FOSDEM schedule and graphical 4.6 installers

  • January 18, 2009
  • Jannis Pohlmann

The FOSDEM schedule has been published. You can find the Cross Desktop room schedule here. There will be two talks about Xfce. Short descriptions are linked from the schedule. We're also mentioned in the press release.

We will be a fairly large group of people (around at dozen at least, with most of the core developers being present) so it'll definitely rock! On the Xfce mailing list people have been asking about graphical installers for 4.6. I'm currently preparing them and there should be installers for Xfce 4.6 RC1, RC2 and the final release. The main installer is already working except for one thing that's bugging me. Should be able to fix it though.

Topics raised at UDS

  • December 24, 2008
  • Jannis Pohlmann

Ok, this post is long overdue and has been around as a draft for more than a week now, so here it is. As readers of this weblog already know, I was at the Ubuntu Developer Summit from December 8th to 12th. We had quite a few discussions on topics I'm interested in outside the scope of the official sessions held at UDS. Let me just list them here in random order:


Arnaud Quette told me about Buildbot which can be used to test your repository for compilation errors on various systems. I suppose it can be a real time saver if you want your project to compile on a variety of distributions and UNIX flavors and want immediate response as to whether compilation is going to succeed on these. That way you don't have to wait for packagers and users to report compilation errors back to you and don't have to enter that typical ping pong developer-reporter dialog. Buildbot not only catches compilation errors but is also capable of sending notification emails and provides detailed information about the compile log and so on. It's implemented based on a server/client concept where each client tests compilation on one system and the server collects data from the clients. By using virtualization you can set up server and clients on the same machine. This would be very nice to have for Xfce but I suppose it would require another dedicated server just for running all these compilations. If anyone is interested in looking in to that, I'd be happy to establish contact to someone from Buildbot to provide you with more information. As a funny coincidence, Frédéric Péters recently announced build.gnome.org which is a great example of Buildbot usage.

Thunar and GIO

I talked to Christian Kellner about GIO/GVfs a bit in order to get information on how remote/virtual filesystems work. One thing I've thought about is how to allow for a list of user-defined remote/virtual filesystems which show up in the side pane of Thunar. There are different approaches to that. One is to use bookmarks which seems to be what, according to Christian, Nautilus does right now. While this seems to work quite well it seems to confuse users a bit. Personally, I'd like to see them separated from bookmarks. There has been a proposal for Nautilus to make the side pane look better by using sections. One thing I could imagine would be to have a "Virtual Volumes" section listing the user-defined filesystems and provide some sort of GUI for creating/removing/editing these. From what I've heard there also is a third approach, which is to make remote filesystems to appear as fake volumes in HAL or DeviceKit. I'll have to look into that in order to decide what the best way to go is, I guess.

PulseAudio and GStreamer

PulseAudio and GStreamer: We discussed the limited PulseAudio backend for GStreamer in a group of up to five people and agreed that it really needs improvement (as in more tracks have to be added to the GstMixer interface) if we don't want users to be able to control PulseAudio through the mixer applications they know. PulseAudio-specific applications like pavucontrol are not really what we want them to use.

Xubuntu Remix for Netbooks

During one of the Xubuntu sessions I talked to a member of the Ubuntu Mobile team about Xfce in general, the modularity of Xfce and the dependencies it has. He seemed to be very interested in it but he was also worried about Xfce becoming less lightweight, eating up more memory and disk space. It wasn't the first time during UDS that someone mentioned LXDE and asked me about my opinion on it. Two main reasons for Xfce being lightweight always were the small number of dependencies and applications which you could call the Xfce stack. With more and more applications and libraries being added, Xfce naturally feel less lightweight, even if these applications are not considered a part of the core desktop. You always have to keep that in mind. It seems like the high modularity of Xfce compensates parts of that and is why people are interested in Xfce in the context of mobile devices. Despite being modular and somewhat lightweight, Xfce also has improved in terms of user experience lately. I think we can push this even further. Giving accessibility more attention might also be worth considering. Usability is something I don't really see in LXDE (yet). That's what I usually tell people if they ask me for my opinion on it.

Limitations of the PulseAudio backend for GStreamer

  • December 12, 2008
  • Jannis Pohlmann

I'm at the Ubuntu Developer Summit this week and Emmet Hikory just approached me with a question about the PulseAudio support in xfce4-mixer. The problem he has is that when he wants to plug in in a bluetooth headset PulseAudio might act weird and there's only one way to fix this from the user's point of view, which is to use pavucontrol or one of the other PulseAudio tools. Unfortunately those tools don't provide a good user experience. Controls are given technical names and too much of the internal technical stuff is being exposed to the user.

So, his idea is that there has to be a user-friendly way (like using xfce4-mixer) to e.g. control the bluetooth headset after it has been plugged in.

I just took a quick look at the PulseAudio code shipped with gst-plugins-good and to me it seems to be in a pretty bad shape. Unless I'm mistaken it only exposes one track through the GstMixer interface: Master. So if you have several devices capable of audio playback/recording, like a normal sound card and a bluetooth headset, you have no control over which of them is being muted, used for recording or whatever.

What I would expect is to either have a list of tracks (one for each sink - and please give them user-friendly names!) exposed through the GstMixer interface or to have a switch for choosing the sink you want to control with the Master track. Without this, no mixer application is able to provide a user-friendly way to control PulseAudio - unless it implements its own PulseAudio support.

One major reason for rewriting xfce4-mixer based on GStreamer has always been to get rid of the need to maintain our own audio system backends. The old mixer had its own backends for ALSA, OSS and BSD and it really sucked.

So I'm hoping that maybe someone steps up to implement a proper PulseAudio backend for GStreamer, with tracks for all available audio sinks and streams. I think I'd prefer tracks over a simple switch because they allow for a more fine-grained configuration of your devices. Thanks Emmet for pointing that out.

December plans and recent Xfce developments

  • November 25, 2008
  • Jannis Pohlmann

I’m currently planning the last few things for my trip to the UDS Jaunty, taking place in Mountain View, California from December 8th to 12th. It looks like Brian will pick me up at San Francisco International on the day of my arrival. We’ll probably have something to eat before he drops me off at the hotel. What could possibly be more awesome than that? I’m very excited to say at least. I’ve also received my hotel reservation already and it looks like I’ll have a twin room on my own for half of my stay.

Ok, back to some Xfce related topics. Last week I submitted our FOSDEM devroom request. We’ll be notified before 2008-11-30 whether we the request is accepted or not. Five days left until we’ll know more - keep your fingers crossed if you haven’t already!

Nick and I have recently started to fix bugs in Thunar. So far we’ve managed to fix and close about a dozen bugs I think. We’re forced to do this due to Benny’s absence but I have to say it’s actually quite a lot of fun to fix bugs in other people’s code! In the end we’ll both have better understanding of how Thunar works. This will soon give us the possibility to push things forward. Not only am I planning to replace thunar-vfs with GIO/GVfs after 1.0 is released along with Xfce 4.6; there are more things that need to be done: adding support for xfconf might be worth considering as Thunar is now one of the last components that still stores its configuration using XfceRc. Also, we could think about using libxfce4menu for detecting installed applications which was actually one of the most important use cases of it that we had in mind before I started writing that library. And of course the list of possible features and cleanups doesn’t end here …

I also have some bad news. It looks like we’re having a bit of a problem with our 4.6 release schedule again. Due to the delay of the second beta, we were forced to delay the third beta as well. Maybe we can sort of fix that by leaving out the third release candidate but we still have to discuss how to handle this.