Mont de Marsan, here I come!

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This week, I will be travelling to Mont de Marsan, near Bordeaux, Agen, Bayonne and Pau (or let’s say, equally far away from all of those) to give a few presentations, meet a few friends, have a few drinks, and hopefully survive a 9am presentation slot on Thursday morning.

My three presentations (really, two, but they’re taking advantage of my bilinguality) are:

  • Bridges between projects : 16:45 on Wednesday. A dry run for my GUADEC presentation, presenting a variety of ways that different projects are co-ordinating, and what we’re talking about, that most people don’t know about.
  • Digital Ramps and Handrails: 9:00 on Thursday (in English), and 11:45 on Thursday (in French). It’s with some trepidation that I proposed a presentation on GNOME usability for the conference, since I’m by no means an expert. But I feel that we’ve done such good work in this area, and I’m so impressed with the passion of the accessibility team, that I felt that we definitely needed to talk about it more, so I’ll take my chances. I plan to give a low level overview of the accessibility tools built into GNOME, including keyboard shortcuts, accessible themes, audio events, sticky keys, slow keys, mousetweaks, alternative input methods (Dasher, on-screen keyboard), and of course a short description of Orca and our support for screen readers and GNOME Magnifier. I’ll also mention the surprising side-effects of having an accessible desktop – graphics application test frameworks Dogtail, LTSP and Accerciser. When I get to talking about AT-SPI, that’s where I get nervous, because I’ve had some trouble with gok in the past where my keyboard got disabled when I launched it… I’m going to avoid demoing gok.

Did I miss anything important? Please let me know if you saw anything braindead that I should talk about that I haven’t yet.

Unfortunately, I can’t really afford to travel for the full week, so I’m heading off tomorrow afternoon (Tuesday), eating with friends in Bordeaux tomorrow evening, and spending Wednesday and Thursday at the conference, before heading off again Thursday evening.

If anyone else overlaps and would like to meet up Wednesday evening, drop me a line!

maemo.org track in LinuxTag

maemo, marketing, work 1 Comment

So far, the maemo.org track has been great – very informative. Some highlights:

Gary Birkett (better known on IRC as lcuk) gave a short talk on how and why he got involved in memo.org – an interesting perspective on motivations of volunteers, and a classic “scratching your own itch” situation. He’s developed a text reader which works in full-screen, and has smooth scrolling with finger & stylus (like the iPhone).

Niels Breet is the maemo.org webmaster. He was an active community member doing great work, who has recently been funded by Nokia to work on project infrastructur. It’s an interesting model of community funding – Niels explained that his boss is the maemo.org community, even though it’s Nokia who’s paying his wages. He talked about some of the things that he’s working on improving, including the newly published maemo.org packaging policy (PDF), and fixing the repositories mess to make it easier to upload software to a central maemo extras repository.

The main presentation to close out the morning was Quim Gil talking about the maemo.org strategy of Nokia over the next couple of years. Without going into details, he talked about the next two versions of the platform, Fremantle and Harmattan. Fremantle will continue to be primarily GTK+/Hildon based, and QT will be integrated into the platform in the Harmattan release.
Quim then talked about the role of community in maemo.org and tablet development. He mentioned that Nokia have recently invested in 3 roles (webmaster, bugmaster, docmaster) where the people being funded answer primarily to the community. This represents a big investment in the community.

His major announcement was that he was launching 10 days of community brainstorming on two subjects: the 100 Days community plan and maemo.org 2010, defining short term goals for the community, and helping Nokia define the mid-term goals and strategy for the project. He also announced the maemo summit, to be held in Berlin on the 19th of September, after OSiM World, and finished with a call to arms. Nokia is looking for real community input and action, and wants help finding the right balance between the commercial constraints involved in producing mass-market devices and the community requirement for transparency and openness.

After lunch, we had some presentations of some of the cool apps which have been written by community members for the maemo platform.

Alberto Garcia of Igalia presented Vagalume , a beautiful and well-integrated Last.fm client for GNOME and maemo tablets.

Florian Boor presented the GPE application suite which includes a bunch of small applications targeting handheld form-factors.

Urho Konttori, who has since become a project manager in Nokia, talked about the UKMP media player, UKTube YouTube downloader & plater, and some other applications which he has written for the maemo platform.

Next up: maemo.org platform hacks, and “what’s next?”.

OLPC, OpenMoko and GNOME Mobile

gnome, maemo, marketing 13 Comments

Some recent stories have started raising brows among some comentators on GNOME Mobile (see the comments in particular):

  • OLPC figurehead Nicolas Negroponte announces that they will be installing Windows on the XO laptops, and porting Sugar to Windows
  • OpenMoko project lead Michael Shiloh announces that future versions of the platform will have Enlightenment as the windowing system and Qtopia apps by default

Both of these stories are not complete abandonments of GTK+ or the GNOME platform. Sugar will still be GTK+ based, and OpenMoko will continue to support GTK+ in the platform, and the previously developed GTK+ applications.

