It’s been a pretty hectic time during the past months for me here at Endless, busy with updating our desktop to the latest stable version of GNOME Shell (3.26, at the time the process started), among other things. And in all this excitement, it seems like I forgot to blog so I think this time I’ll keep it short for once, and simply link to a video I made a couple of months ago, right when I was about to finish the first phase of the process (which ended up taking a bit longer than expected).
Note that the production of this video is far from high quality (unsurprisingly), but the feedback I got so far is that it has been apparently very useful to explain to less technically inclined people what doing a rebase of this characteristics means, and with that in mind I woke up this morning realizing that it might be good to give it its own entry in my personal blog, so here it is.
(Pro-tip: Enable video subtitles to see contextual info)
After spending a few days in Manchester with other fellow GNOME hackers and colleagues from Endless, I’m finally back at my place in the sunny land of Surrey (England) and I thought it would be nice to write some sort of recap, so here it is:
I arrived in Manchester on Thursday the 27th just on time to go to the pre-registration event where I met the rest of the gang and had some dinner, and that was already a great start. Let’s forget about the fact that I lost my badge even before leaving the place, which has to be some type of record (losing the badge before the conference starts, really?), but all in all it was great to meet old friends, as well as some new faces, that evening already.
Then the 3 core days of GUADEC started. My first impression was that everything (including the accommodation at the university, which was awesome) was very well organized in general, and the venue make it for a perfect place to organize this type of event, so I was already impressed even before things started.
I attended many talks and all of them were great, but if I had to pick my 5 favourite ones I think those would be the following ones, in no particular order:
The GNOME Way, by Allan: A very insightful and inspiring talk, made me think of why we do the things we do, and why it matters. It also kicked an interesting pub conversation with Allan later on and I learned a new word in English (“principled“), so believe me it was great.
Keynote: The Battle Over Our Technology, by Karen: I have no words to express how much I enjoyed this talk. Karen was very powerful on stage and the way she shared her experiences and connected them to why Free Software is important did leave a mark.
Continuous: Past, Present, and Future, by Emmanuele: Sometimes I talk to friends and it strikes me how quickly they dismiss things as CI/CD as “boring” or “not interesting”, which I couldn’t disagree more with. This is very important work and Emmanuele is kicking ass as the build sheriff, so his talk was very interesting to me too. Also, he’s got a nice cat.
The History of GNOME, by Jonathan: Truth to be told, Jonathan already did a rather similar talk internally in Endless a while ago, so it was not entirely new to me, but I enjoyed it a lot too because it brought so many memories to my head: starting with when I started with Linux (RedHat 5.2 + GNOME pre-release!), when I used GNOME 1.x at the University and then moved to GNOME 2.x later on… not to mention the funny anecdotes he mentioned (never imagined the phone ringing while sleeping could be a good thing). Perfectly timed for the 20th anniversary of GNOME indeed!
As I said, I attended other talks too and all were great too, so I’d encourage you to check the schedule and watch the recordings once they are available online, you won’t regret it.
And the next GUADEC will be in… Almería!
One thing that surprised me this time was that I didn’t do as much hacking during the conference as in other occasions. Rather than seeing it as a bad thing, I believe that’s a clear indicator of how interesting and engaging the talks were this year, which made it for a perfect return after missing 3 edition (yes, my last GUADEC was in 2013).
All in all it was a wonderful experience, and I can thank and congratulate the local team and the volunteers who run the conference this year well enough, so here’s is a picture I took where you can see all the people standing up and clapping during the closing ceremony.
Many thanks and congratulations for all the work done. Seriously.
After 3 days of conference, the second part started: “2 days and a bit” (I was leaving on Wednesday morning) of meeting people and hacking in a different venue, where we gathered to work on different topics, plus the occasional high-bandwith meeting in person.
As you might expect, my main interest this time was around GNOME Shell, which is my main duty in Endless right now. This means that, besides trying to be present in the relevant BoFs, I’ve spent quite some time participating of discussions that gathered both upstream contributors and people from different companies (e.g. Endless, Red Hat, Canonical).
This was extremely helpful and useful for me since, now we have rebased our fork of GNOME Shell 3.22, we’re in a much better position to converge and contribute back to upstream in a more reasonable fashion, as well as to collaborate implementing new features that we already have in Endless but that didn’t make it to upstream yet.
And talking about those features, I’d like to highlight two things:
According to the designers this proposal was partially inspired by what we have in Endless, so you can imagine I would be quite happy to see such a plan move forward, as we could help with the coding side of things upstream while reducing our diff for future rebases. Thing is, this is a proposal for now so nothing is set in stone yet, but I will definitely be interested in following and participating of the relevant discussions regarding to this.
