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Why GNOME Do Is Built With C#

Language and Architecture Decisions

  • July 16, 2009
  • By Paul Ferrill
Gnome-Do

With all the recent heat generated about Mono and the C# language, it only seems appropriate to take a look at the issue from a programmer's perspective. There are a number of open source projects written in the C# language. Banshee, F-Spot and Tomboy are three of the most popular. F-Spot has even made it to the status of default photo management tool for several distributions including openSUSE and Ubuntu.

GNOME Do is a great example of open source software that started out as the pet project of one individual. In actuality, it began as the senior thesis project for David Siegel. David needed to come up with an idea for a software project that would embrace the development concepts of the open source community. Having most of his experience in the Mac world, he decided on building a Quicksilver lookalike for Linux.

Language Decisions

David had made the initial decision to build his tool for the GNOME desktop environment on Ubuntu. He looked at a number of different languages including C, Python, Vala, Java, Boo, Haskell, Clojure, and OCaml. The decision to use C# came through a process of elimination. Here's how he answered the language question in response to a post on his blog:

"I implemented basic Gtk+ examples in most of those languages (the ones that had Gtk+ bindings in a reasonable state) and found that C# on Mono gave me a statically typed language, pretty good performance, tons of support, preexisting applications to learn from, well maintained documentation, bindings, and libraries, and published books on .NET/C#/Mono."

The Mono group also has a lively IRC channel where you will

find many of the principals hanging out and answering questions. "When I first started coding in C# I ran into a few things that I couldn't figure out. I went on the Mono IRC channel, and Miguel answered my questions straight away. He helped me get through a few rough spots, and that alone really impressed me about the community support for C#," says David.

Architecture Decisions

One of the features that made its way into GNOME Do early on was the concept of a plugin architecture. Writing plugins can be a difficult task for some environments. One of the examples that David looked at during the evaluation process was Catapult for KDE. The first thing he identified when evaluating Catapult was the difficulty of building plugins. Everything was built using C++, and the whole process was somewhat complicated.

Monodevelop is the development environment of choice for building GNOME Do plugins. The best way to learn how to build a new plugin is to take an existing one and modify it to meet your own needs. You can find a large list of existing plugins on the GNOME Do wiki site.

The other big lift from using C# and managed code is the ability to take user contributed code and just drop it in. For example, the Skype plugin has between 2000 and 3000 lines of code in it. All plugin code is kept on the launchpad site. The team builds the plugins as-is from that site and they are available to GNOME Do users through a preferences menu. The sandbox runtime environment of the CLI provide an extra measure of security you can't get with a language like C while C#'s static typing help take the worry out of runtime errors common to dynamic languages.

The last paragraph was corrected to more fully explain how plugin authoring is managed-- ed.
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