Sunday, May 11, 2008

Life in the Windows-Bizarro Universe

You know what my biggest coding-rant about Windows is? Drive designators. They just suck.

Back in the pre-PC days when Unix was the new kid on the block, the notion of path specifications became popular. It was a big change from Dataset declarations in JCL; directories as files was a concept that made sense. It caught on quickly and everyone wanted to do it the Unix way. (One of my first projects at Bell Labs in the early 80s was finishing a port of Unix's ed command in the mainframe environment - the directory-structure logic was as close to Unix as I could make it and made the mainframers quite happy.)

Then PCs came along. Rooted in CP/M, with many influences affecting its evolution, the paths became much like Unix's paths with three main differences: the filenames were limited to 8.3 format, the separators within a path were backslashes, and the a drive designator could be specified.

While modern windows has eliminated the 8.3 limitations and underlying filesystem libraries treat both the slash and backslash with ease, the drive designator lives on as a pain in the ass. I understand the pervasiveness of the feature; the allure of a simple top-level shortcut is strong. But it really has crufted up portability of software from one platform to another for the last thirty years.

Take, for example, the home directory. This is the directory that a user first "lands in" after logging into a system. From inside Ruby code, if you need to get that home directory, you can just
But on a PC, you have to
This may not seem too painful perhaps, but you need to jump through this hoop whenever you access the filesystem. I've been gradually building up a set of covers for this sort of behavior, such as
  class File
def self.home_directory
if Config::CONFIG['target_vendor'] == 'pc'
for getting the home directory, but there's still no good way to hide the problem once and for all. You just need to be aware of drive designators when you're building paths. It's a fact of life.

But it still sucks.

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