One year anniversary

So on Saturday Wim, Edward, Tim and myself had the one year anniversary of leaving our old jobs in Barcelona and embarking on the journey that has lead us to where we are today working with Collabora. Thinking back it feels strange to see how things has come together over the course of this year. At the point of leaving we only had a vague idea about what we wanted to do going forward, as the decision to leave came about more as a result of deciding that staying was not an option, more than having a clear vision of wanting to do something different.

The deciding factor I guess was getting a message from Robert and Philippe on the day of announcing that we where leaving saying ‘ don’t do anything before we have talked together’, with Rob and Philippe arriving in Barcelona a few days later. After discussing back and forth what we and they wanted to do for a while, we finally arrived a basic agreement during GUADEC in Birmingham. A couple of Months later we where up and running and here we are today, with Collabora Multimedia being a quickly growing part of the Collabora family. Its been an incredible experience so far and we had a lot of fun. And having moved to Cambridge I have even expanded my vocabulary with terms such as ‘utter loss’,’bonghits’, ‘Oxford stinks’,’punting’ and ‘chavs’ :). So I want to thank Rob, Philippe, Wim, Edward and Tim for making this such an incredible time and I am really looking forward to getting the whole team together in GUADEC in Istanbul next week.

And on that note I would also like to welcome a new member to the Collabora Multimedia family; Mark Nauwelaerts who starts tomorrow. I don’t think to many people outside the GStreamer community knows Mark, but he has contributed quite a few great patches to GStreamer. In fact when asking Tim, who outside the current team contributed the best patches to GStreamer, he listed Mark on top of the list being someone whose patches tended to tackle the most technically challenging issues.

So once again a big welcome to Collabora Multimedia Mark, we are really happy to have you on board!

Filling the world with Empathy goodness

After a lot of testing and working with the Fedora packagers I am now happy to say that the current version of Empathy in Fedora is ready for wider use. Just be sure to install the telepathy-haze-mission-control and telepathy-haze packages in addition to Empathy to get access to all the major chat protocols. With these packages I have been able to retire Pidgin from use on my system and take the bold step into the future of instant messaging. The VoIP and video conferencing also works, although due to needing a newer version of gstreamer speex support than currently shipping (will be in the next release of ‘gst-plugins-good’) you might get ‘Darth Vader’ voice when speaking.

There is still a little polish and love that Empathy needs, like supporting file transfer with the various protocols, but I think that for many Fedora users it should already support enough features to be ready for primetime. And you get to taste the new world of easy to use VoIP over Jabber/Google Talk :) So do a quick ‘yum install empathy elepathy-haze-mission-control telepathy-haze’ and you are set to go!

Let it Rip, Let it Rip, Let it Rip

We take some pride in the GStreamer community about our policy of keeping a tidy ship when it comes to licensing. Even though we did most of the sorting based on common sense, mixed with a bit of hobbyist lawyering and a conservative reading of the GPL it looks like we have succeeded. Tons of organisations are now shipping GStreamer core, base and good with their products and often combine them with their own plugins and packages.

Yet, we recently realized that we had let something slip through the cracks, in the sense that both the cd ripping libraries we supported, cdparanoia and libcdio, where under the GPL. According to our policy that means those plugins should be in gst-plugins-ugly and not in base or good where they currently reside. Just moving them was seen as rather painful though as it would have left many linux distributions in a difficult situation, with applications like Sound Juicer depending on one of those plugins being available to work properly.

Luckily a quick talk to Monty Montgomery, creator of cdparanoia and Vorbis, resolved the issue. As of yesterday there is a new version of cdparanoia available which is LGPL instead of GPL. A big thanks to Monty for this. We will update GStreamer so that the next version of gst-plugins-base requires this new version and correctly reports it as LGPL through gst-inspect. As for libcdio we will move that over to gst-plugins-ugly as that library is still GPL.

So if you are a distribution maker grab cdparanoia 0.10 to decrease the amount of license checking you need to do :)

Update: Seems MikeS spotted something that I failed to notice. Monty choose the LGPLv3 for libcdparanoia which means the situation is a little different, as it would mean the plugin is not compatible with GPLv2-only applications. Luckily most GStreamer apps are GPLv2 or Higher or more liberally licensed. A lot of them also have a special clause allowing non-GPL compatible GStreamer plugins. Guess this proves that those exception clauses are now also valuable even if you are not targetting non-free plugins.

New times, new paradigms

It has been with interest that I have been seeing my friend Andy Wingo and then Alex Graveley commenting on the state of the desktop.

