Thursday, December 08, 2011

Gnome Games Modernisation

The GNOME Games project maintains fifteen small "five-minute" games for the GNOME desktop.

Unfortunately over time the games have struggled to keep up with the latest GNOME technology due to the time required to do this.  And the further behind we've got the harder it is for new developers to get involved as the code is hard to work with.

So the time has come for a great modernising.  And here's where you fit it :)

We've picked eight of the games we think are the best and we want to focus on bringing them up to modern standards.  The games are Chess, Five or More, Mines, Iagno, Mahjongg, Sudoku and Swell Foop.  These games all have been or are in progress of being ported to Vala.  Vala is a modern programming language that will be familiar to anyone who has used Java or C#.

We have a Matrix of things to do:
with the goal being to turn everything to green.

So, if you're interested in helping out follow any of the bug links and start fixing the bugs!  All the tasks should be able to be completed independently and shouldn't be too complex to achieve.  Anyone is welcome to attempt these and there are non-coding tasks (documentation and design).

Saturday, September 10, 2011


There was a very good interview with Jon McCann recently about GNOME 3 and GNOME OS.  Reading public comments on this interview showed a lot of negativity which I think missed the good points.

GNOME OS is unfortunately very loosely defined, but from what I can gather it's essentially controlling the entire stack that GNOME is to make a better experience and make it easier to work on the project.

What I like about this strategy:
  • It's focuses on the users that GNOME is targeted at.  We've had a strong direction since GNOME 2 days and the focus on features that these users need through design is the right way of getting there.
  • It's dropping old desktop metaphors and moving to new ones.  There are other desktops like XFCE which will continue the Windows 95 desktop metaphor and be successful with it; it's right for GNOME to move on and be more cutting edge.
What I don't like about it:
  • It downplays the value of GNOME as a "box of bits".  The drum I'm banging at the moment is about sharing infrastructure.  This is something GNOME has been very successful with in the past and discouraging this cuts off a lot of places where GNOME can get investment from other projects.
  • It puts very strong requirements on distributors which they don't want to / can't meet.  GNOME is not like Apple, it can't control the entire stack from hardware to sales.  It needs to work with distributors or have a distribution strategy.  Building a perfect desktop is not enough.
The impression I get is GNOME OS is now effectively the strategy of GNOME and it's generally a good direction.  We need to make sure to flesh it out and ensure that we can have sustained development in GNOME and get wide distribution.

Desktop common ground

There's a common argument that you hear about open source desktops which goes something like "we have less than 1% market share; the other desktops are laughing at us; we should pool together and make a real contender".

And you know what, they're right!  We don't have a significant market share, and we're not at the point where we have a truly amazing desktop experience (but we're getting closer).  Anything we can do to get there faster must be a good thing.

And you know what, they're wrong.  We don't have a finite developer resource.  Open-source is amazing like that - when a project starts that people care about suddenly the community grows.  Trying to mash everyone together into one project wouldn't work and would probably make us even slower.  Putting all our eggs in one basket is a big risk.

How can we share resources to grow that market share without pushing us together into a big compromise?  We need to share infrastructure.  What we need is a POSIX for the 21st century.  We've been slowly building this with things like the Linux, D-Bus, X, GStreamer.  We can do more.

There's been a rise in design thinking in Open-Source which has been really good for everyone.  But I think the pendulum has swung too far.  User experience is not the only factor in deciding what to do.  Infrastructure is expensive.  Every bad API is slowing us down progress on the layers above it.  Every desktop developer that dives into infrastructure is not working on those layers either.

Sharing is hard.  But the cost of not sharing is huge.  Lets make sure the infrastructure we're building for tomorrow works cross-desktop and we can share those costs.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Desktop Summit 2011

Last month I attended the Desktop Summit 2011 in Berlin.  Unfortunately I was only there for the core days because Berlin is an awesome city and the summit is awesome too.

The quality of the talks this year were great, and I only had one or two slots the whole time where there was nothing I wanted to go to.  This summit felt more integrated than the last one and I hope this continues into the future.

Some highlights:
  • There was a good response to LightDM.  I felt my talk had a lack of GNOME people present, but I think the GTK4 talk may have absorbed them.
  • Lennart did a well researched talk on revamping the login system which sounds very good and left me wanting to know more.
  • From what I heard the future of GTK+4 and Clutter looks very promising, but I haven't been able to see the talk as I was doing mine.  Can't wait for the videos to come out so I can find out more.
  • Vincent Untz is did a really thoughtful talk on his experiences as a GNOME release manager.
  • GNOME Shell seems to be progressing very well and there were a lot of talks on it.
  • Plasma/KDE also seems to be doing a lot of innovation.
Some negatives:
  • There was basically no mention of Unity.
  • There was the usual amount of Canonical bashing and it's not helping anyone.  The GNOME State of the Union had too many cheap jabs and the half hearted laughter shows it's just not funny anymore.
  • There was a lack of Canonical people present, and it was commented on numerous times.  I'm personally not surprised, as every year more of my colleagues just don't want to be there.  Andrea Cimitan, who is a great guy, summed it up when he said on Google+ "when I say around here I'm working for "Canonical", people stop smiling :)".
  • There was little mention of GNOME OS.  Sometimes we need to be more than just hackers talking about technology and really talk more about planning and strategy.
What I'd like to see at the next summit:
  • Increased visibility of other desktops - it still feels very GNOME and KDE centric, I think we can learn a lot from projects like XFCE, LXDE, Elementary, Unity etc.
  • Increased collaboration on infrastructure - we need to get in a better shape so we can pool out resources on the boring stuff and focus more on the user facing component which make us successful.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Broken PDFs in Simple Scan

