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GNU-Friends.org: Interview with David MacKenzie (the future of autoconf)

Feb 14, 2002, 19:17 (0 Talkback[s])

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During the years, some people has suggested that autoconf should be scrapped and a new system should be created. What do you think of that? Can you imagine any other configuration tool being as popular as autoconf and do you have any ideas as to what it might look like?

Ten years ago, many Unix users only had 9600 bps dialup connections to Usenet and UUCP. There were no free PC operating systems or POSIX compliant systems or package management systems. Developers had to write to a least common denominator system installation that was bare bones. If you required all these external packages in order to compile and install your little package, it took too long to get and people got frustrated and stayed away.

Nowadays, everyone's on the Internet and many have broadband, everyone has Perl 5 and many have Python, there are automatic dependency following update systems, and everyone has POSIX and Standard C and C++. Recent Autoconf releases have stubbed out some of the tests for old limitations that you might as well assume don't apply anymore, to make it run faster.

I and others have learned a lot since then about configuration management and software design. I found Bertrand Meyer's book Object Oriented Software Construction to be the most eye-opening thing I've read in the last 5 years. It's a pity that SmallEiffel doesn't have a rich library like CPANbuilt up; if it did, I'd probably be using it.

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