Frequently Asked Questions

Posted by Dave Winer, 7/15/04 at 2:18:52 PM.

What is Frontier? 

It's a high performance Web content management, object database, system-level and Internet scripting environment, including source code editing and debugging.

Why release Frontier as open source? 

I explained the rationale for releasing Frontier as open source on Scripting News on May 17, 2004. Here's a summary.

1. After I left UserLand in the summer of 2002, it became largely a company that markets and develops Manila and Radio. My concern was when will UserLand get around to enhancing and improving the "kernel" -- the large base of C code that runs Manila and Radio -- the scripting language, object database, verb set, server, multi-threaded runtime, content management framework. It's been several years since there was a meaningful update of that code. By releasing the code, the hope is that we will be able to pick up work on the kernel and start fixing some bugs and adding some long-waited-for features.

2. Products that Manila and Radio compete with don't have their own kernels, they build off development environments created by others. For example, Movable Type is written in Perl. WordPress is PHP. Blogger is Java. UserLand's products are different because they build on a private platform. For a long time we saw this as an advantage, the UserLand runtime is very rich and powerful, and offered performance benefits. When a new layer came on, for example the CMS, when it got stable and mature, we'd "kernelize" it, so it would be super-fast. But experience in the market said that, to succeed, UserLand didn't need to own its kernel. In fact, that it was the only developer using this kernel may well have been a liability for UserLand.

3. In 1987 we sold Living Videotext to Symantec, and along with it, sold them our products, ThinkTank, Ready and MORE. I appreciate what Symantec did for us, I'm still living off the money I made in the public stock offering, but the products died inside Symantec. I'm not blaming them for that, because it's very likely they would have died inside Living Videotext had we not been acquired. But some good products disappeared. To this day people ask me what became of MORE, and tell me how advanced it was, and how nothing has replaced it. It's a sad story, and a shame, that the art of outlining took such a hit. I swore this would never happen again. There are a lot of good ideas in that base of software that you won't find elsewhere. If it disappeared it would be a loss like the MORE loss.

What are your expectations? 

Even if no bugs get fixed, if no features get added, if no new OSes are supported, it will be worth it, because its future will be assured.

Why use the GPL? 

The GPL is the right license for our goals. We want to encourage developers to add features compatibly, so that old Frontier apps run in the new environment(s). If commercial developers want to add private features to the kernel, we will try to work with them, we just want to be sure we can have a conversation about compatibility, and perhaps create revenue to fund open source development. If a non-commercial project emerges that breaks compatibilty, because the GPL is used, we will have the option of bringing their work into compatibility.

In the past, Rule 1 for Frontier development has been No Breakage. It seems like that should still be part of the culture of the community. Apps matter.

Ideas for projects 

Everyone wants a Linux version of Frontier.

We would love to have other scripting languages, especially Java and Python, running inside Frontier.

Convert it to build with other tools.

Utility to kernelize scripts.

Deeply integrate a BitTorrent server.

Which roots will be released? 

To begin, we have limited the release to the Frontier kernel, written in C; and Frontier.root, which is the main object database, which contains script-implemented verbs, and default data for Tools. Frontier won't run without Frontier.root in the application folder.

The current UserLand distribution includes a few root files that implement higher level functionality, such as mainResponder.root, which is a rich application server, prefs.root, which implements an HTML preferences interface, and manila.root, which implements the Manila content management system. All roots except manila.root will be released under the GPL sometime in the near future, after the dust settles from the initial kernel release.

In addition, certain parts of Radio.root, the counterpart of Frontier.root for the Radio UserLand product, will also be packaged and released as open source, notably upstreaming, which is a core technology and is broadly useful, and could use some performance enhancements and fixes. The page rendering technoloogy in Radio may also be released.

However, the products, Manila and Radio UserLand, remain in UserLand Software, and are not and will not be licensed as open source.

If you have other questions... 

Please post them here.