Iris as my first programming project. Seriously though, I believe my first actually usable application was a jingle player I wrote in AMOS for a high school event. Even wrote a custom self-layouting UI for it. Unfortunately the floppy with all the source code died on me later on...

AN: With your browser Wayfarer and your e-mail program Iris you gave MorphOS two programs that have a unique selling point among Amiga systems and don't need to hide from comparable programs under Windows and Co. What do you love more and why?

JP: My heart would be with Iris since there's a lot more of my own code in it. It was also the application that forced me to look for something to bridge a gap between modern programming techniques and MUI. After several weeks of researching various options I've started experimenting with Objective-C on MorphOS and ended up writing the two objc frameworks most of my MorphOS applications use these days. Without this step I'm afraid neither Iris nor Wayfarer would have been possible, at least not without major compromises.

AN: It's pretty incredible that one person can handle these two big projects. How much time do you spend on it in a week? And: is it fun? Or is it also a chore? Was there a time when you thought: This is getting too much for me, I'm quitting?

JP: I would say realistically I put about 15-20h a week into MorphOS and all of that is basically programming. But that's on weeks where I actually feel like it :) As for fun vs obligation I guess it's a bit of both. I like challenges but some debugging sessions can often feel like too much. The nastiest bugs I've had to solve in Wayfarer took weeks to figure out. Weeks of putting 2-3h into it every day. After that you just want to take a break, especially when essentially doing debugging work at my day job too...

AN: Is the combination "Jacek - MorphOS" a 'special case' or is it conceivable that also a single person writes a browser for AmigaOS 4?

JP: It's certainly possible to do it as a one person project, since it's been proven with other browsers we've had in the past (Sputnik, Odyssey). You do need someone who knows what he is doing, knows the OS he is dealing with (and is able to diagnose and fix bugs in the OS while at it).

To be fair, I did have quite a bit of help from Piru, especially in the early stages. He's helped with a lot of the compiler and OS issues like fixing phreads.

Still, you need person(s) who will put hundreds of hours of hard work into getting this done with no expectancy of getting paid (or getting paid the rates programmers at the required level would expect).

AN: Are you also - at least a little - familiar with AmigaOS 3 and 4? If so, can you explain if writing a mail program and a browser for MorphOS is easier than for the other two? And why? Or why not?

JP: MorphOS makes it easier because of all the work we've been putting into the system updates. Sometimes adding a seemingly small debugging feature to the OS can have a great impact on a browser project. Or Unicode support. Or a Notifications system. All of those things come together and make an impact when porting a huge project like WebKit. Yes, you could pack almost everything into the browser, but that'd make it a lot more work and wouldn't positively impact the whole OS. In that aspect, both AmigaOS 3 and 4 have stagnated long ago - for example AmigaOS 3.2 basically just re-implements things done by Haage & Partner 20 years earlier.

AN: Regarding this: I read in several forums that you would have been open to porting Wayfarer to OS4.1, but no one from A-Eon etc. approached you. That was in March 2021, has anything changed?

JP: All of my WebKit work is available to anyone on github. I don't have the time to port and then maintain another project of this magnitude so the best I could is to offer pointers to whoever wants to make his own port based on my work.

AN: Let's philosophize a little bit: Suppose the community, A-EON or whoever would donate to you for a port...What would be the result? Just the port or would you maintain it as well? And would it be based on MUI or Reaction?

JP: Making a port and then not maintaining it would mean the browser stagnating pretty quickly. A lot of major websites expect that you're up to date with what current Safari is offering, so things would start to deteriorate within a year or so. This is why I keep rebasing (updating my patches) to newer WebKit versions every couple of months (that's what results in Wayfarer's version number getting bumped).

All the really big Amiga projects use MUI, because it simply is the best UI we have from a programmer's point of view. I'm sure a ReAction version is doable, but if it means putting many extra hours of work, why bother?

AN: Mail program and browser are always a big topic in the Amiga community. Unfortunately, as a result of our research, we recently had to report that the development of the well-known mail program YAM has been discontinued. Did you notice this? Would you say that it would be easier to continue this project, e.g. by adding IMAP support? Or do you think it makes more sense to rewrite a mail program from scratch? Whereas we still have hope to see an update of SimpleMail....

JP: YAM died in 2000 when the original author stopped developing it, to be honest. I don't believe it to make sense to even try to add IMAP to it because the two protocols have a different philosophy. YAM was always about getting your mails to the folders on HDD, because that's what POP3 is really about - you are not meant to store emails on the server. IMAP is all about being able to access your mail from multiple clients at the same time. Bit hard to reconcile the two in an app that was designed for POP3.

AN: Can you describe to our readers how you got started with your mail program? Are there any ready-made program components that are open source that you were able to use for Iris? And how much time have you invested in the program so far? Can you tell? It seems that Wayfarer is the main project, but are there any plans for Iris?

JP: Iris started with Nicholai Benalal's port of libvmime. This is an open-source dual-license library that provides core mail functionality. As it is C++, the work quickly stalled since there wasn't a good way to use it without bridging it to MUI somehow. That's where Objective-C stepped in, but it actually took over a year where I could actually start working on the mail application. After that it took about three years of work to get it to a state where I'm mostly happy with it. Impossible to say how many hours I've spent on this application.

I have a roadmap for Iris and will be switching my attention to it again soon...

AN: Let's get back to hardware: recently the community funded a project initiated by Mark 'Bigfoot' Olsen to improve TinyGL (we reported). What do you think about this? Does this mean an immense boost for MorphOS? And why? What will be possible?

JP: There's certainly some exciting stuff you can do with better graphics card support, especially with shaders. I'm hoping I'll be able to use those in Enhanced Display. It'll also be interesting to see how video playback in Wayfarer may be improved with newer cards.

AN: As a developer, what do you think: is the current hardware situation satisfactory for MorphOS? On one side we have old Apple hardware, on the other very expensive new hardware (Sam, X5000). If you could choose: what would be your favorite hardware for MorphOS? x86 hardware? Is that possible in the near future?

JP: I think I'm biased because I like the PowerBook too much, but yeah, the hardware is becoming hard to buy these days. Sams are way too slow and an X5000 is both expensive and doesn't offer the performance the G5 Macs do. We'll see what happens about an AMD64 switch, I guess.

AN: About the software situation of MorphOS: what I miss at the moment is a proper word processor. Would it be possible for such an excellent developer like you to port LibreOffice or, a bit smaller, AbiWord to MorphOS? However, looking at AmigaOS 4, this seems to be a project of the century: first announced in 2012, beta testing started in 2017 and seems to last until today...

JP: LibreOffice is both huge and very, very messy. I'm no fan of cmake but I wish they used that instead of all the custom built stuff they've written. There's supposed to be a way to get it to work inside an SDL view, but it doesn't look like any platforms are actually using that. AbiWord looks a little less messier, but then it's only an editor. I want to look into one or the other, eventually, but the amount of other projects in my pipeline is already too much.

AN: Jacek, thank you very much for taking the time for this interview and, of course, keep up the good work on your projects!

If you want to support the developer, you can find a 'Donate' link on the Wayfarer and Iris project pages linked at the beginning of this interview. (dr)

[News message: 12. Jul. 2022, 06:19] [Comments: 0]
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