VSLab Shell

by cisterni 27. July 2008 17:26

I think that one of the most interesting areas of VSLab, partly unforeseen, is the project of developing a next generation system shell as a package. System shells have a long history and there is always an attempt to find the new one, but I think these are here to stay, but they also are the past. We are living in a world where the stream-based composition of software is far from satisfactory, and also the completion forms provided by shells are inadequate.

In 2001 I defined a shell called ObjShell, attempting to exploit the component-based nature of COM for software composition. At that time I realized that Unix shells are just a simpler version of this where each program was a component with a well defined interface and an associated process, and the shell was the mean by which these components were integrated. ObjShell were a very nice project and today I can say it's a pity I didn't find the time to work on it for the .NET version, otherwise the Power Shell would have arrived several years before. And in fact I was contacted by the PS team (I spoke to Jeffrey Snover when He was in charge of PS) though I didn't succeded in trying to convince on some basic design principles of the ObjShell that I would have loved to see in the PS. I'm not a PS fan, I like the object streaming metaphor, but I didn't feel need for another unreadable language full of switches and dollars.

I think that programming languages and the associated toolchain have grown enough to blur the distinction between the program and the shell, it was true for VB and COM and it is more true nowadays with .NET and languages such as F# using the interactive top level. Now with few lines you can read system counters as PerfMon does and do several other things. VSLab Shell will be a package designed to be next generation shell, where statements are highlighted to be executed and a single file may contain several scripts. Intellisense it is far better than Tab-based completion. At the moment we are working on the core functionalities of the shell, but also designing interfaces to hardware such as ILO featured by HP.

More about VSLab Shell will be available in the next release of VSLab.

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VSLab is a Visual Studio extension designed to support Visual Studio interaction from F# interactive. It is a Microsoft product developed at University of Pisa, by a team lead by Antonio Cisternino.

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