Open source software for numerical computation

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Interview with Scilab Enterprises CEO

Read the interview with Claude Gomez by D-BookeR publishing company

Interview with Claude Gomez, CEO of Scilab Enterprises, about Scilab and its development

Scilab Enterprises is the official publisher of Scilab software and professional services provider around Scilab.

Hello Claude, Scilab Enterprises was created in 2010, taking the responsibility for developing Scilab, until then governed by the Scilab Consortium, stemming from Inria. What have been the consequences of this evolution?

The consequences have been significant not only for Scilab software, but also especially for its users. First, the mode of software development has become more professional to reach a version of Scilab that is now used in production, including very significant ergonomic improvements. Then, the existence of a company responsible for Scilab software and providing services now enables industrial users to use Scilab reinsured by the fact that they can ask for support and maintenance if needed.

The creation of Scilab Enterprises could have been perceived as a threat to the free and open source Scilab. To what extent the latter is guaranteed?

By making us the official developer of Scilab, Inria, which is at the origin of Scilab, gave us the mission to continue providing a free and open-source distribution, and we stick to it. In addition, Scilab distribution itself contains libraries under GPL license that would prevent or hinder selling closed software. Finally, what will make the success of our business and what is our originality, is precisely our business model. It is based primarily on the development and distribution of open source software, which costs us, but allows us to provide free software for numerical computation for teaching and research, which is quite normal given that Scilab originally exists thanks to substantial public funding. And then our revenues come from the sale of services and external modules to the software.

How do you collaborate with external contributors?

Scilab user community is very important for Scilab Enterprises: they currently represent about 100,000 monthly downloads from 150 countries from our website, www.scilab.org. They allow us to test the software and return the problems encountered in using it, as well as suggestions for improvement. We have contributors who have signed an agreement with us and who help us in developing Scilab. Finally, the dynamism of the community allows us to provide about 200 external modules directly installable in Scilab, and documents in various fields around the world.

Scilab has become more and more professional software over the last few years, and a growing number of companies are beginning to adopt it. What are the contexts in which Scilab is particularly suitable?

I could simply say that Scilab can be used wherever there is a need to do numerical computation in a friendly way, and in all areas of applied mathematics. In fact, Scilab can replace most of the time general commercial software for numerical computation. But it also allows SMEs, which do not have the means to use these commercial software, to finally have access to professional computations.

What are the strengths of Scilab compared to other solutions? What is its capacity to adapt?

We might be tempted to say that the first advantage is price: Scilab is free! But it is not enough. The software must be easy to use, robust and efficient, which is the case today. Then Scilab Enterprises, as the software developer, has perfect knowledge of Scilab to the very depths of the core, and is therefore able to modify it to suit the needs of a customer. This is generally difficult to do with standard commercial software. Finally, the fact that Scilab is open source is very important for critical applications, for example in the field of defense.

And the weaknesses?

Even though Scilab specter of use is already very wide with 2,000 functions and 200 external modules, which are available to download and install online, it still lacks business external modules. We are working on it and Scilab Enterprises will soon be able to sell such modules.

"Scilab can be used wherever there is a need to do numerical computation in a friendly way"

Since version 5.2, Scilab includes Xcos graphical editor that allows modeling and simulation of hybrid dynamic systems. What is its status today?

Xcos is enriched progressively with the release of new versions. We highly worked on ergonomics and robustness. We also need to enrich it like Scilab, by adding new features under the form of libraries of additional blocks.  

What about the idea of introducing OpenModelica environment to Xcos? What will it provide? When is it expected?

Xcos currently includes the Modelica language with an integrated compiler, which works fine but is getting old. So we are working on launching a project within the IRT SystemX to change it for the Open Modelica Consortium compiler, ensuring perfect compatibility with the latest versions of the language and allowing new features.

The latest version of Scilab is Scilab 5.5.0 released in April. What is new?

First, we still made graphics features evolved to improve user productivity, and mostly important, we have changed the internals and consequently added features in what we call the uicontrol to create GUI. We also added capabilities for parallel computing (MPI module). And many other improvements still in the care of a better usability of Scilab software.

In the coming years, what are the development axes for Scilab that you will focus on? What can we expect with Scilab 6?

We are working on Scilab 6 which will bring very significant improvements since the kernel (interpreter, memory management, etc.) has been completely rewritten. In particular, it will provide dynamic memory allocation allowing the use of all possible memory of the machine and it will have native data structures for lists and hypermatrices making them very fast. This is a major development of Scilab. In addition, it will allow working in the future on the parallelization of Scilab code to dramatically speed up the computations and on efficient code generation for embedded systems.

"We will only succeed if companies trust us and help us in working with us"

Thank you for answering my questions. Do you want to add something?

Yes and it is very important. Scilab has a very long history. It was created and developed by French Research (Inria) which funded it for years. Scilab is now mature and Scilab Enterprises was created to help industrial companies to use it, a very important point that was missing and precisely provided those companies from using Scilab. All the components are here to make Scilab operation a great success. However, the development of free software on the company own resources is very heavy, and we will only succeed if companies trust us and help us in working with us: it is the key to success.

 

To read the original interview in French

Interview with Scilab Enterprises CEO