All posts by Jannis Pohlmann

How to start contributing to Xfce or any other open source project

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this website and even longer since I’ve written anything useful. But since I’ve received a couple of mails from people looking to contribute to Xfce recently, I thought I’d share some “wisdom” acquired over the past few years while working on Xfce and doing a lot of community work. My thoughts are not limited to Xfce and will apply to a lot of other projects out there as well.

Here’s the bitter truth for those looking for some quick pointers to start contributing to Xfce: you’ll have to find out yourself.

The reason is not that we are lazy or wouldn’t welcome your contributions. In fact, the reason, I believe, is very simple: you will be more excited, motivated and, ultimate, be more successful if you work on something that interests you. We can help you in making the decision what to invest your time in easier, e.g. by listing projects, features or issues that we or our users consider worth working on. Some projects do this very visibly (e.g. through bounties). In Xfce, this information is hidden in the depths of the wiki. Here are a few links that you may find interesting:

Clearly, the above information could be more visible. There could be a prominent link on the Xfce website to a well-maintained and up-to-date list. Would that help people? Maybe.

Perhaps it is a good thing that the information isn’t just one click away. Open source projects have always been about scratching your own itch. This is how I got involved in everything I’ve done over the years. this approach is reflected by what people do and sometimes even by how companies make money. Thinking about it now, it is a concept deeply rooted in the evolution of mankind (think: the invention and improvement of tools, industrialisation and all that shit).

So: scratch your own itch.

If you want to start contributing to a project, try this exercise:

  • Look at the project, think about what you don’t like or what you feel could be improved
  • Try to collect information on what pieces are involved in e.g. the feature you’re missing or the bug you’ve spotted
  • Try to find the place where you could try adding your feature or fixing your bug
  • Ask whether developers are interested in the feature or look at whether there already is an item for your issue in the bug tracker
  • The rest is communication and coding

It’s not a fast path because you might not be able to contribute something of great value in the beginning. But if you’re dedicated, have enough spare time to make a difference and are keen on improving things step by step, you might eventually reach a point where you take over responsibility for more and more exciting or important tasks.

Good luck!

FOSDEM 2012

This year’s FOSDEM is over and I hope that most of us have by now recovered from an exhausting weekend that was first and foremost exciting and a lot of fun! With about 12 people, the Xfce group was—I think—larger than ever before. Add to that a fairly large number of my colleagues from Codethink, into which I bumped at the beer event and FOSDEM itself from time to time. Despite mostly staying with Xfce, I enjoyed knowing and meeting people all over the place.

Unfortunately, some of us—myself included—missed half of the beer event because our trains and planes arrived late. Snow in Brussels, a cold weekend ahead. When we arrived at the Delirium Café at around midnight, I was glad to see that all the others had already made friends again. Olivier, Stephan, Peter, Nick, Simon, Christoph, everyone was there, some of them sufficiently drunk, I imagine. Although to be be fair, you wouldn’t really notice. Most of us left not to long after that in order to be in a good condition in the morning. Having only caught up half on drinking, Christian, Mike and I ended up staying at the Delirium with a few Codethink colleagues including Sam, Luc and Javier—until they finally kicked us out at around four in the morning.

Food, taxi, 2 1/2 hours of sleep later and we were sitting in the hotel, enjoying a fantastic buffet breakfast. Admittedly, I couldn’t eat that morning, ending the night in the Delirium had lead to quite a strong hangover. After the majority of us had gathered in the hotel lobby, we squeezed ourselves into the 71 bus in two groups and finally arrived at FOSDEM. I do not remember the details of the day, but it was a great mix of talks (including my own one about Tumbler, which I felt was not very special, picture below), chatting and minor hacking (at least on my side; Nick made good progress with the settings editor in the meantime). During the day, Jean-Francois, Jens and Mark joined us and we (or most of us at least) ended the day having food in a Vietnamese restaurant close to the hotel and a beer in the hotel lobby.

Sunday was similar, except that I could finally enjoy the breakfast. Lovely. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to get everyone together anymore, so our initially large group was now split up into smaller ones for the rest of Sunday. We still managed to have a few technical chats about Xfce that day and made a few decisions (see below). Regards talks, I mostly remember the Wayland Q&A session and a talk about social engineering in free software communities, Most of us left in the afternoon or evening. I met up with Luc, Sam, Javier and a bunch of other people to have food in a very nice restaurant. Got up at six in the morning, walked to the central station, took a plane home from the airport and went back to work in the afternoon. Unlike a few others I seem to have escaped the typical illnesses (cold, broken sleep cycles, general exhaustion) that events like FOSDEM always bring along.

