Sunday, 1 August 2010


I was at GUADEC this week so here is a summary of what I took out of it.

The Location

GUADEC was held in The Hague this year and hosted by De Haagse Hogeschool. The Hague is a nice medium sized town where, in typical Dutch fashion, you go everywhere by bicycle or tram. Public transport is very efficient, fast and always on time. In short, the only similarity with London is that the weather was cold and cloudy most of the time we were there. De Haagse Hogeschool is a great space for such a conference, with good rooms for the talks and a great space to mingle with people during breaks. However, the restaurants around the venue were clearly not used to having that many customers and I missed the afternoon keynote talks both on Thursday and Friday when it took longer than expected to have lunch. On the other hand, lunchtime was always spent with a bunch of very interesting people so no harm done there.

The Talks

As there were different streams running in parallel, I didn't go to all the talks. Also, I may have completely missed the main point of any talk so what follows is my take on things. It may be biased, incomplete or outright wrong due to me misunderstanding something or other.

GNOME, the Web and Freedom, by Luis Villa

Luis is a lawyer at Mozilla and a geek. His premise is that since the first GUADEC in 2000, a universal platform built on open source software has appeared on every computer on the planet and it's a platform upon which Microsoft is actually struggling to keep up with the competition. It's not GNOME, it's the web. And it's not a fad, it's here to stay (despite what the star formerly known as the star formerly know as Prince might say).

Luis suggests that we should strive to make GNOME Shell the best shell for web applications. All GNOME applications should embrace the web and integrate with it. And when you write a new application, you should write it in HTML and JavaScript first.

I completely agree with the idea of integrating the web into the desktop. A photo management application for instance should be able to seamlessly integrate with services like flickr so that you don't have to leave your desktop to upload photos to flickr or to subscribe to someone's photo stream. In practice, this is what The Web Standards Project have been pushing for some time in the form of the semantic web.

I disagree with the idea to write all applications in HTML and JavaScript because that would significantly reduce developer freedom and flexibility in writing those applications. Also, HTML and JavaScript are just a tool, are well suited to some applications but not all of them.

Finally, there is on aspect which I believe Luis is very aware of: I want to know where my data is hosted and be able to make sure that some of my data is exclusively hosted on my own machine, not somewhere in the cloud. That sort of issues will need to be addressed if the desktop platform we use is to integrate more closely with the web.

Who Makes GNOME? by Dave Neary

This talk sparked a bit of controversy. Dave presented the results of the GNOME Census report. This report produced some statistics on the people who contribute to GNOME in the form of commits to the repositories. The idea was to understand better who contributes to GNOME and how much of it is contributed by paid developers.

Obviously, the fact that Red Hat accounts for 16.3% of the total and Canonical accounts for just over 1% sparked controversy with people saying that this was the proof that Canonical didn't contribute. We're talking about statistics here so as usual they don't tell the whole story and I feel it is very dangerous to draw any conclusion from them. Dave is very aware of the fact and took great care in including caveats in his presentation. That didn't prove enough to prevent the controversy though. So here's my take on what aspects of the statistics show that they should be taken with a pinch of salt:

  • The top 2 contributor categories are Volunteer and Unknown and between them represent more than 40% of the contributions. Those people may have become contributors for a variety of reasons and some of them may be from Canonical or Red Hat or any other company, or may have become individual contributors as a result of using Fedora or Ubuntu, we just don't know.
  • There are 11 companies between 1 and 3% (ranks 6 to 16). A small change in the number of contributions could change the list dramatically.
  • Counting commit events only tells part of the story and focuses exclusively on the development effort. From my experience, in order to deliver projects, packaging, testing and bug management is as important as development. And so are specifications, usability studies and artwork. As a community, in order to deliver the best operating system possible, we need all of the above. Ubuntu (and by extension Canonical) has been very successful in addressing the non-development aspects of delivering a great operating system based on great open source software. And I'd rather Canonical concentrated on working on the areas where the community is lacking resources and experience than add more resources to the bits that are already well covered.
State of the GNOME 3 Shell, by Owen Taylor

I have very few notes on this talk, it basically amounts to: some stuff works, some doesn't and it's still a work in progress.

