The desire for a native Windows port of Sage has been discussed on and off by various people at Sage Days 5 & 6 face to face and in IRC over the last couple months. While we support Windows via a VMWare image many people (including myself) think that a truly native port could bring Sage and its components to a lot more people. We used to have a Cygwin port, but that was dropped during the 2.5.x development cycle since we didn't manage to make libSingular work despite us trying for several weeks.
During the discussions various point of views came up why we shouldn't do a native Windows port:
- A native Windows port would take away time from people that might be better spend on fixing bugs on OSX, Linux and Solaris.
- It just isn't worth it to port Open Source applications to Windows. If people were really interested in Open Source they would switch to some free operating system.
- We should spend time on improving the VMWare image instead.
- Bugs that are fixed on on platform are often present on the others, they just haven't caused any trouble yet.
- For the foreseeable future Windows will remain the dominant desktop operating system. While that may be different in certain areas of academia we have to consider targets like high school students and so on. I do not buy the argument that by offering people Open Source applications on Windows those people no longer have an incentive to switch to a free platform. It is quite the opposite: Firefox has brought the idea of Open Source to many more people than the Linux kernel ever will. Take into consideration that I have been running Linux since the time you had to install it from sets of floppy discs that I downloaded at night over 14.4KB modem lines. And I have run it as my primary desktop OS ever since. But for many people switching away from Windows isn't desirable, because Windows is good enough for them. Another quite common scenario is that various lock in factors prevent people from moving away. So in the end we [as in Sage developers] just have to accept reality and do the best we can to bring Open Source math software to the masses, even if they "haven't seen the light yet" and are still using Windows.
- Improving the VMWare image is orthogonal to the port issue. The VMWare image has its places and in many cases will be better suited, but it cannot replace a native port.
- We will need to rely on non-free compilers, mainly MSVC [the express edition is free as in beer, but certainly not free as in freedom] and Intel Fortran [not free as in beer & freedom].
- It will be a huge amount of work and all that needs to be integrated upstream. So far no entity has been willing to support the developers to do so.
- We stand to gain few developers from the effort since most Open Source developers tend to work on anything but Windows and do not have the desire to go back. But the native Windows port will certainly require a lot of attention, maybe even more than the other ports combined.
- We will potentially gain 64 bit support on Windows. A lot of the components of Sage are only available via Cygwin or MinGW which are currently limited to 32 bits, discounting the fact that Cygwin runs in 64 bit mode on Windows/Itanium.
- The install will be smaller and it offers the possibility to do upgrades via binary packages. While we certainly plan to do something similar via the Debian packaging effort, it seems to be more or less the only way to do efficient upgrades on Windows since few people will have the tool chain to build Sage.
- The potential user base for Sage will increase by a magnitude or more. And we are not elitist snobs that want to exclude people based on their choice of operating system :)