But it would be disingenuous to suggest that these announcements don’t represent a cooling towards the GNOME platform on the part of both organisations.

So what happened? There are two plausible explanations:

  • Bad tools – the GNOME platform is not suitable to the applications, or it’s difficult to develop with, there is a shortage of development tools,  books, or maybe the platform itself has quality or performance issues – perhaps the organisations had trouble hiring hackers with GTK+ experience
  • Bad workmen – the projects over-reached, had unreasonable schedule expectations, were not sufficiently planned, and were poorly executed, due to poor management or weak team members – the choice of technology is irrelevant to the failures of the projects to deliver on expectations in terms of schedule, functionality and quality, perhaps the projects had poor or inconsistent focus and vision

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

I think most people who have tried would say that software development with GTK+ in C is hard, development in C++ or Java is quicker and less painful. A case, if one needed to be made, for focussing more than ever on gtkmm and java-gnome, and ensuring that these bindings are promoted, and as high-quality as possible.

But if you look at the goals of OLPC, their goal was to completely rewrite the graphical interface to the OS to be completely focused on the educational paradigm they were aiming for. This is a huge task, and it seems clear (in hindsight) that the enormity of it was underestimated. Free software is not the cure to all ills, things don’t go quicker just because you chose a free software licence for your project. The reality of the project’s status didn’t keep up with schedule pressures and marketing, to thepoint where the project’s credibility has been damaged by theGive One Get One and some high-profile withdrawls from the program.

The same thing goes for OpenMoko. Looking in from the outside, the technical management of the project has not been consistent from the beginning, partly because unreasonable expectations at the beginning led to impatience when early objectives weren’t being met. With objectives unmet, band-aids were plastered on band-aids, the direction changed, and now the OpenMoko platform has three competing application frameworks supported – QT, GTK+ and EFL.

It may be, and I hope it is, that both these projects survive their current difficulties and go on to be great successes. I’m sure that there are lessons to be learned for us in their stories.

But people who announce that this means the end of GNOME Mobile are quite obviously over-reacting.

We have several high-profile participants, including Nokia and ACCESS, committed to using GTK+ in their platforms. Important components of the GNOME Mobile stack area key part of the moblin platform, and are included in the LiMo reference platform (PDF). Devices such as those announced recently by Verizon, and the 18 phones announced by LiMo earlier this year, are based on this platform, so it seems clear that we are going to be a player in the mobile device space for many years. Success stories like the Vernier LabQuest and the iRex e-book reader show that we can be a compelling option in niche devices with custom interfaces.

With the current work of the initiative following on from the Austin summit last month, which includes creating a GNOME Mobile release set for release with GNOME 2.24, and raising awareness of what we’re up to, you should be seeing some interesting news over the coming months. The GNOME Mobile initiative is more necessary and useful now than ever.

Sun: Trying to do the right thing

freesoftware, marketing 37 Comments

I’ve been annoyed by some of the Sun-bashing that has been going on over the past few months and years. I’ve written in the past about my belief that Sun are trying to do the right thing, and my appreciation for the investment that they’ve put into projects I care about. And yet no matter what they do, it seems like there are nay-sayers working to undermine Sun’s community-building efforts at every turn.

Here’s a few examples of Sun-bashing that I’ve seen recently:

  • No projects primarily sponsored by Sun get accepted to the Google Summer of Code (unless you count MySQL). Rumour has it that Sun were told not to bother applying. Of course the Summer of Code is Google’s baby, and as such they decide who gets to participate and who doesn’t. They don’t even have to explain themselves.
  • Linux Foundation employees repeatedly criticising OpenSolaris and Sun. I suppose that this is to be expected from a group that is representing its members, and sees the OpenSolaris kernel as direct competition to the Linux kernel, but it’s just as disappointing to me as when I see KDE or GNOME hackers ripping into each other
  • Press articles in Slashdot [2] [3] and elsewhere consistently spinning things as “Sun’s free software efforts aren’t sincere” interspersed with “Sun is ruining <insert project here>”.

I feel like a lot of this rhetoric is self-fulfilling prophecy. If you say often enough “Sun is a bad community player”, then Sun’s projects will seem unattractive to prospective volunteers.

All of this completely ignores the many great free software people who are working for Sun – to name just a few, Glynn Foster, Simon Phipps, Dalibor Topic, Ian Murdoch, Rich Burridge. These people are extremely clueful about free software and community interests. And the message which we have seen consistently from Jonathan Schwarz over the past couple of years reinforces that there is a commitment to free, community developed software, and there are many capable people working towards that commitment within Sun.

So why the difficulties? Many of them, I think, are project specific, and stem from this fundamental fact:

Community governance is hard.

