Robotic Tendencies
The personal blog of Robert McQueen

October 19, 2018

GNOME Foundation Hackfest 2018

This week, the GNOME Foundation Board of Directors met at the Collabora office in Cambridge, UK, for the second annual Foundation Hackfest. We were also joined by the Executive Director, Neil McGovern, and Director of Operations, Rosanna Yuen. This event was started by last year’s board and is a great opportunity for the newly-elected board to set out goals for the coming year and get some uninterrupted hacking done on policies, documents, etc. While it’s fresh in our mind, we wanted to tell you about some of the things we have been working on this week and what the community can hope to see in the coming months.

Wednesday: Goals

On Wednesday we set out to define the overall goals of the Foundation, so we could focus our activities for the coming years, ensuring that we were working on the right priorities. Neil helped to facilitate the discussion using the Charting Impact process. With that input, we went back to the purpose of the Foundation and mapped that to ten and five year goals, making sure that our current strategies and activities would be consistent with reaching those end points. This is turning out to be a very detailed and time-consuming process. We have made a great start, and hope to have something we can share for comments and input soon. The high level 10-year goals we identified boiled down to:

  • Sustainable project and foundation
  • Wider awareness and mindshare – being a thought leader
  • Increased user base

As we looked at the charter and bylaws, we identified a long-standing issue which we need to solve — there is currently no formal process to cover the “scope” of the Foundation in terms of which software we support with our resources. There is the release team, but that is only a subset of the software we support. We have some examples such as GIMP which “have always been here”, but at present there is no clear process to apply or be included in the Foundation. We need a clear list of projects that use resources such as CI, or have the right to use the GNOME trademark for the project. We have a couple of similar proposals from Allan Day and Carlos Soriano for how we could define and approve projects, and we are planning to work with them over the next couple of weeks to make one proposal for the board to review.

Thursday: Budget forecast

We started the second day with a review of the proposed forecast from Neil and Rosanna, because the Foundation’s financial year starts in October. We have policies in place to allow staff and committees to spend money against their budget without further approval being needed, which means that with no approved budget, it’s very hard for the Foundation to spend any money. The proposed budget was based off the previous year’s actual figures, with changes to reflect the increased staff headcount, increased spend on CI, increased staff travel costs, etc, and ensure after the year’s spending, we follow the reserves policy to keep enough cash to pay the foundation staff for a further year. We’re planning to go back and adjust a few things (internships, marketing, travel, etc) to make sure that we have the right resources for the goals we identified.

We had some “hacking time” in smaller groups to re-visit and clarify various policies, such as the conference and hackfest proposal/approval process, travel sponsorship process and look at ways to support internationalization (particularly to indigenous languages).

Friday: Foundation Planning

The Board started Friday with a board-only (no staff) meeting to make sure we were aligned on the goals that we were setting for the Executive Director during the coming year, informed by the Foundation goals we worked on earlier in the week. To avoid the “seven bosses” problem, there is one board member (myself) responsible for managing the ED’s priorities and performance. It’s important that I take advantage of the opportunity of the face to face meeting to check in with the Board about their feedback for the ED and things I should work together with Neil on over the coming months.

We also discussed a related topic, which is the length of the term that directors serve on the Foundation Board. With 7 staff members, the Foundation needs consistent goals and management from one year to the next, and the time demands on board members should be reduced from previous periods where the Foundation hasn’t had an Executive Director. We want to make sure that our “ten year goals” don’t change every year and undermine the strategies that we put in place and spend the Foundation resources on. We’re planning to change the Board election process so that each director has a two year term, so half of the board will be re-elected each year. This also prevents the situation where the majority of the Board is changed at the same election, losing continuity and institutional knowledge, and taking months for people to get back up to speed.

We finished the day with a formal board meeting to approve the budget, more hack time on various policies (and this blog!). Thanks to Collabora for use of their office space, food, and snacks – and thanks to my fellow Board members and the Foundation’s wonderful and growing staff team

posted by ramcq @ 3:38 pm
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July 29, 2017

Welcome, Flathub!

Alex Larsson talks about Flathub at GUADEC 2017At the Gtk+ hackfest in London earlier this year, we stole an afternoon from the toolkit folks (sorry!) to talk about Flatpak, and how we could establish a “critical mass” behind the Flatpak format. Bringing Linux container and sandboxing technology together with ostree, we’ve got a technology that solves real world distribution, technical and security problems that have arguably held back the Linux desktop space and frustrated ISVs and app developers for nearly 20 years. The problem we need to solve, like any ecosystem, is one of users and developers – without stuff you can easily get in Flatpak format, there won’t be many users, and without many users, we won’t have a strong or compelling incentive for developers to take their precious time to understand a new format and a new technology.