Shell Yes! Deep Inside the GNOME Shell Design, by William John McCann and Jeremy Perry

Another talk where my notes are less than of stellar quality. The idea is that the GNOME Shell developers are here to make GNOME great. And indeed, the demos look fantastic and are very encouraging. A lot of thought has gone into the interface and I think for the most part, it will make application management, from a user's points of view a lot smoother. On the other hand, some bits and bobs look like the same old things re-hashed, in particular how notifications are handled. I'm not sure how Ubuntu will integrate that as they seem to go the opposite way from what Ubuntu has been doing in this area. Time will tell.

GNOME State of the Union, by Fernando Herrera and Xan Lopez

What more to say than absolute genius? There's no point in me telling you what happened, you needed to be there.

Clutter State of the Union, by Emmanuele Bassi

Clutter has a new logo and a new web site. Very interesting is the introduction of ClutterState to provide declarative state changes and animations. The latest implementation also makes use of the GPU if available. Very, very cool technology and it's what makes MeeGo rock!

So you think you can release? by Emmanuele Bassi

This was a very interesting talk and it made a lot of excellent points in how to handle the release of library code. A lot is also applicable to end user applications and everything is equally applicable to open source and closed source code. The main ones I took out of it are:

  • Any new version of the library should not break apps written with older versions.
  • Use the 0.x cycle to refine and optimise the release mechanism.
  • Have reliable release cycles, such as time based cycles (e.g. every 6 months) and stick to it even if it means dropping functionality from a given cycle.
  • Write performance test suites and run them.
  • Replying RTFM to questions implies that you've actually written the manual.
  • Write a coding style guide and require that patches follow it. I would add to that: keep the coding style short and don't diverge too much from what other projects do otherwise contributors will have no incentive to read it or abide by it.
  • When using the phrase patches welcome, make sure that this is really the case and that when someone contributes a patch you actually review and integrate it quickly.
  • When releasing version 1.0, commit to the smallest subset of your API as possible and review it thoroughly: whatever is left behind, you will have to support for some time to come.
  • Analyse what part of your API your users use most: is it the low level API or the convenience API? If an API turns out to be wrong, don't hesitate to deprecate it.
  • Don't develop on the master branch: it needs to build at all times.
  • Resist the urge of changing an implementation too often.
  • Plan for next minor release but also the next major one.

That's quite a list and I agree with all of it!

Multitouching Your Apps, by Carlos Garnacho

A very interesting talk by Carlos on how to integrate multi-touch abilities in GNOME applications. There is a whole new API for that, that basically allows you to specify the device to use rather than assume that there is a single keyboard and mouse connected. The low-down is:

  • Each finger gets a device;
  • Devices emit individual events;
  • There is a need to gather and correlate event:
    • obtain an event packet,
    • calculate the distance and relative angle between 2 events,
    • use GtkDeviceGroup and multi-device-event signal.

If you want to play with it, you will require XOrg 7.5 and you can get the code through git:

$ git clone -b xi2-playground git://
GNOME 3 and Your Application, by Dan Winship and Colin Walters

A quick introduction on the changes brought by GNOME 3. My take on it:

  • No GNOME 2 API will be removed so GNOME 2 applications should keep working with GNOME 3. However, you will need to use a set of new API to take full advantage of GNOME 3.
  • The .desktop will be much more central to the application, will act as a unique ID for it and will provide more features. In particular make sure, to include the StartupNotify=true option.
  • Provide high resolution icons as icons will be displayed much larger.
  • There will be less chrome in application windows.
  • No more tray icons (well, they will be done differently).
  • Notification tray at the bottom.
  • No more libnotify.
Open Design Thinking Workshop, by

Thanks to Andrea Scheer, Sophia Klees, Andreas Weigt, Martin Steck and Clemens Buss for a very inspiring workshop! I failed miserably at my task in the warm-up LEGO exercise. We all had a lot of fun and I think we came up with interesting concepts. If I find the time, I'd love to try to implement some of what the team I was working on came up with.

