A short history of POPEYE
by Thomas Brand
To describe the history of POPEYE we have to go back for more than 25 years, back to the year 1986. At that time I was section editor at Die Schwalbe for selfmate and helpmate, and so I was interested in computer supported testing of original problems sent for publication.
At that time there were only two ways to test help- and selfmates and some types of problems with fairy conditions or pieces: This was the commercial program ‘Alibadix’ by Ilka Blom, running on small computers like Commodore and ‘Ollie’ by Thomas Kühn, based on dedicated hardware (!) with hexadecimal keyboard and a funny thermo paper printing device for user interface to enter problems and display solution and cooks.
Since I had a ‘modern’ IBM XT compatible computer at home (6 MHz Intel 8086 processor, 20 MB hard disk, green 25×80 character monitor, assembles by myself), I had no chance to use Alibadix, and Ollie support was not as simple as it sounds today: Solving time for complex H#2 was up to one hour, testing H#3 was virtually impossible. And since Ollie was unique I had to share computing time (and Thomas’ support) with other people. So I tested original problems for Die Schwalbe by myself and only sent the best ones I was not able to cook to Thomas and his iron friend.
So I was very happy when I heard about POPEYE, a program written by Phillipe Schoebelen of France for IBM PCs: Maybe that was the long awaited support for Die Schwalbe, for me?
I contacted Phillipe (by standard letter, of course, that was the time before email!), and very quickly, about one week later, I received a big envelope from France containing not only a kind answer, but also a floppy disk (5.25 inch for up to 360 kilobyte – that was the standard at that time) containing the POPEYE program file and a short french manual. And it worked!!
After a while of using and testing I had some ideas on improving the program, and I got a very surprising answer from Phillipe: He told me that he had stopped POPEYE development, and he sent the source file and allowed using it as public domain software.
This resulted in two immediate actions: I wrote a short article about POPEYE in Die Schwalbe 104 (April 1987, pp.215-216 “Popeye, eine eierlegende Wollmilchsau?” [“Popeye, a Swiss Army knife?”]) with the offer to distibute the program to interested problemists, if they sent a formatted floppy disk to me (Remember: that was a time before private email, private internet access!), and some 30 people all over the world asked for POPEYE.
The second action was still more important: At Andernach meeting 1987, if I remember correctly, I talked to Elmar Bartel and Norbert Geissler about POPEYE, since I had no compiler for translating POPEYE to a new executable program after some bug fixes I had done: POPEYE had been written in a Pascal dialect called ‘COMAL’. They took the source file and with computer support they translated it to ‘C’ programming language.
After a lot of manual fine tuning of the POPEYE source they succeded in having again a running program: maintainable, quite well-documented and faster than the original COMAL implementation. This was the start for the ongoing enhancements of POPEYE.
This went (and still goes!) to different directions:
- Bug fixing, of course.
- Enhancement by adding further conditions, pieces, and stipulatons.
- Porting to different platforms and operating systems: There were ports to OS/2, to VAX VMS, IBM MVS, SIEMENS BS2000 hosts; today officially Windows, MacOS and Linux/Unix are supported.
- Enhancing solving speed by different kinds of optimization: implemention of hashing and “intelligent mode” for longer problems.
I had just mentioned Phillipe, Elmar and Norbert as the most important early POPEYE developers; also Torsten Linß contributed a lot. We should not forget support by Stefan Hoening, Stefan Brunzen, Harald Denker and Thomas Bark, while today (i.e. since July 2007) the POPEYE project is lead by Thomas Maeder with major support by Stephen Emmerson.
When might you expect a new POPEYE version? Best chance is from mid of May to
beginning of June – at Andernach fairy chess meeting time! Quite comparable with the time 25 years ago – with one difference: Now POPEYE is not distributed via disk exchange but by downloading it from the internet.