Second, as my colleague Georges already vaguely mentioned in his blog post, we had an improvised meeting on Wednesday with one of the designers from Red Hat (Jakub Steiner), where we discussed about a very particular feature upstream has wanted to have for a while and which Endless implemented downstream: management of folders using DnD, right from the apps view.
This is something that Endless has had in its desktop since the beginning of times, but the implementation relied in a downstream-specific version of folders that Endless OS implemented even before folders were available in the upstream GNOME Shell, so contributing that back would have been… “interesting”. But fortunately, we have now dropped that custom implementation of folders and embraced the upstream solution during the last rebase to 3.22, and we’re in a much better position now to contribute our solution upstream. Once this lands, you should be able to create, modify, remove and use folders without having to open GNOME Software at all, just by dragging and dropping apps on top of other apps and folders, pretty much in a similat fashion compared to how you would do it in a mobile OS these days.
We’re still in an early stage for this, though. Our current solution in Endless is based on some assumptions and tools that will simply not be the case upstream, so we will have to work with both the designers and the upstream maintainers to make this happen over the next months. Thus, don’t expect anything to land for the next stable release yet, but simply know we’ll be working on it and that should hopefully make it not too far in the future.
This GUADEC has been a blast for me, and probably the best and my most favourite edition ever among all those I’ve attended since 2008. Reasons for such a strong statement are diverse, but I think I can mention a few that are clear to me:
From a personal point of view, I never felt so engaged and part of the community as this time. I don’t know if that has something to do with my recent duties in Endless (e.g. flatpak, GNOME Shell) or with something less “tangible” but that’s the truth. Can’t state it well enough.
From the perspective of Endless, the fact that 17 of us were there is something to be very excited and happy about, specially considering that I work remotely and only see 4 of my colleagues from the London area on a regular basis (i.e. one day a week). Being able to meet people I don’t regularly see as well as some new faces in person is always great, but having them all together “under the same ceilings” for 6 days was simply outstanding.
GNOME 20th anniversary dinner
Also, as it happened, this year was the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the GNOME project and so the whole thing was quite emotional too. Not to mention that Federico’s birthday happened during GUADEC, which was a more than nice… coincidence? :-) Ah! And we also had an incredible dinner on Saturday to celebrate that, couldn’t certainly be a better opportunity for me to attend this conference!
Last, a nearly impossible thing happened: despite of the demanding schedule that an event like this imposes (and I’m including our daily visit to the pubs here too), I managed to go running every single day between 5km and 10km, which I believe is the first time it happened in my life. I definitely took my running gear with me to other conferences but this time was the only one I took it that seriously, and also the first time that I joined other fellow GNOME runners in the process, which was quite fun as well.
I couldn’t finish this extremely long post without a brief note to acknowledge and thank all the many people who made this possible this year: the GNOME Foundation and the amazing group of volunteers who helped organize it, the local team who did an outstanding job at all levels (venue, accomodation, events…), my employer Endless for sponsoring my attendance and, of course, all the people who attended the event and made it such an special GUADEC this year.
We just released Endless OS 3.2 to the world after a lot of really hard work from everyone here at Endless, including many important changes and fixes that spread pretty much across the whole OS: from the guts and less visible parts of the core system (e.g. a newer Linux kernel, OSTree and Flatpak improvements, updated libraries…) to other more visible parts including a whole rebase of the GNOME components and applications (e.g. mutter, gnome-settings-daemon, nautilus…), newer and improved “Endless apps” and a completely revamped desktop environment.
By the way, before I dive deeper into the rest of this post, I’d like to remind you thatEndless OS is a Operating System that you can download for free from our website, so please don’t hesitate to check it out if you want to try it by yourself. But now, even though I’d love to talk in detail about ALL the changes in this release, I’d like to talk specifically about what has kept me busy most of the time since around March: the full revamp of our desktop environment, that is, our particular version of GNOME Shell.
Endless OS 3.2 as it looks in my laptop right now
If you’re already familiar with what Endless OS is and/or with the GNOME project, you might already know that Endless’s desktop is a forked and heavily modified version of GNOME Shell, but what you might not know is that it was specifically based on GNOME Shell 3.8.
Yes, you read that right, no kidding: a now 4 years old version of GNOME Shell was alive and kicking underneath the thousands of downstream changes that we added on top of it during all that time to implement the desired user experience for our target users, as we iterated based on tons of user testing sessions, research, design visions… that this company has been working on right since its inception. That includes porting very visible things such as the “Endless button”, the user menu, the apps grid right on top of the desktop, the ability to drag’n’drop icons around to re-organize that grid and easily manage folders (by just dragging apps into/out-of folders), the integrated desktop search (+ additional search providers), the window picker mode… and many other things that are not visible at all, but that are required to deliver a tight and consistent experience to our users.