Xfce-Related News — Fresh from FOSDEM

Wayland was big this year. I will spare you the details of how it works. Throughout the weekend, we had various discussions that involved Wayland. While it may take some load of Olivier by eventually making window managers obsolete, there is still a major problem with it: it does not support the XEmbed protocol, and therefor will break pluggable settings dialogs and panel plugins. We have sent mails to the wayland-devel list to find out how they feel about this. For now, I suppose this is all we can do.

Reorganization of the settings dialogs

One thing we decided on Sunday was to reorganize the settings dialogs so that the location of particular types of settings becomes more predictable. This applies to appearance and window manager themeing, and the application keyboard shortcuts and window manager keyboard shortcuts in particular. We will rearrange some of these tabs and merge them so that all related settings are in one place. We will also merge the window manager and window manager tweaks dialogs into one.

Release Schedule for Xfce 4.10

Despite a lack of completed features in Thunar (which are unlikely to get finished before 4.10), there are only a few things that really keep us from releasing Xfce 4.10. We have not decided on a release date, but if things go well, we should be able to roll the first pre-release one month from now, in early March. This would mean that a final release in May or June would be feasible.

Possibility of a hackfest

Meeting up with the team is always great fun. Unfortunately, FOSDEM is a busy event and only lasts two days. Like last year, we discussed the possibility of an Xfce hackfest in the future. I would love to see this idea becoming reality. If half a dozen of the relevant people can make it for at least a couple of days, this could greatly benefit the development of Xfce. Ideally, such a hackfest would span over at least 4-5 days, ideally including a weekend to make it easier to attend for people with jobs. Given a relatively small group, it might even be possible to hold an event like this at someone’s flat. This is definitely something that we will look into soon.

Like every year, FOSDEM 2012 was a great event. And like every year, a few more nicknames have turned into real faces that, unsurprisingly, belong to incredibly friendly human beings! I only wish that we had more time to discuss things face to face and do some serious work on Xfce together. In any case, this calls for another iteration next year. And with that, I shall end this wrap-up.

Looking for new maintainers for some of my projects

I am looking for a new maintainer for some of the open source projects I started over the last couple of years. Due to taking a full-time position as a software engineer, I will have less spare time to hack in the near future than I had while being a student. I will continue contributing to Xfce but I would like to focus on core development (thunar, tumbler, garcon etc.). As a consequence, I am looking for people interested in maintaining the following projects:

Most of these are smaller projects but some of them (like thunar-media-tags-plugin and xfce4-mixer) have many users. xfce4-mixer is particularly interesting, I think. It’s code base is of medium size and it lacks integration with notification daemons, key bindings for muting and altering the volume of a selected channel. Also, the per-channel widgets could be arranged in better ways than they are right now. PulseAudio support has been requested several times but that is an entirely different story. xfce4-mixer is mainly intended as a mixer for GStreamer. A PulseAudio mixer would better be written from scratch. But if anyone is up for the task - why not!

If you are interested in maintaining any of the above (yes, you are free to rename jptemplate to something that does not carry my initials!), please let me know in a comment or send a mail to xfce4-dev@xfce.org! 

(You will need knowledge of C, GLib and GTK+ for the Xfce projects and VIM script for jptemplate. But in particular panel plugins are really simple, so the code base should be easy to understand even for a GTK+ newbie who is willing to read API manuals.)

Joining Codethink

I already hinted at the end of my studies in earlier posts related to my thesis. After submitting that thesis I moved 400km south of Lübeck to enjoy a few quiet weeks, record music and work on Xfce. However, I only stayed there for two weeks before I was set to fly over to Manchester, UK. The reason: I will be joining Codethink in January!

Having spent the last three weeks in and around their office, the city of Manchester and one of its suburbs, I can confidently say that this was a great decision. Codethink is a social and diverse company with a strong background in open source, with bright people, and a nice overall atmosphere and attitude. We had plenty of enjoyable evenings, chats, not to forget the brilliant food. I managed to feel at home already, but sadly, I had to leave again yesterday.

Like many people in Codethink, Manchester appears to be a city that likes music, a place where almost everyone is either a die-hard music fan or even a musician. I found a room right in the hart of the northern quarter at 10 minutes walking distance to the office, surrounded by record shops, live music venues and pubs. Rehearsal spaces are expensive but nearby. I could list various additional reasons for why I’m really happy. This simply is a good move.

