In the Mood

well, I failed at blagging each day of the User Experience hackfest, but mostly because of the sheer amount of discussions, designs and work done.

during the first common session on monday we all decided to split off into four groups:

  • file management
  • window and application management
  • widgets/gadgets/applets
  • effects and animations

I decided to work on effects and animations, along with Eve, Neil, Matthew and Andreas1. the wiki page of our group lists most of the stuff that came up in the group discussions and brain storming2. when not in the effects and animations group I was hanging around with the window and application management guys. since Tomas, Robert and Matthew have been working on a Clutter-based compositor for Metacity, I decided to give it a spin and work on some of the “animation tenets” that came up during the hackfest — like showing the direction of the workspace switching and provide a visual cue to the user that the windows are not going away forever, and are just being moved in another area of the screen. I know that Compiz is probably going to have these kind of effects some ten levels deep in the configuration manager, but the configuration UI always makes me want to carve my eyes out with a melon spoon while being bludgeoned to death, and the defaults are usually so bad that I develop seasickness after 15 minutes of continuous use — hence, the usage of the Clutter-powered Metacity.

the other groups did an awesome job as well: a lot of the ideas floating around will require hard work and time in order to be implemented, but they all contain a refreshing view of the desktop and challenge some of the fundamental tenets of the user interaction, based on the feedback from users and designers — and especially without resorting to something completely new or alien that will require years to get right for developers and to adjust the workflow for users, or just announcing new frameworks with the usual jingoistic tones common to open and closed software projects alike.

  1. who’s totally getting married — just as vuntz is expecting a baby []
  2. or idea showering []

Flying Teapot

final checks and the usual ohmygodwhycan’tIfindanything mode before I take the flight to Boston for the User Experience hackfest organized by Owen, Federico and Vincent. Neil and I will be talking about Clutter, what it does, and what it can do to enhance the user experience on a modern desktop.

then, it’s Boston Summit time! it’s going to be my first summit, but given the past editions and the people attending I just know it’s going to be awesome.

see you in Boston!

Odalisque

this GUADEC has been quite a ride, and we’re just halfway through.

gtk+: the gtk+ team meeting on tuesday went really well — and part of the discussion was incorporated in Kris always excellent State of the union talk. the team went over and over this issue since last GUADEC and during the hackfest, and even though something at some point will probably go wrong the plan is good and allows leeway to reduce the overall effort for moving the entire platform. I think that given the circumstances this is the best plan that can be realistically implemented.

gnome: everyone will be discussing the release team plan as well. I can only say: let’s do it!

clutter: the Clutter Guts talk went really smoothly; we tried to fill Matthew shoes — and had to be in three to do it — but I think people came out of the talk with more knowledge about the deep magic and the pixie fairies dust that power Clutter and make it as awesome as it is. as I said during the talk, Clutter 0.8 is really in the final stages now, and it’s going to be released as soon as we finish testing some of the backends. people will just have to wait a little bit, but by the time everyone gets back home from GUADEC they will be able to get the tarball from the server.

Some Things Come From Nothing

json-glib: 0.6 is out! please: download it, test it, use it. as far as I know, it has been packaged for Debian unstable, and has entered the NEW queue (kudos to Rob Bradford, esquire and fine gentleman).

debian: with the release of Hardy I decided to switch back to Debian after three years of Ubuntu. even though there are still some rough edges in Lenny, the support for laptops has definitely improved a lot and so I got back to my old love. starting from Gutsy, I found myself increasingly at odds with Ubuntu decisions and even though I upgraded my wife’s laptop to Hardy, I’m really glad I got back to Debian.

clutter/1: apparently, I’ll give a lightning talk about our reference toolkit for Clutter at this year’s GUADEC, in Istanbul. Øyvind proposed it for me because, regardless of being on the paper committee, I actually forgot the deadline for the CFPwhoops, maybe I shouldn’t have said that. :-) with the Tidy lightning talk and the Clutter guts talk given by Matthew, we decided for a high-level/low-level approach, instead of going for the usual this is teh Clutter, look at teh bling kind of talk. if you want to understand Clutter, Matthew’s talk is definitely where you want to be; as we all know:

Clutter = Clean and nice API + Performance + Portability + Integration = ♥

from my Clutter talk at FOSDEM

so, if you want to know how Clutter creates love, get to Istanbul this July. :-)

tweet: I started eating my own dogfood. Tweet is by no means complete or even guaranteed not to turn you into a goat and eat your breakfast — but now it works well enough for reading your own timeline and sending new statuses; and it doesn’t require trunk of anything any more, thanks to a Tidy transplant. I’m using Tweet as a way to see what kind of API is needed to properly integrate a Clutter canvas into a GTK+ application: colors, fonts, etc. if you want to try it out, contribute or just mock my insanity:

  git clone git://github.com/ebassi/tweet.git

clutter/2: we’re really close to a 0.7 release, which will mark the beginning of the slushy phase of the API; as far as documentation goes, we’re in pretty good shape already, at 93% for the Clutter namespace, and another 80% for the Cogl namespace. bindings will need to be updated — but the amount of new API is not that big, so it’s not going to be a long wait. I’m making a note here: huge success.