Endless button showcasing the new “show desktop” functionality
Aggregated system indicators and the user menu
Of course, this situation was not optimal and finally we decided we had found the right moment to tackle this situation in line with the 3.2 release, so I was tasked with leading the mission of “rebasing” our downstream changes on top of a newer shell (more specifically on top of GNOME Shell 3.22), which looked to me like a “hell of a task” when I started, but still I didn’t really hesitate much and gladly picked it up right away because I really did want to make our desktop experience even better, and this looked to me like a pretty good opportunity to do so.
By the way, note that I say “rebasing” between quotes, and the reason is because the usual approach of taking your downstream patches on top of a certain version of an Open Source project and apply them on top of whatever newer version you want to update to didn’t really work here: the vast amount of changes combined with the fact that the code base has changed quite a bit between 3.8 and 3.22 made that strategy fairly complicated, so in the end we had to opt for a combination of rebasing some patches (when they were clean enough and still made sense) and a re-implementation of the desired functionality on top of the newer base.
The integrated desktop search in action
New implementation for folders in Endless OS (based on upstream’s)
As you can imagine, and especially considering my fairly limited previous experience with things like mutter, clutter and the shell’s code, this proved to be a pretty difficult thing for me to take on if I’m truly honest. However, maybe it’s precisely because of all those things that, now that it’s released, I look at the result of all these months of hard work and I can’t help but feel very proud of what we achieved in this, pretty tight, time frame: we have a refreshed Endless OS desktop now with new functionality, better animations, better panels, better notifications, better folders (we ditched our own in favour of upstream’s), better infrastructure… better everything!.
Sure, it’s not perfect yet (no such a thing as “finished software”, right?) and we will keep working hard for the next releases to fix known issues and make it even better, but what we have released today is IMHO a pretty solid 3.2 release that I feel very proud of, and one that is out there now already for everyone to see, use and enjoy, and that is quite an achievement.
Removing and app by dragging and dropping it into the trash bin
Now, you might have noticed I used “we” most of the time in this post when referring to the hard work that we did, and that’s because this was not something I did myself alone, not at all. While it’s still true I started working on this mostly on my own and that I probably took on most of the biggest tasks myself, the truth is that several other people jumped in to help with this monumental task tackling a fair amount of important tasks in parallel, and I’m pretty sure we couldn’t have released this by now if not because of the team effort we managed to pull here.
The window picker as activated from the hot corner (bottom – right)
Last, before I finish this post, I’d just like to pre-answer a couple of questions that I guess some of you might have already:
Will you be proposing some of this changes upstream?
Our intention is to reduce the diff with upstream as much as possible, which is the reason we have left many things from upstream untouched in Endless OS 3.2 (e.g. the date/menu panel) and the reason why we already did some fairly big changes for 3.2 to get closer in other places we previously had our very own thing (e.g. folders), so be sure we will upstream everything we can as far as it’s possible and makes sense for upstream.
Actually, we have already pushed many patches to the shell and related projects since Endless moved to GNOME Shell a few years ago, and I don’t see any reason why that would change.
When will Endless OS desktop be rebased again on top of a newer GNOME Shell?
If anything we learned from this “rebasing” experience is that we don’t want to go through it ever again, seriously :-). It made sense to be based on an old shell for some time while we were prototyping and developing our desktop based on our research, user testing sessions and so on, but we now have a fairly mature system and the current plan is to move on from this situation where we had changes on top of a 4 years old codebase, to a point where we’ll keep closer to upstream, with more frequent rebases from now on.
Thus, the short answer to that question is that we plan to rebase the shell more frequently after this release, ideally two times a year so that we are never too far away from the latest GNOME Shell codebase.
And I think that’s all. I’ve already written too much, so if you excuse me I’ll get back to my Emacs (yes, I’m still using Emacs!) and let you enjoy this video of a recent development snapshot of Endless OS 3.2, as created by my colleague Michael Hall a few days ago:
Also, quick shameless plug just to remind you that we have an Endless Community website which you can join and use to provide feedback, ask questions or simply to keep informed about Endless. And if real time communication is your thing, we’re also on IRC (#endless on Freenode) and Slack, so I very much encourage you to join us via any of these channels as well if you want.
Ah! And before I forget, just a quick note to mention that this year I’m going to GUADEC again after a big break (my last one was in Brno, in 2013) thanks to my company, which is sponsoring my attendance in several ways, so feel free to say “hi!” if you want to talk to me about Endless, the shell, life or anything else.