About three years ago I was about to cancel my studies and look for a job. In the end I decided to carry on. Last week my Diplom (the German equivalent of an MSc) certificate arrived. Despite many doubts throughout these years, I managed to graduate with honors. It’s funny that this grade will have no impact on anything and is only really useful for proving to myself that I can pull through if I really want to. But then again, I had a great and chilled time being a student. So in retrospective, I guess I only ever had doubts because I was impatient and eager to make a difference in what was supposed to be the “real world”. 

Now, with Codethink, I can.

On MeeGo

Whatever MeeGo was, it never made it into the open source mainstream, which I consider to consist of projects actively worked on by volunteers and companies alike, and didn’t manage to become an project attractive enough for individual open source enthusiasts not driven by money to make substantial contributions.

There is enough room to speculate over the reasons why this is. My personal take is that MeeGo failed to be a successful open source project because the corporate commitment to the open source idea was not strong enough and expectations were too high right from the start. 

Open source projects start with an idea and evolve into a proper product over time. Sometimes they are developed incrementally, sometimes it happens that big parts of them are replaced all at once. The idea behind an open source project may be huge but they all start off with baby steps. MeeGo, however, wasn’t supposed to. The idea behind MeeGo was big, and due to market pressure it was expected to become complete and successful quickly. It occurs to me that the idea was to sort of guarantee success by providing the project with professional, corporate governance. 

I think everyone who started working on open source as a hobby knows that this is something a lot of hackers don’t are comfortable with. An open source project under corporate leadership may easily suffer from top-down decisions that give developers the feeling of working in a restrictive environment rather than a playful one. I’m not surprised by the fact that the only people I know ever contributed to MeeGo worked either for/with Intel or Nokia.

It isn’t the technologies, tools or frameworks that are reason for the failure of MeeGo. KDE and GNOME are large and successful projects based on Qt, GTK+, Clutter, D-Bus-based desktop middleware etc. What has lead to failure in my eyes—-the eyes of an outsider, opn source developer and potential user—-is that the dynamic nature of open source projects conflicted with corporate expectations and hopes for a quick success they needed so badly. Add to that the pressure on Nokia, the corporate culture clash of two global information technology companies and the fast pacing world of mobile devices and interfaces, and you have a pretty explosive mixture.

Personally, I won’t place my bets on Tizen. I can only imagine how frustrated and disappointed everyone who tried to get involved may be today, even those who contributed to MeeGo as part of their work for Intel, Nokia or one of the many smaller companies that make up the corporate part of the open source ecosystem. It is also frustrating for me as a developer aiming for a job in open source and desktop/mobile/UI technologies.

I guess the mobile open source platform we are all hoping for will be there some day. But it will only appear slowly, driven by the efforts of enthusiastic individuals with big ideas, realistic expectations and sound knowledge of the pace and dynamics with which open source projects grow and mature. This of course relies on open hardware and I don’t know enough about the manufacturing industry to predict the availability of open, hackable devices in the near future.

In the meantime, the best we can do as open source software developers is improve the base OS level and innovate in desktop/mobile/UI technologies by experimenting with new ideas and extending existing frameworks. I’ll help where I can.

Looking for a full time job in Open Source

Two years ago I was really close to canceling my studies and looking for a job instead. In the end I continued studying, passed the final exams of my Diplom (the German old-school equivalent to a Master’s degree) with excellent results and started working on my graduate thesis. Today, I am 1 1/2 months away from the submission deadline and it is clear that I will make it.

So, this time I’m serious: I’m looking for a full time employment in Open Source software development, engineering or management starting November this year. Hiring me will get you an experienced and talented hacker with a natural intuition for software architecture and aesthetics as well as a scientific and painstaking approach to software planning and implementation.

Through my work at the university and within the Xfce and Lunar Linux projects, I have gained experience in/with

  • many programming languages (including C, C++, Ruby, Python, Vala, Lua, XSLT, TeX, Java, Bash and a couple of others),
  • many frameworks (the whole GTK+/GLib stack including D-Bus, a bit of Clutter, XLib and Qt/QML, SWT/JFace, the FOX toolkit as well as web frameworks like Sinatra and Rails; some knowledge about the Linux kernel, its facilities and kernel-userspace communication mechanisms included),
  • many developer tools (GNU compilers, Autotools, VIM, NetBeans, Eclipse and others),
  • many software versioning systems (Git, Subversion, CVS and Mercurial), and
  • various areas of computer science and software engineering (complexity theory, signal processing, graph drawing, micro-controller programming and sensor-based networking, software planning, testing etc.).

I feel equally at home developing for the desktop or for the web. Granted, my main area of expertise is user interface and middleware development on Linux, which my fellow Xfce hackers and I have successfully participated in, but I’ve always found web development with Ruby to be a refreshing change.

