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Craig Graham - creator of XaAES
Craig Graham is the name of the british programmer who initiated the XaAES project back in the days.
We managed to get hold of Craig by email and took the opportunity to nag him for a short interview. Most of the questions were aimed at things around XaAES but we also bugged him about a few other things as well. Enjoy :)


Short interview

When did you first start to take interest in computers, and what made you hooked on them?
When I was 10 years old, my close friend John Li (who you might have heard of - he went on to be lead designer on GTA for the PSP) was the first person in our village to get a computer - a Sinclair ZX81. We used to spend hours messing with it in the backroom of his parents shop. A few months later I got one myself, and we'd write little games for them - guess I got hooked at that point. By the age of 12, I'd taught myself assembly language from listings in magazines (on a Dragon 32 computer). I couldn't afford to buy an assembler, so I wrote my own in BASIC - but it only supported the op-codes that I'd found in magazine listings, as I also couldn't afford a book about assembly language.
What was your first introduction to Atari computers?
Another friend in our village had an Atari400 - it quite impressed me at the time, although the keyboard was an awful membrane thing. But I guess the first time I saw a 68K based Atari was in a store in Rotherham (I was 13 at the time) - they had one of the original 520ST's in there (the ones with no internal PSU or floppy drive). The guy in the shop did a demo of Starglider, and I knew at that point that I had to have it - and pestered my parents mercilessly for a week or so until they gave in and spent what was at the time an obscene amount of cash (£450) on a 520ST with a single external floppy drive.
Which Atari related projects have you been a part of prior to XaAES?
At University I developed the CLA digital design and simulation software for the Atari (including the FSM synthesis stuff). Anything else? I did a rather dodgy hack of a graphical FTP client (DuFTP) based on the BSD FTP code, and did the first port of the Chimera web browser to the Atari when the first mono-only version of X11 for MiNT was released.
I also wrote a couple of games around that time (C7 and Worm). In truth, they were rubbish - but we live and learn. I did get some fanmail about Worm though ;)
Which other coders where active back then?
Keeping in touch with people wasn't easy in those days - the Internet was still in it's infancy, and most people outside the Universities didn't have email. I really respected Eric Smith for his work on the OS side of things (a route I've taken myself in recent years with the development of an entire OS for work), and Peter Molyneux's series of articles in Atari User were a revelation on the subject of assembler and graphics coding. Of course, I've always had time for Jeff Minter's bizarre creations.
I do miss the old Usenet groups - the discussion there was fantastic at the time......
Why did you decide to start coding a new AES from scratch?
I'd been playing with the original beta versions of MultiTOS I'd got through a couple of guys at the University of Newcastle (they were using TT's to run a warship hull modelling system) and wasn't very happy with them - and as I'd just finished Uni, I'd become rather fond of Unix type stuff, and wanted to be able to run MiNT full-time. Magic was nice (my mate Jose used MagicMac on his Apple - really nice), but lacked the Unix underpinnings I wanted.
What was the initial goals with XaAES?
To run multiple GEM programs, as fast as the original GEM, but using MiNT as the underpinning. I also had some vague ideas about network transparency that I never got round to implementing...
What other developers contributed to XaAES during your maintainership?
Oh, good grief. That's a question - and people are going to be offended that I can't remember many of them. There were quite a few, and unfortunately I no longer have all the mail logs for people who contributed patch sets and new functionality.
How did the project progress?
Initially it went quite rapidly - I wasn't married and had no kids at the time, was living in a rented house in Reading and had plenty of free time to work on it. The initial design fell into place quite rapidly, and I had a good crowd of interested folks at work with a background in this sort of thing who contributed suggestions to it (Jose Cummins, Mark Lawrence, Phil Lishman).
When did you start considering cancelling your work on XaAES, and what triggered it?
Actually, it was because I ran out of time and space. I got promoted at work, and it started to take up a larger amount of my time - I'd also become involved with some development on the Playstation (outside of my day job), and didn't have space in my (very) small flat for the PSX development stuff and the Atari - and the PSX was taking up a lot of my time outside work.....
Did you continue to monitor the progress after you left as maintainer?
I kind of lost track of it for a while, but I've been watching with interest over the last few years - the progress that's been made just blows me away :)
What do you know of XaAES of today, and what are your thoughts on it?
I didn't follow XaAES for years, but started keeping tabs on it again a year or so ago - it's hugely impressive how far it's come since those early days. It looks beautiful - a really modern environment. It'd be really nice to see it ported to modern hardware actually. One day - if it's not tied to MiNT too tightly, it might make a nice project to fill a few evenings ;).
What are you working with today?
These days I work mostly with embedded systems (I'm in senior engineer in the Operating Systems design team at ADDL in London). My current project is using the OS we developed to do IPTV. I still write some free software (mostly for the Sharp Zaurus).
Lastly, do you still have your Atari?
I still have my Falcon030 (reboxed in an old Mac IIce case, with an Afterburner fitted) in the loft - I have to admit it's not been plugged in recently though. I couldn't bear to get rid of it though.  
Joakim Högberg © 2006

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