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Interviews

10 June 2003
Interview with Mike McCormack by Brian Vincent

This is our 7th interview with Wine developers. Check out the Interviews page for previous ones.

How many Australian Wine developers live in South Korea and work for an American company? If you said just Mike McCormack then you'd be correct. Mike studied Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Sydney but now lives in Seoul half the time. The other half he lives in Minneapolis. Full time he's a Wine developer working for CodeWeavers. The arrangement works well for him - he gets to see his girlfriend regularly and has time to concentrate on work too.

BV: How did you get involved with Wine? How long have you been working on it?

Mike: I was working overseas for 6 months, and bought a digital camera. The camera didn't work in Linux, but I found the windows software for it almost worked in Wine. Since I had some spare time, I started hacking on the serial port code. After a bit of work, I got the software half working.

After that success I decided to try get the serial port API working in Wine... that was in 1999.

BV: Do you remember the first patch you submitted?

Mike: Yep. The patch to make my digital camera's software work better.

BV: What areas of Wine do you like to work on?

Mike: Low level stuff, file APIs, NTDLL, wineserver stuff. It's much easier than the graphics related stuff :)

BV: Do you mainly work on Wine at work? Or is it a hobby too?

Mike: Well, I think it's mainly work at the moment, but sometimes I do stuff out of interest. It seems to blur between the two.

BV: How did you start working for CodeWeavers?

Mike: I was working in Korea at that time, and Jeremy While wrote me an email. asking if I'd like to come and work on a new project he was doing. I started working part time for CodeWeavers, but eventually the stress of working two jobs caught up with me, and I gave up my day job :)

BV: How much of your time is spent debugging something? There was a recent quote from Nat Friedman that said something like, "Jeremy White from CodeWeavers will tell you that his hackers spend very close to 100% of their time in gdb." How much of that is an exaggeration?

Mike: Well, I don't use gdb to debug, but I do spend lots of time debugging stuff. It's probably like 50% debugging, 30% corresponding with customers, 15% admin stuff and 5% writing code. I think we have to spend large amounts of time on small (and tedious) problems, because a product needs to be more polished than an free project.

BV: I've noticed everyone from CodeWeavers spends a lot of time on the support mailing lists. Do you have a good ticket tracking system in place? Is it hard to keep up with the volume of support questions?

Mike: Yes, it's hard to keep up, because you need to strike a balance between fixing the problems that exist, helping customers who have problems, and adding new features. Our ticket tracking system was designed inhouse by Jeremy Newman, who's done a great job on it.

BV: You done a lot of work on named pipes lately. How do they work compared to unix named pipes?

Mike: The main difference in capabilities, and the thing that's still missing is message mode. Message mode apparently preserves the size of data written to the pipe, so reads will return data in chunks the same size as those that were written.

It took me a lot of time to understand how the connections are established and torn down without race conditions. Dan Kegel's test program was a great help.

BV: I noticed you referenced Dan's programs a few times when you submitted patches. How was it Dan was able to write the test first and you were able to complete the implementation? I can definitely understand the approach since you have to have a test case, but it seems a little different than what other Wine developers do.

Mike: Most developers write their own tests, but I was lucky enough to con Dan into writing one for me :) A lot of the work that wine developers do goes into writing test programs, as it makes it easier to understand where the problems are in Wine if you can see what a program is trying to do. It makes a lot of sense to have different people writing the tests and the implementation because developers aren't that good at testing their own code - "it all works perfectly!" :)

BV: Are there any applications that work better now because of this?

Mike: Visual C++ and QuickBooks 2003 (IIRC) both use named pipes, however I haven't tested them; I've only tested to Dan's program so far and have had to move on to other stuff.

BV: You also did some file change notification work. Were there any problems implementing that on top of unix-like filesystems?

Mike: There's a few differences between the Linux kernel's file change notification and that in Windows. The main ones are that Windows distinguishes between files and directories changing, and can do recursive change notification (on a complete directory structure). Both those things are not yet implemented in Wine. The hardest thing was to get the signal handling right... Alexandre helped a lot with that.

BV: Why was signal handling a problem?

Mike: The main obstacle was trying to make Alexandre comfortable with my patch :) Signal handling creates many opportunities for races and I wasn't fully aware of all the problems, so I learned a lot from Alexandre.

BV: Eric Pouech recently mentioned he was planning on doing some work on the filesystem code as part of the kernel32/ntdll split. How hard is that work?

Mike: Well, I think it's hard, because it hasn't been done yet :)

I've played round with some parts of the (NT) Native API for files and directories here, but there's lots of work to be done. The big problem (for me at least) is to figure out how to do the changes incrementally. Eric seems to be doing a pretty good job!

I think ntdll/kernel separation might allow us to share more code with Reactos, and get some NT specific debugging tools to work, but it is more important for dll separation than anything else.

BV: How is that API different than what's in Wine right now?

Mike: At the moment, the file API in wine is a big mess. It doesn't use the Native API at all. Ideally (in my mind) we'd like to have everything talking to the NT Native API, then NTDLL doing conversions to the posix api.

BV: What areas of Wine would you like to see worked on?

Mike: I think tools (like Regedit/Control Panel/Explorer) are important for end users. It would also be nice to have better integration with Gnome/KDE, which requires coordination across projects.

BV: You just submitted a Regedit program from ReactOS. What work needed to be done to make it ready for Wine?

Mike: I only changed a few things, mainly the comment style, fixed a few warnings, and merged only the GUI part, since I think Wine's commandline regedit is a little more mature than Reactos's. Steven Edwards also helped out with the merge.

BV: Is it a fairly complete implementation? Will much work need to be done on it?

Mike: There's still quite a bit of work to be done on it. It's a read only implementation. I'm hoping somebody will take ownership of it and work on the remaining bits - I'm just being a facilitator.

BV: Thanks for the interview Mike. Good luck learning Korean!