Since version 2.32 Simple Scan has had a bug where it generates PDF files with invalid cross-reference tables.  The good news is this bug is now fixed, and will work correctly in simple-scan 3.2; thanks to Rafał Mużyło who diagnosed this.  You may not have noticed this bug as a number of PDF readers handle these types of failures and rebuild the table (e.g. Evince).  It was noticed that some versions of Adobe Reader do not handle these failures.

I've added a command line option that can fix existing PDF files that you have generated with Simple Scan.  To use run the following:

simple-scan --fix-pdf ~/Documents/*.pdf

It should be safe to run this on all PDF documents but PLEASE BACKUP FIRST. It will copy the existing document to DocumentName.pdf~ before replacing it with the fixed version so you have those in case anything goes wrong.

If you can't wait for the next simple-scan, you can also run this Python program (i.e. python broken.pdf > fixed.pdf)

import sys
import re
lines = file (sys.argv[1]).readlines ()
xref_offset = int(lines[-2])
xref_offset = 0
for (n, line) in enumerate (lines):
        # Fix PDF header and binary comment
        if (n == 0 or n == 1) and line.startswith ('%%'):
                xref_offset -= 1
                line = line[1:]
        # Fix xref format
        match = re.match ('(\d\d\d\d\d\d\d\d\d\d) 0000 n\n', line)
        if match != None:
                offset = int (match.groups ()[0])
                line = '%010d 00000 n \n' % (offset + xref_offset)
        # Fix xref offset
        if n == len(lines) - 2:
                line = '%d\n' % (int (line) + xref_offset)
        # Fix EOF marker
        if n == len(lines) - 1 and line.startswith ('%%%%'):
            line = line[2:]
        print line,

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

LightDM at the Desktop Summit

I'm going to the Desktop Summit and will be doing a talk on LightDM; please come along if you're interested in this project.  It's at the same time as the GTK4 talk unfortunately, but I promise I'll watch that one on video and turn up to mine...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Razing the Bazaar

Currently in GNOME there is some tension as we move into the post 3.0 world about the scope and direction of the project.  I wont go into the details of this, but essentially a number of core developers are pushing for a future in which:
  • The scope is widened to include more as part of core GNOME.  This is to allow more control and integration to produce a better user experience.
  • The project focus is being narrowed to have tighter requirements.  This is to reduce support overhead and complexity.
This change is being pushed under the "GNOME OS" banner.  While I think these ideas are being pushed for noble reasons (to make GNOME as good as it can be), there are some serious risks I am worried about:
  • If we build the perfect OS in GNOME it will not be enough.  History is littered with better products that fail to succeed.  Making an OS successful is as much about the OS design and quality as the ability to deliver that OS to end users.
  • If we base all our decision making on "what user visible change does this have?" then we risk losing innovation in our platform.  End-users are only one type of user in an OS and not all changes are relevant to them.  We have to think more in terms of "will this have a bad effect on end-users?" and look at other aspects.
  • If we narrow our focus too much we risk losing some of our current community.  The community is an enormous asset of GNOME, and not something we should take for granted.  This is not a company, and is driven by motivated individuals (some of who are then employed by companies).  There is great number of communities out there and GNOME needs to be competitive.
  • If we try and control everything then we increase the burden of maintenance onto one project.  There is no funding guaranteed to get us to GNOME 4.  We should always look (within reason) for opportunities to collaborate with other communities.
To abuse the metaphor by Eric S. Raymond it feels like we are razing the bazaar to build the GNOME OS cathedral.  We have a great product in GNOME but to build it faster and better we don't have to clean up our messy edges.  The bazaar around the cathedral is interesting and fun and throws up new ideas.  It's not stopping us from achieving success.

UPDATE:  Changed description of project focus, as it is confusing the point of this post.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

And now for some good news

With all the doom and gloom blog posts running around at the moment you may be forgetting all the awesome progress that is being made.  So I just wanted to shout out some things that are happening that I love:


GTK+ has been cleaned up and it shows!  GTK is a great toolkit but it had been showing its age.  The tidying up (particularly removing the GDK stuff) has significantly reduced the learning curve.  And more improvements planned for GTK4!

GNOME Shell/Unity

The core user interface is being pulled from the 1990s to the future!  There are real risks and challenges here but it's progress in making GNOME the front-running interface it deserves to be.

GObject Introspection

No more out-of-date language bindings!  With introspection information GNOME developers have huge flexibility in picking languages and all languages are first class citizens.


A modern language for a modern desktop!  Languages like Java and C# offered a lot of promise, but never seemed to break into GNOME.  A modern language makes us more productive, attracts new experienced developers and gives us an opportunity to escape from the Albatross around our neck (C).