Scilab reaches for the sky

Monday, November 7, 2011

In France we say “Jamais deux sans trois” (everything comes in threes, if it's happened twice, it'll happen a third time). Scilab (free and open source software for numerical computation) was happy to keep this saying alive this year as we participated in our third year as a Google Summer of Code mentoring organization. Each year we have been impressed by the growing quality and diversity of projects submitted to us, the involvement of the selected students and the pleasure they have in working in the open source community. Our experience as a mentoring organization in Google Summer of Code shows us that even professional software raises interest amongst students yearning to contribute to its development both on a technical and professional level. For us, this is an acknowledgment of success in our daily work.

We consider our experience this year to be a very positive one as of the 9 selected Scilab projects, 7 have been successfully completed. We chose to focus here on the experience and work of two of our students that seem to be very representative of our Google Summer of Code experience.

CGLAB Module (a CGAL-based extension) by Edyta Przymus
Edyta’s work consisted in providing a binding of CGAL available from Scilab to offer to users of advanced computational geometry functions. Edyta got involved in the Google Summer of Code following the advice of a friend of hers who was one of our students in the 2010 edition of the program. She chose to work on Scilab because she considers it to be essential software in her domain of study: control theory and robotics. Edyta told us that participating in Google Summer of Code was a unique and wonderful experience that gave her a lot of satisfaction. She considers herself a more confident programmer (she wrote her first lines of code only 2 years ago) and has learned to organize her work process and correct her own bugs. She is continuing to work on her project in response to users’ demand and improving her code along the way.

A release of Edyta’s project (tagged as 2.0) has been published in ATOMS (the Scilab module packaging system).

Introduce a Scilab backend to Cantor by Filipe Saraiva
The goal of Filipe’s project was to provide the power of Scilab to Cantor software, a Qt/KDE front end for numerical computing software. Filipe Saraiva worked on the introduction of Scilab and its capabilities as a backend computing engine. Filipe was fond of Scilab since he began using it as an undergraduate. He considers it to be the best free tool available for numerical programming and is proud to have been able to help further its development. He summarizes his experience in the program by saying he learned how important communication is in development work, and that Google Summer of Code was an unique program to learn programming and management in free software communities that he could not find at university.

To achieve his project with success, Filipe worked very progressively. He began by studying the other back ends implemented in Cantor to see how they worked and how he could do the same for Scilab in enabling communication between the two software environments. In the midst of developing all the new needed features, he encountered some difficulties, which pushed him to consider and learn the specifics of the whole ecosystem of his application like kcfg and the processing of XML files in Q.

Since Filipe needed to modify some piece of code in Scilab itself, the Cantor/Scilab connector will not be released until Scilab 5.4.0.

The complete descriptions of all Scilab projects including the five other projects, Binary patching by Stefan Mihaila, Dakota module by Yann Chapalain, Mexlib from Scilab by Luri de Silvio, Accurate and Portable Elementary Functions by Shashank Sahni and .net called from Scilab by Igor Gridchyn are available on the Scilab website.

One of our students told us that working with technology and software used by thousands of people was rewarding. On the same note, having the opportunity to work with such passionate students each year thanks to the Google Summer of Code program is rewarding for us too, and we are thankful to Google for this opportunity.

By Julie Paul & Sylvestre Ledru, Scilab Mentors