Read the rest…

Red Hat, Novell, Canonical and the free software desktop

freesoftware, General, marketing 10 Comments

Lots of people are up in arms because Red Hat’s desktop team released a statement containing this: “we have no plans to create a traditional desktop product for the consumer market in the foreseeable future”, and Ron Hovsepian said “Novell’s Suse Linux at the desktop is unlikely to be popular with consumers in the next three to five years”. To me, this is not defeatism, it is simply an example of positioning in action. Last year at Solutions Linux in Paris, I did a little experiment, designed to show that Mandriva have a problem with their positioning. I asked several people to tell me what market they thought the following popular distributions targeted:

  • Red Hat
  • Novell
  • Ubuntu
  • Mandriva

The answers were unanimous:

  • Red Hat: Enterprise servers
  • Novell: Enterprise desktops
  • Ubuntu: Consumer desktops
  • Mandriva: Ummm…

Read the rest…

Grouping GNOME release articles

gnome, marketing 1 Comment

Lucas wrote a comment on one of my “Links of the day” posts which had several GNOME 2.22 links.

I love those links about 2.22 you post in your blog! They save me a lot of time on searching for user feedback.  :-)

For those of you who are del.icio.us users, if you tag articles related to the release “gnome222″ then we’ll be able to find them all in the one place at http://del.icio.us/tag/gnome222 – I’ve been doing this for several releases, have a look at the gnome220, gnome218 and gnome216 tags too.

So join in – I don’t see any articles in languages other than English and French, it’d be nice to have a collection of articles from around the world tagged gnome222 so that we can see how far the release is reaching. As Lucas says, this also gives us a valuable source of user feedback after a release.

Primevère presentation

freesoftware, marketing 1 Comment

Putting this on my blog for posterity. This is the presentation I gave at Primevère with a bonus final slide containing links to stuff which we referenced during the Q&A session at the end of the presentation.

Quel logiciel pour quel usage?

New LinkedIn GNOME group

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A while back I created a GNOME group in LinkedIn (still one of the few social networking sites I find useful).

LinkedIn Groups let you see the profiles of other people in more detail, even if you don’t know them personally, because of the shared affiliation. For that reason, they are moderated, but I will be quick approving group requests.

Those who would like to join the group can join here.

links for 2008-02-27

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Back from China

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Great Wall of China at Badaling

Last week I was in China for the first Linux Foundation/COPU China Developers Symposium. I met a bunch of people for the first time, including Jonathan Corbet, Matt Keenan and Andrew Morton from the kernel, Fred Muller, Ollo, Pokey, Anthony and all the others from the Beijing LUG (thanks for the welcome guys!), and Angela Brown from the Linux Foundation.

I also got a chance to catch up with some people I had met before including Jim Zemlin and Bill Weinberg, both of whom had very encouraging things to say about GNOME in mobile platforms. In fact, I will be organising a meeting of GNOME Mobile at the upcoming Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit in Austin, Texas in April.

After the conference, Angela organised a tourist trip for a gang of us to climb the Great Wall at Badaling and visit the Forbidden City and Tianemen Square on Thursday, which was great fun. Although after the field trip which we had with the BLUG gang after dinner on Wednesday evening I don’t think either myself or herself were in the greatest of form.

Cool Chinese dude

I gave a presentation entitled “2008, year of…” where I poked fun at the annual articles we get at the beginning of the year claiming that “this year will be the year of Linux on the desktop”, and yet…

Every year, we have seen significant gaps being filled – in the early ’90s, it was application gaps, like Evolution, Mozilla, OpenOffice, Eclipse. There was the advent of successful funding runs for free software-based companies like Ximian.

Then it was corporate support. RedHat, Sun and Novell threw their weigh behind free software and bet on GNOME. Ubuntu making a distribution designed and tailored for a mass market), and increasingly momentum from ISVs who now target the free software desktop. Most recently, IBM releasing a beautifully integrated Lotus Notes comes to mind, previous examples of major ISVs targeting Linux include VMWare and Adobe.

We have seen the importance of standards and data take center stage with the standardisation of ODF, and the move by a number of governments to insist that all public data be stored in open formats – resulting in the (flawed) standardisation process of OOXML being launched by Microsoft.

In addition, we have seen new paths to market open up for Linux based PCs – WalMart selling Everex PCs, OEMs finally offering Linux based desktops, and Dell, Lenovo, HP shipping laptops with a free software OS pre-installed.

We have also seen considerable momentum in GNOME-based UIs outside of desktop computing – hand-helds from Nokia, phones from OpenMoko, lab measurement devices from Vernier, set-top-box applications, and of course OLPC and the Eee PC.

A private tea-house for the Emperor

And through it all, a healthy peppering of massive institutional deployments – Extremadura and Andalucia, the Korean government, the French gendarmerie, Sao Paolo’s telecentros project, PSA in France, and on and on.

And so, as I look back over the decade which saw Linux have its first Superbowl ad, I wonder at how far we’ve come, and I believe I can say without being ridiculous that the ’00s has in some sense been the decade of Linux on the desktop.

We have not yet made a breakthrough in market share, but we have momentum in every sector – the quality of our platform, the number of ISDs developing applications for GNOME, the number of organisations investing cold hard cash in using, developing and deploying our work, the size of our user-base. I am enormously hopeful that we will continue to make progress in the coming years.

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