There are many other things related to open source that I love doing. Over the past years I’ve enjoyed being able to improve the transparency of the development and release management of Xfce. Streamlining the release process and providing tools for making release management fun was an initiative I am particularly proud of. The same goes for community efforts like the Xfce Foundation, which we’ve launched in early 2011 and which I am currently heading as president.

This post is not just about the past though, it’s also about what lies ahead. Things I am particularly interested in with regards to the future include

  • mobile platforms and applications (iOS and Android are not good enough, I think we need open alternatives),
  • multi-touch interfaces on Linux (yep, this is on the way, but there still is a lot of potential work to be done, I guess),
  • cloud-based applications (I know I can store files and data on the web, but where are the mind-blowing features that go beyond availability of personal data everywhere?), and
  • environmental and power saving applications (living responsibly will become important soon enough; how can we generate awareness and support environmental causes with the help of software?).

I am excited and curious what my role will be in all this. Anway, I guess this is enough information about me for now. After all, this is no biography but a job-search post. ;)

If you read this and you happen to be Microsoft or Apple, do not even bother to send a headhunter. I prefer to work in the open and I believe in Open Source for many reasons. This ecosystem that we’ve created over the past two decades provides a great way for people from all around the world to collaborate on projects they care about, in an honest and tolerant way. I think that’s an inspirational model from which our entire society can and hopefully will benefit. Why would we want to have it any other way?

If you are a member or leader of a company dedicated to Open Source software and are interested in hiring me, please let me know. Linked below are my resumé, software projects and email address. I’m looking forward to talking to you!

Download my resumé/CV — A list of references is included. Feel free to contact them; they are aware of being listed and I’m sure they will be happy to answer any of your questions.

My software projects — A list of open source software projects I am or have been working on.

Email address: jannis@xfce.org

Xfce Foundation e.V. launched at FOSDEM!

This year’s FOSDEM was a special one. Read more about it in this mail:

Hi everyone,

as some of you might have read, several of us Xfce developers and
packagers have attended FOSDEM this weekend. There was a lot of talking
and a bit of brainstorming of course. Together we enjoyed food, beer,
talks and also did something that we have been struggling with for
several years now: we launched a non-profit organization for Xfce.

Yes, you read correctly: the 

  Xfce Foundation e.V. 

was founded by a group of us on Saturday afternoon! It still needs to
be registered, so technically it's not an "e.V." (a non-profit
organization registered in Germany) yet. But it will be, we are working
on that.

The eight founding members are:

  #1  Christoph Wickert
  #2  Landry Breuil
  #3  Jens Luedicke
  #4  Christian Dywan
  #5  Nick Schermer
  #6  Jérôme Guelfucci
  #7  Jannis Pohlmann
  #8  Lionel Le Folgoc

Please give everyone a hug or at least a thumbs up next time they pop
up on IRC. Without them being there this would not have been possible!

The main part next to signing the articles of association (which we
will soon upload somewhere, probably on foundation.xfce.org or
something like that) was to elect the initial Board of Directors of the
Xfce Foundation. Without objections the following people were elected
to the Board of Directors with a 2 years mandate:

  President: 
    Jannis Pohlmann
  
  Vice President: 
    Nick Schermer
  
  Vice President and Treasurer:
    Jérôme Guelfucci

The Board will now take care of the registration process and will meet
up for the first time on March 1st, 2011. There will be a general
assembly for all Xfce Foundation members on March 6th, 2011. 

We will soon announce more details about the decisions that were made
and about how you can become an Xfce Foundation member (it's really not
difficult and it won't cost you any money -- but there are obligations
connected to it of course).

After the registration we will create a bank account and a new paypal
account as well in order to collect donations. These donations will be 
tax deductible!

Stay tuned for updates on this. I hope you are as excited as we are
about this. I hope it will help a lot in pushing Xfce forward.

Cheers,
Jannis

Proud Founding Members

Xfce 4.8 on BSD flavors

I should’ve made this more clear in the Xfce 4.8 release announcement but for a moment there I forgot that not everyone knows what we developers are dealing with under the hood.

Many users have been asking what the BSD problems are that I mentioned in the announcement. As some of you may recall is that HAL, the hardware abstraction layer that has for the past few years been used for volume and power management as well as a few other things, has been deprecated and replaced by a variety of frameworks. Today there is udev for device information, udisks for volume management, upower for power management as well as ConsoleKit and PolicyKit for session and permission control.