As Alex Larsson said in his GUADEC talk yesterday: Decentralisation is good. Flatpak is a tool that is totally agnostic of who is publishing the software and where it comes from. For software freedom, that’s an important thing because we want technology to empower users, rather than tell them what they can or can’t do. Unfortunately, decentralisation makes for a terrible user experience. At present, the Flatpak webpage has a manually curated list of links to 10s of places where you can find different Flatpaks and add them to your system. You can’t easily search and browse to find apps to try out – so it’s clear that if the current situation remains we’re not going to be able to get a critical mass of users and developers around Flatpak.

Enter Flathub. The idea is that by creating an obvious “center of gravity” for the Flatpak community to contribute and build their apps, users will have one place to go and find the best that the Linux app ecosystem has to offer. We can take care of the boring stuff like running a build service and empower Linux application developers to choose how and when their app gets out to their users. After the London hackfest we sketched out a minimum viable system – Github, Buildbot and a few workers – and got it going over the past few months, culminating in a mini-fundraiser to pay for the hosting of a production-ready setup. Thanks to the 20 individuals who supported our fundraiser, to Mythic Beasts who provided a server along with management, monitoring and heaps of bandwidth, and to Codethink and Scaleway who provide our ARM and Intel workers respectively.

We inherit our core principles from the Flatpak project – we want the Flatpak technology to succeed at alleviating the issues faced by app developers in targeting a diverse set of Linux platforms. None of this stops you from building and hosting your own Flatpak repos and we look forward to this being a wide and open playing field. We care about the success of the Linux desktop as a platform, so we are open to proprietary applications through Flatpak’s “extra data” feature where the client machine downloads 3rd party binaries. They are correctly labeled as such in the AppStream, so will only be shown if you or your OS has configured GNOME Software to show you apps with proprietary licenses, respecting the user’s preference.

The new infrastructure is up and running and I put it into production on Thursday. We rebuilt the whole repository on the new system over the course of the week, signing everything with our new 4096-bit key stored on a Yubikey smartcard USB key. We have 66 apps at the moment, although Alex is working on bringing in the GNOME apps at present – we hope those will be joined soon by the KDE apps, and Endless is planning to move over as many of our 3rd party Flatpaks as possible over the coming months.

So, thanks again to Alex and the whole Flatpak community, and the individuals and the companies who supported making this a reality. You can add the repository and get downloading right away. Welcome to Flathub! Go forth and flatten… 🙂

Flathub logo

posted by ramcq @ 4:24 pm
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July 29, 2017

Hello again!

Like all good blog posts, this one starts with an apology about not blogging for ages – in my case it looks like it’s been about 7 years which is definitely a new personal best (perhaps the equally or more remarkable thing is that I have diligently kept WordPress running in the meantime). In that time, as you might expect, a few things have happened, like I met a wonderful woman and fell in love and we have two wonderful children. I also decided to part ways with my “first baby” and leave my role as CTO & co-founder of Collabora. This was obviously a very tough decision – it’s a fantastic team where I met and made many life-long friends, and they are still going strong and doing awesome things with Open Source. However, shortly after that, in February last year, I was lucky enough to land what is basically a dream job working at Endless Computers as the VP of Deployment.

As I’m sure most readers know, Endless is building an OS to bring personal computing to millions of new users across the world. It’s based on Free Software like GNOME, Debian, ostree and Flatpak, and the more successful Endless is, the more people who get access to education, technology and opportunity – and the more FOSS users and developers there will be in the world. But in my role, I get to help define the product, understand our users and how technology might help them, take Open Source out to new people, solve commercial problems to get Endless OS out into the world, manage a fantastic team and work with bright people, learn from great managers and mentors, and still find time to squash bugs, review and write more code than I used to. Like any startup, we have a lot to do and not enough time to do it, so although there aren’t quite enough days in the week, I’m really happy!

In any case, the main point of this blog post is that I’m at GUADEC in Manchester right now, and I’d like to blog about Flathub, but I thought it would be weird to just show up and say that after 7 years of silence without saying hello again. 🙂

posted by ramcq @ 11:45 am
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