Meet the 2016 Pants Winner – Alex Larsson

Every year at GUADEC, the Board of Directors presents the prestigious Pants award. It recognizes a GNOME contributor who has made significant contributions and who has really embodied the GNOME spirit. Among recipients are Emily Chen, Alexandre Franke, and Allan Day, the three most recent winners. This year, the Pants were presented to Alex Larsson, who was recognized for contributing since 1998 to a number of technologies, being the “fixer” who always gets to the root of a problem, and his invovlemt with GTK, GDK, the old GDM greeter, hidpi support, Nautilus, Spice, GIO, and Flatpak. We sat down with him shortly after the announcement was made, to learn a bit more about him.

Where are you from and where are you based now?

Alex Larsson
Photo taken by Cassandra Sanchez, CC-BY-SA 4.0
I’m from Sweden, born in Stockholm and I live there now. I spent a year in North Carolina during my first year at Red Hat in 2001.

How long have you been contributing to GNOME?
My first contribution was in 1998 to Dia.

How did you first get involved in contributing?
I wrote that app because I needed it for school. It’s a diagram app that I needed in university and there wasn’t anything like it. Plus, I wanted to learn GTK and toolkit programming.

We know you’ve worked on a lot of different important projects. You have made a lot of important changes. We’re wondering how you decide what to work on.
I just work on what I think is interesting. Curiosity, interests, also bug reports and requests from customers or the general public. Actually, I mostly see feature requests coming in from bug reports. I have a huge backlog of things I know we need to fix.

You were the developer of Nautilus for 8 years and wrote a lot of code for it. What made you switch from Nautilus to now working on Flatpak?
I maintained Nautilus for a long time, and it was using gnome-vfs and that was problematic, so I spent some time writing GIO and GVfs to replace it. After that I moved to Spice, a protocol for connecting to VMs, because it needed a tech lead. I was on that for 2 years, and I worked on various aspects of it. After that I did mostly GTK, but I’ve had a long history of interest in bundling stuff. That led me to be one of the Red Hat developers working on Docker. Docker was becoming very popular and we needed it to work for Red Hat. All this experience working on the Docker infrastructure inspired my work on Flatpak, and that’s why I chose that time to prioritize the project. I had been experimenting with three other bundling systems before, but they had always been prototypes.

This is the very early beginning of Flatpak, how do you see it evolving in terms of features?
I think the core doesn’t necesarily have to be that much larger, and it’s more about evolving the infrastructure around it. The application store, developer portal, making it easier to build and distribute flatpaks, and eventually include some sort of donation/payment system. I think we also need more work on portals, but the basic core is good enough. Obviously there will be bugs and minor changes, but I don’t expect anything huge.

What’s next after Flatpak?
I am interested in Emmanuele‘s work on the scene graph. I’m reviewing that and looking at it a bit, but I’m focusing on Flatpak for the forseeable future. 

Alex Larsson 2
Photo taken by Bin Li, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

What has been keeping you at Red Hat for the last 15 years?
It’s just a great place to work. I get to work on what I love, and I have the freedom to choose what to work on. And there’s not a lot of bullshit.

How do you see the interaction between companies like Red Hat and GNOME?
Historically we had more companies involved, and I wish we had more again, to have more opinions and more resources in general. The ones we have now though are interacting quite well with the community. There was a time in the early 2000s when there was more corporate interest, but now desktops don’t have as much interest, it’s more about mobile. I‘d like to see more companies investing in the desktop.

Alex Larsson Pants
Photo Taken by Rosanna Yuen, CC-BY-SA 4.0

What do you think about having won the Pants award? The Pants award is quite prestigious and now you’re part of a sort of hall of fame!

I was really glad to get the pants, but I haven’t really thought about it much. It was moving and I’ve seen people getting them over the years, so it shows that there’s interest in what I’m doing. It means I’m doing the right thing.

We hear you play pokemon GO! What team are you on? 
Team blue, of course!

What is your favorite place on Earth?
Home.

What is your favorite food?
Beef and french fries are good! 

What is your spirit animal?
It would probably be a cat. I’m a cat person. Right now I have 2 cats, but I’ve had cats my whole life, more or less.

Finally, our classic and important question; what do you think cats dream about?
I’d say they’re chasing something. My cats are not chasing mice, I can tell you that! So I’d say they’re chasing toys probably. 

Thank you, Alex, for spending time answering our questions. And, once again, congratulations on being the 2016 Pants winner!
 
Catch Alex talking more about Flatpak at LAS GNOME this September 19th in Portland, Oregon! Find out more on: las.gnome.org

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