Berlin/Final

some final thoughts on the Hackfest: it has been a great opportunity for discussing with all the usual suspects and more, and on a very high bandwidth channel — unlike IRC or the mailing list. definitely, an experience that must be repeated next year, because the discussions we had and the work we started will keep us all busy at least until GUADEC — and from then on, towards a very bright future for GTK+ and the whole GNOME project.

thanks to Mathias and Openismus for being the local organization; thanks to Tim, Kris and the entire Imendio, for moderating the whole panels; thanks to Vincent and the GNOME Foundation, and obviously all the sponsors, for helping out in organizing and funding this gathering of hackers; and thanks to everyone that made these five days an incredible experience for me: you all really rock the GNOME community.

Berlin/5

last post of the Berlin Hackfest series, written on the last minutes of day 5

today was “wrap up” day. we got together in the room used for the presentations and summed up all our work during the various sessions of the week. it turned out that the amount of work, even though not reflected by the wiki page, was really enormous; the introspection guys worked a lot and now that they have received a lot of input, they are going to rework things and kick ass even more. apparently, Behdad decided that I would tackle the GL integration inside GDK — which, of course, I’d really like to do; the GL integration, and a GDK wrapper for the GLX_texture_from_pixmap (and the equivalent call for the other platforms) would obviously be the primary way to integrate Cairo 2D high quality drawing and GL 3D and hardware acceleration in a simple way. and this is a step forward the implementation of a scene graph inside GTK+.

in the meantime, I’m — as Ryan would put it — deeply recursing. it all started on tuesday, when I decided to start hacking on a real application with Vala using all the bits and pieces a modern GTK+ application requires: GtkUIManager, about dialogs, command-line switches. the application was supposedly going to read the new GTest framework reports, and allow comparing of multiple runs in a fast way. this, in turn, led to some bugs filed against Vala GTK+ bindings. working around these issues, I also found out that the libxml-2.0 bindings in Vala — which I need to parse the GTest report XML — require a lot of pointers usage and are, in general, quite sub-obtimal, due to the very C oriented API. while investigating on a substitute, I found out XmlReader — the cursor-based XML traversal API that .Net and other high-level languages implement1. Thus, today at a coffe shop2 I started hacking very quickly on a rough implementation of a XmlReader GObject class which, as of at this moment works quite nicely:

  XmlReader *reader = xml_reader_new ();
  GError *error = NULL;

  if (xml_reader_load_from_file (reader, "book.xml", &error))
    g_error ("Unable to parse book.xml: %s", error->message);

  xml_reader_read_start_element (reader, "book-info");

  xml_reader_read_start_element (reader, "author");
  author = g_strdup (xml_reader_get_element_value (reader));
  xml_reader_read_end_element (reader);

  xml_reader_read_start_element (reader, "title");
  title = g_strdup (xml_reader_get_element_value (reader));
  xml_reader_read_end_element (reader);

  xml_reader_read_end_element (reader);

  g_print ("The author of %s is %s\\n", title, author);

  g_free (title);
  g_free (author);
  g_object_unref (reader);

and you’re done. at this moment, I’m cleaning it up and adding the gtk-doc API reference to the build3. I’m probably going to add the generic read() method, so that:

  while (xml_reader_read (reader))
    {
    ...
    }

will work as expected. it’s, as usual, code replication — but I’m going to need it anyway, so it’s good code replication.

  1. Even libxml-2.0 implements it, even though it suffers from the same issues of its DOM API, and it’s still not GObject-based []
  2. Behdad is right: a coffee shop without any Internet connectivity makes wonders with your productivity levels []
  3. When I write new libraries, I usually stub out the API and document it at the same time; now I started to add the GTest units before I even implement the API []

Berlin/3

second and third day of the hackfest, edited on day five

on tuesday, Behdad and I started working on OpenGL integration inside GTK+. as stated multiple times on the Bugzilla entry, what we both would like is a Cairo-like integration of GL inside the available drawing systems in GTK+. in short: not a specialized widget like GtkGLArea, which would make it difficult — or plainly impossible without jumping through a long series of hoops. in flames. tied. and blindfolded — to integrate GL inside existsing projects; and not the incredible API dump that GtkGLExt is.

the design we mostly agreed on was a shared object inside GTK+, containing the GL context abstraction object, and two simple calls to delimit the drawing code, wait for vblank and swap the GL buffers. plus, an easy to use wrapper around the texture_from_pixmap extension, to allow drawing with cairo on a Pixmap and then have it pushed into the GL pipeline.