Tracker's Place in the GNOME Platform, by Martyn Russell

Tracker has evolved a lot since version 0.6, which is the one available in the Ubuntu Lucid repositories and a is a lot less resource intensive than it used to be. It provides application with the ability to share all sorts of data and is standards based. It also has a brand new query interface in the form of tracker-sparql which looks very powerful.

In practice the tracker database provides functionality which is very similar to what Desktop Couch provides, which is what is installed by default in Ubuntu. Tracker does not provide the replication facility but it provides more comprehensive search facilities. The other difference is that Tracker is designed to store non-application specific data (such as meta-data on an image, which should be available to any image management or manipulation program), while Desktop Couch includes application specific data such as preferences, as well as non-application specific data. I don't think the two are incompatible though and creating a Desktop Couch back-end for Tracker could be very interesting and provide a solution that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Identifying Software Projects and Translation Teams in Need, by Andre Klapper

Andre presented an interesting research he did based on code commits and bug activity to try to identify projects and translation teams that were in need of help in GNOME, the results of which can be found online. It still leaves a lot of questions on how to help those projects but identifying them is an essential first step.

Embracing the Web: Integrating Web Services within GNOME, by Rob Bradford

Rob presented libsocialweb, which is used in MeeGo to provide integration to web services such as Facebook and flickr. And there were demos aplenty: very entertaining! Oh and GeoClue looks really cool too.

GNOME Color Manager: Exploring the User Experience and Integration Points for a 100% Colour Managed Desktop, by Richard Hughes

For professional graphic artists, it is essential to have proper colour management throughout the complete image workflow, from the source (camera or scanner) to the output (printer or PDF file). OS-X does that to perfection, Windows 7 does it but not very well, Linux doesn't do it at all. Richard proposes a set of tools and libraries to change this and make the GNOME (and possibly KDE) desktop fully colour managed. Great stuff!

Cairo: 2D in a 3D World, by Christopher Paul Wilson

Maybe it was burnout from 3 days of conference but I found this talk the least interesting of all. All I took out of it was that there are a lot of reasons why Cairo hasn't released a new version for a long time, if Cairo is slow it's because the drivers are broken or developers are not using it properly and it's all going to be better very soon now as they move to a 6-month release cycle.

Anyway, moving on swiftly...

Growing Communities with Launchpad: Ubuntu and GNOME, by Danilo Segan

Danilo's talk was all about how to use Launchpad better to ensure that we can get related communities (such as Ubuntu and GNOME) to work together better. It concentrated particularly on bugs and translations. I think that, as a result of a question I asked, I volunteered myself to contribute code to Launchpad in order to simplify forwarding bugs upstream.

The Parties

Nearly as important as the talks were the parties: it was the opportunity to meet people I'd only ever heard of or talked to via email or IRC.

Canonical Party

The indefatigable Jorge Castro made sure that the party was a success. The music was a bit loud at times but considering it was held in a night-club, it was to be expected. It also proved that the best DJ in the world would find it hard to get a group of geeks to dance.

Collabora Party

The beach party organised by Collabora was great. Less loud music than the Canonical one and a nice barbecue. It would have been perfect if the weather hadn't been cold and windy. We also got to be initiated in the correct Dutch etiquette regarding the use of satay sauce at barbecues: just drown everything in the stuff.

GUADEC After-party at Revelation Space

This hacker space is just great and it was a nice way to wind down.

Shotwell Hacking

It was a pleasure to meet Adam, Jim, Rob and Lucas from Yorba while at GUADEC. We talked a lot about Shotwell and with Jim's help I finalised the code to migrate photos from F-Spot, which Jim committed in trunk. There are a couple of follow-up bugs that were reported by early testers but the bulk of the functionality made it in before the string freeze and the rest should be sorted in time for the release of Shotwell 0.7, which will them make it into Ubuntu 10.10.

Next Year

Next year, GUADEC and Akademy will join forces for a desktop summit in Berlin.

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