Xfce developers, Jannis Pohlmann

  • April 14, 2009
  • Jérôme Guelfucci

Jannis PohlmannJannis Pohlmann, one of the core Xfce developers, kindly accepted to answer my questions on his involvement in the Xfce project and his plans for Xfce 4.8. Thank you for the time you gave Jannis!

Could you please introduce yourself?

I'm Jannis, an almost 24-year-old computer science student living in Lübeck, Germany. Besides hacking on Xfce in my free time, I am 100% addicted to music. I listen to Black and Doom/Stoner/Post Metal mostly and played drums and bass in two local bands until recently. I also had a darkroom and created b/w photographs for a few years but somehow I've lost touch with that.

Anyway, summer lurks around the corner and that means a lot of sunny days with barbecues and relaxing at the beach ahead of us. Enjoying those days could also be seen as some kind of hobby ... maybe ;)

What is your role in the Xfce community?

I'm the current maintainer or co-maintainer of several core components of Xfce, like the mixer, the menu library and Thunar. I also administrate the Goodies project which is our platform for Xfce extensions and programs which are not part of the core desktop. Not to forget, I am the so-called Xubuntu Xfce4 Liaison which means that I'm the main mediator between Xubuntu and Xfce.

What did you work on for Xfce 4.6?

Way too much ;) . I wrote libxfce4menu, a library for displaying installed applications in a structured fashion, based on the freedesktop.org menu specification. I also rewrote the mixer on top of GStreamer and the application finder, based on a re-design Jasper Huijsmans (the former panel maintainer) came up with. Last but not least, I did a lot of work on the 4.6 settings dialogs, mainly xfwm4 and the keyboard stuff, and of course fixed bugs where I could.

What do you think about Xfce 4.6? Are you pleased with? What do you think could be improved?

4.6 is a great release in many ways. Several neglected components have been rewritten, improved or replaced. With xfconf and the improved session manager Xfce as a platform has definitely gained potential. We've received a lot of overwhelming feedback and press for the release.

I see 4.6 more as an intermediate release though. By introducing xfconf and libxfce4menu we've changed a lot of the underlying infrastructure. So much in fact that the release was delayed for more than six months. As a result, there is a number of very young features in 4.6 which give the release a bit of an experimental touch. A lot of things need more polishing. And, as usual, there are also a few issues for which we don't have a solution yet.

What are you going to work on for Xfce 4.8?

Keeping in mind that our goal is to have a shorter release cycle (we've had ~10 months in mind but we haven't really made any plans yet ... that's just typical for us ...), I'll mostly concentrate on Thunar and libxfce4menu. I am currently migrating Thunar to GIO which I'll hopefully finish in time for 4.8. libxfce4menu is lacking menu merging support in 4.6 and is undergoing a redesign at the moment. Last but not least, the mixer panel plugin needs some love.

What is GIO and what is the aim of porting Thunar to GIO?

GIO is a filesystem abstraction layer. It provides a high-level API to accessing directories, files and volumes. It's been part of GLib since 2.16. Thunar has something similar called ThunarVFS which is in some aspects less powerful than GIO.

Migrating Thunar to GIO has several reasons: ThunarVFS is an additional library in the stack while GIO is part of GLib already. Dropping ThunarVFS means less maintainance work for us. And, as already mentioned, GIO has features that ThunarVFS does not have.

The personal goal I have is to write a so called "Studienarbeit" about the migration. That's an around 30 pages thesis students have to write at German universities as a preparation for the real diploma thesis (which is an equivalent to the master's thesis). The process can be followed on my wiki.

What features will this bring for users?

GIO itself will not bring any new features. However, GIO can be extended easily to support virtual/remote filesystems. There is a set of extensions called GVfs which supports SFTP, HTTP, FTP, SMB and other protocols. Unfortunately it has a few GNOME dependencies, so it is up to you to decide whether you want to use it. People could as well write their own extension for whatever protocol they need - if they want to.

What will be the influence on performances?

I know that many people fear bloat. GIO is already being used by GTK+, so by dropping ThunarVFS we can probably make Thunar even lighter than it is today. As opposed to ThunarVFS, GIO has an asynchronous API which may help in making Thunar more responsive in some situations.

Do you plan to implement new features apart from the GIO related ones?

Definitely. Not too many though. Migrating Thunar to GIO is a lot of work on its own already. My plans include a shared progress dialog for file operations, a more user-friendly side pane, inspired by this post from Hylke and a user-friendly way to manage "places" (such as remote locations).

What does GDesktopmenu (previously known as libxfce4menu) provide?

libxfce4menu (or gdesktopmenu in the future) is an implementation of the freedesktop.org menu specification. It provides applications with an easy way to list all installed applications in a structured manner, like for the applications menu.

What are your plans for Xfce 4.8? Will users be able to customize their menu easily?

Yes. As mentioned earlier libxfce4menu in 4.6 lacks support for menu merging which is an essential feature required by menu editors. In 4.8 this will be fully supported.

I'm now working together with Travis Watkins from Alacarte who has expressed interest in the 4.8 API I presented on my blog a while ago. We're planning to add a nice menu editing API to the library so that it'll be *very* easy to write menu editors. It looks like Alacarte will be the first editor to use it.

Any others future plans ? Something else to add ?

Yeah. Thanks again to everyone who donated money for our Buildbot server! We're currently waiting for the missing components to arrive so that we can set it up. Samuel Verstraete, together with the Coreboot team, did a great job in getting hardware virtualization to work on the server, so we'll hopefully see Buildbot running very soon.

Edit: sorry, I found forgotten a question which I just added.