At least udev is strongly linked to Linux and as far as I know is not available on any of the BSD flavors. Unfortunately it is now the only good way to detect storage devices, cameras, printers, scanners and other devices using a single framework. That’s why we use it in Xfce now in situations where HAL provided us with device capabilities and information to distinguish between the different device types before. The consequence is that thunar-volman no longer works without udev and thus only compiles on Linux. In Thunar itself udev remains optional.

I don’t know what the porting status of the other frameworks is. But I am pretty sure not all of them have been ported to other platforms yet which is why I felt the need to express our disappointment in the announcement. For 2-3 years now all this has been a big mess. New frameworks were invented, dropped again, renamed from *Kit to u* and somewhere on the way it became impossible to keep Xfce as portable as it was before. I know that this is nothing new and that BSD folks faced the same situation as they do now back when HAL was invented but I don’t think it has to be this way.

For the question how we can improve the situation I have no answer yet.

Xfce 4.8 released!

Today, after almost two years of work, we have the special pleasure of announcing the much awaited release of Xfce 4.8, the new stable version that supersedes Xfce 4.6.

We hope that everyone will enjoy this release as much as we do. Sadly, this will not be the case as the folks using any of the BSD systems will notice a sudden loss of features. We think that this announcement is a good opportunity to express our disagreement with the recent “Linux-only” developments in the open source ecosystem, especially with regards to the utilities we need in desktop environments.

Xfce 4.8 is our attempt to update the Xfce code base to all the new desktop frameworks that were introduced in the past few years. We hope that our efforts to drop pieces like ThunarVFS and HAL with GIO, udev, ConsoleKit and PolicyKit will help bringing the Xfce desktop to modern distributions.

With Xfce 4.8 our users will be able to browse remote shares using a variety of protocols (SFTP, SMB, FTP and many more). The window clutter has been reduced by merging all file progress dialogs into a single one.

Our panel application has been rewritten, thereby improvingpositioning, transparency, item and launcher management. It also introduces a new menu plugin to view directories. Its plugin framework remains compatible with 4.6 plugins.

We also improved our settings dialogs. The display configuration dialog now supports RandR 1.2, detects screens automatically and allows our users to pick their favorite resolution, refresh rate, rotation. Screens can be configured to either work in clone mode or be placed next to each other. Keyboard selection has become easier and more user-friendly. Also, the manual settings editor has been updated be more functional.

Aside from the features implemented in Xfce, the 4.8 development cycle brought us a bunch of other goodies. For the first time we had a serious release strategy formed after the “Xfce Release and Development Model” developed at the Ubuntu Desktop Summit in May 2009. A new web application made release management a lot easier. We worked hard on improving the situation of Xfce translators which led us to setting up our own Transifex server. Something else you will hopefully notice is that our server and mirroring infrastructure has been improved so that our servers hopefully will not suddenly surrender shortly after this release announcement.

There is a lot more to discover and we hope a lot of you will give Xfce 4.8 a try! There is a brief tour online on

http://xfce.org/ and http://xfce.org/about/tour

A summary of the changes since the 4.8pre3 preview release is available on the following URL (it also includes links to the changes introduced in all preview releases):

http://xfce.org/download/changelogs/4.8.0

The release can be downloaded either as individual releases or as a fat tarball including all these individual versions:

http://archive.xfce.org/xfce/4.8/

2011 has just begun and we are already planning for the future. The 4.10 schedule will be worked on soon and hopefully, we will be able to turn Xfce into a non-profit organization at this year’s FOSDEM, so stay tuned!

But until then we hope you will enjoy today’s release and join us in celebrating. Thanks go out to all our contributors, bug reporters as well as the awesome efforts of our translators and packagers.

Best regards,
The Xfce development team

Attending FOSDEM 2011

I'm going to FOSDEM, the Free and Open
Source Software Developers' European Meeting

Today Nick and I booked hotel rooms for FOSDEM so now it’s official that the two of us will be there. I’m very much looking forward to it and I’m hoping to meet some of you at the FOSDEM Beer Event on Friday! Still need to think about a way to make ourselves recognizable as Xfce folks though.

If you are planning to attend and would like to meet any of the Xfce folks, please add your name in the wiki:

  http://wiki.xfce.org/events/2011/fosdem

We haven’t decided where and when to meet on Saturday and Sunday but I’m sure we will find something. Stay tuned for additional announcements on this weblog.

In addition to celebrating the 4.8 release of Xfce which is scheduled for next weekend, one of our goals for FOSDEM 2011 will be to sign the papers for registering the Xfce Foundation e.V. in Germany. The details of this still need to be worked out, however. I’ll keep you posted about this as well.

If you would like to talk to me about things other than Xfce, please drop me a mail and I’m sure we can arrange something.