Carl arrived on wednesday, and partecipated at the scene graph BoF we held. the BoF itself was pretty straightforward: we read the slides that Havoc sent on the mailing list and discussed the various points. we all agreed on a lot of points — and we tried to define the problem space more deeply1. being there, I could bring to the table my experience in the past two years2 with the design and implementation of Clutter. some of the attendees were already familiar with it — something very satisfying — and I could expand some points in Havoc’s slides about Clutter that have been recently fixed or are going to be fixed in this cycle. the biggest point is that the scene graph should integrate with Cairo, in order to allow applications and people to gently merge both the 2D drawing of surfaces into a full 3D environment; I’ll leave to Carl to explain the Cairo side, because he’s obviously better at this than I am. :-)

the operative result of the scene graph discussion was that Clutter emerged as an already powerful and established solution for this problem space, and given that it already nicely integrates with GTK+, we can work towards the common goal of making it “the GTK+ canvas”, outside the actual library so that it can grow unrestrained and experiment in new directions.

  1. We did not always succeed in this, but the issue at hand is quite large and it’s understandable []
  2. It’s really two years? holy crap! The time really flew… []

Berlin/1

day two of the gtk+ hackfest.

yesterday was devoted to the Imendio vision of a better toolkit, and how to get out of the hole we dug for ourselves with the current API/ABI contract – but others have written about it better than I could possibly do.

today was introspection day; Johan Dahlin showed the current state of the GObject introspection code by using a Vala widget, subclassing a GtkDrawingArea, from a Perl script — which was beyond cool. kudos to everyone that has been working on it.

today it’s also six years since the gtk+ 2.0.0 release, so happy birthday gtk+ 2.x!

Travelling Band/Back

finally, back at home after FOSDEM 2008. the last leg of the trip back from Bruxelles has been exceptionally longer because the London Metropolitan Network on weekends is, apparently, made of fail.

the Clutter talk on saturday went, in my opinion, quite well; lots of people listened to my ramblings and watched my simple slide show. about the talk: it was my first with a slightly modified Lessig method approach and I have to say that it’s been a very satisfactory experience – nonetheless because it removes the need to put slides online, which I never end up doing anyway1.

  1. I’ve got a git repository with the small application I wrote to give the talk with, so if you want it you can always ask me for the URL to clone []

GUADEC/recap

This year’s GUADEC has been really great – it seemed hard to top last year’s but paul, thos, robster and the rest of the GUADEC team really rocked hard to make everything work at its best. Kudos to all of them.

Unfortunately, my GUADEC was cut short on Wednesday for a small medical emergency, as my wife had some health problems on Tuesday night that got worse on Wednesday. Now it seems everything’s back to normal, but as we’re still expecting some of the lab analysis to come through, we had to postpone our holidays and the trip back to Italy.

I could only stay in Birmingham for the GTK+ “state of the union” (awesome) talk by Kris and the 3.x4.x workshop and see the wonderful presentation Fer and Xan did – really funny but also straight to the point. The following discussion was a bit hijacked towards the ABI/API break issue, which I believe is neither interesting nor really important. I also missed the Clutter talk on Thursday, but I was told Matthew rocked. It’s fun to see people picking up Clutter and finding it API-friendly: it’s hard, being very near to it, to judge whether some of the choices you make are the right ones.

I had to cancel my tutorial on Perl and GTK+, as well as the GConf workshop. I’m very sorry if this has caused you some trouble; I heard that Ryan did an interesting talk on his dconf project, though.

I missed Havoc’s keynote on the online desktop, but went to Alex’s keynote; it was intriguing, even though I disagree on some of his points – especially the bit about Firefox being an interesting platform to develop towards or with, after the utter disregard that the Mozilla developers have had in the past for Linux and GTK+ (two issues spring to mind: borked clipboard usage and UTF-8 drag and drop); oh, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the words “good engineering practises” and “small extensible core” anywhere near “mozilla”, unless “the Fox” that Alex mentioned was a new web browser I’ve yet to see. What I completely agree is that we need to tap into the resources of the non-C, non-hardcore programmers: we need tools to make possible for Flash developers, for Javascript developers, for designers to use our platform, and provide new ideas; in short, make the platform interesting and usable for developers, like the desktop should be interesting and usable for the users.

Let’s take Plasma, the new environment KDE provides for writing their version of desktlets-dash-widgets-dash-applets-dash-somethingets. Obviously, right now, it’s just an exciting new way to write not really useful stuff, like the uptenth variant of a clock, or a weather applet, or a note taking applet; but you get an HTML canvas widget, and you can write ${FOO}ets in Javascript. This way, KDE will get a truckload of useless stuff lying on a desktop which will be covered in windows anyway – but they will also get the attention of web developers writing small apps integrating with web services in a transparent way, using their own strengths and knowledge, without forcing them to learn the intricacies of a complete platform; and in time they’ll get those developers to know this platform and gain new workforce to work with it, and on it. Compare to GNOME: if I want to write something as simple as a desklet, right now, I’d need to know GTK+, Cairo, GConf and possibly gnome-vfs, libsoup, or third party modules for talking to web services through their API. The curve for contributing to the platform is still too steep; and you don’t even get to use your own knowledges: you have to learn everything from scratch. KDE core developers understood this before we did, and their move might keep KDE from falling into the irrelevancy of geek-only usage. It’s up to us find a way for making the GNOME platform interesting again for developers, as well as users.