It is somewhat of a debate which has been had in the GNOME community for the last 3-4 years at least. The problem is that nobody is really able to come up with a compelling idea for this ‘revolutionary UI’ that people seem to want. And its not like we are alone in this situation. Nobody else is really able to come up with something earth shattering either, so while KDE4 and Windows Vista both have been blowing their trumpets like crazy lately, its not like you find anything apart from incremental refinements of already known concepts when you dissect them.

And it is not like nobody has tried to come up with new stuff. Alex Graveley has been pushing his own ideas on and off, and the online desktop is another effort who sees itself as redefining the GNOME desktop. Yet, despite Alex’s disappointment in a lack of interest, my contention is that while there are some improvements in the ideas put forward, neither Alex or the Online Desktop has so far been able to put forward a narrative which has gotten people truly sold. And expectation of great interest or unbridled enthusiasm when one hasn’t been sold on the idea is a bit much in my opinion. I think I have walked out after both Alex and Havocs talks at recent GUADECS thinking; looks interesting and I will keep my ears open to news about it, but I am not convinced this will make me rethink how I want to interact and work with my desktop.

Yet we have entered, or been in, a phase where everyone wants a new paradigm for the desktop, even if nobody can agree on what it should do or at least what it should be. So instead we pull in buzzwords of the day like web integration and online presence. Which are all concepts loose enough to be able to mean nothing and everything. In fact the whole web/desktop integration idea isn’t even very new even in the context of GNOME. I assume I am not the only one who remembers IBM’s SashXB effort many years ago, which would change the world through GNOME and Mozilla¬† ‘weblications’.

So maybe all the ‘small’ fixes we focus on these days are not enough to revolutionize the world of desktop computing and change market share numbers so quickly that Microsoft crumbles under our onslaught. But I don’t think such an innovation is possible, or rather if it comes along it will be so different from what we are doing today that it will not really be considered a direct continuation of the PC desktop. However I do think that we are on the right track and that while the incremental improvements we push out in every new release might not feel like something that change the computer interaction landscape, they do add up to creating a stronger and stronger argument for the linux distributors to get traction with major corporations for being open to looking at a Linux desktop migration. And to pull it down to the microlevel, for me personally the fact that I am now for instance able to pair a phone over bluetooth with my desktop and transfer files by drag and drop from it is actually a huge step forward to where we was just a year ago. Or that I am now able to plug and play a SD card into my laptop without obscure mount commands. Sure its not revolutionary, but it is the kind of things that makes it easier for me to feel good about trying to get my family to switch over for instance, as I can now know that getting them to do so will not need to mean endless support calls and frustration on both sides.

So to summarize while I can understand that with the core desktop metaphor feeling like it has only slightly evolved since Xerox introduced it can feel a bit dull and that people feel the time is overripe for something new, lets not walk off a cliff while we walk looking up trying to figure out how to travel the stars :)

Jono’s new effort, Severed Fifth

Since I am in the process of discussing people attempting new stuff I thought I should bring up my friend Jono Bacon’s latest effort, Severed Fifth. I think its a neat example of someone deciding that the current paradigms in the field (of Music) are not working and thus is doing a little experiment to try to figure out if there could be another way of doing things. Most of the time such efforts collapse into nothing, but something they do strike gold and show a path forward. Too early of course to tell if Jono will be able to strike gold here, but I do think he deserves kudos for daring to try. Even in the meritocratic free software world I think we have a tendency to focus a bit too much on providing other people with stop energy whenever the opportunity arise. So if you are interested in exploring alternative ways of organising the world of music then be sure to check out Severed Fifth.

Ubuntu Disapointment

One thing I ranted about multiple times in my blog over the years is how Linux distributions have failed to provide their content in Ogg format. Especially when the content is targeted at Linux users it suprise me that they do not make sure to have the video available in the format that basically all linux users have support for out of the box. That said both Red Hat and Novell has actually taken this feedback to heart and more often than not they do provide Ogg videos these days (in addition to various other formats).

It saddens me then when I checked out the link in Jono Bacons latest blog entry. Where the Ubuntu MOTU videos seems only to be available in the proprietary Flash format. For a distribution which likes to drape itself so loudly in the colours of community and freedom this is a huge letdown. And while you can view these videos with things like swfdec you still need to have the patent encumbered codecs available through gst-ffmpeg to actually view the videos. Would it be so hard to also offer those videos as a Ogg Theora torrents for instance?

Update: Talked to Jono. Turns out they do plan on making Ogg’s available, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. While I kicked Ubuntu here, it wasn’t really about them specifically, but the fact that even though the tools have gotten quite good and widespread over the last few years in terms of creating Ogg’s the open source or free software community is still rather lackluster in its willingness to try to help push the free formats. Its kinda how I used PNG images on my website even before there was widespread PNG support, cause if my page got just one person (hi mom) to use a PNG supporting browser it was a step forward.