Improving the development experience for GNOME Settings

After Bastien and Rui announced that they were stepping down from maintainership of GNOME Settings, I went ahead and volunteered to take care of it. This was not a random act, though;  for quite some time, I’ve been adding and changing code all around. I was pretty involved in moving to the new layout, and with the help of other contributors, implemented the redesigns of various panels. Clearly, I have a technical debt to the app.

Adding to that, assuming maintainership over it also aligns well with the goals of my employer, Endless, and gives a nice upstream/downstream overlap. With that, I can spend a bigger chunk of my work time on upstream tasks. Moreover, it allows us to have a stronger relationship with the GNOME community — after all, it allows me to bridge the insights and knowledge we gain from our users to a wider community.

Turns out, GNOME Settings is a pretty popular app amongst our users. It is one of the top apps that our users run. Developing and improving it became an important part of our fixed set of tasks. Specially now that we’re on the verge of a big release and one exciting new feature (amongst many!) was added into Settings. I’ll write more about it soon, hold your horses! 🙂

Without further ado, let’s start by checking some facts about Settings.

Knowing Settings

  • It has 371 unique dependencies (give or take, depending on the distro);
  • As of today, there are more than 17,500 commits and 500 tags;
  • It has roughly 440,000 lines of code, effectively making it part of the huge apps of GNOME, together with Evolution, GNOME Builder and Mutter.
  • It has 24 panels, the latest one being Thunderbolt;
  • First commit dates back to February 10th 1998, 21:22:12

As you can see, this is really no regular GNOME app. It has an old code base, half a million lines of code, dozens of thousands of commits and went through a lot of contributors. During all this time, it has being serving as the central hub of hardware and modules setting management. This gives us the dimension of this app.

But life is not a bed of roses.

Problems

Of course, during this time, GNOME Settings aged, was rewritten at least three times, and more recently was ported to another build system, Meson. Maintaining an app of this size, with such a colossal amount of knowledge involved, is not easy.

As I learn and find my way around the code base, a few problems were found:

  • You need to have the development packages of everything to build it. This is obvious, but I don’t really enjoy messing up with my host system.
  • It is not trivial to debug Settings. There was only a rudimentary logging system around.
  • There are at least 4 different code styles being used, and none documented.
  • Tests were scattered all around the code base.

With that, the reader hopefully  has enough context to follow the rest of this article: the recent changes that make the development experience of GNOME Settings smoother and more streamlined.

Flatpak, Flakpat, Flaptak, Flatkap, Flapkat!

Flatpak is an application distribution module, and has high adoption from the GNOME community. Turns out, Flatpak also became an excellent development tool, much beyond my initial expectations. It allows me, as a developer, to have a finer control over the build and execution environment, and keeps my system clean and organized. It allows me to install multiple versions of a given app, and they’ll share every common file they have. It’s awesome.

Flatpak is also tightly integrated into GNOME Builder, and developing apps on Builder with Flatpak is a super smooth experience these days. Thanks to Christian Hergert, we have a prime quality IDE!

This led to the creation of a Flatpak manifest for GNOME Settings. Of course, GNOME Settings is not meant to run as a Flatpak by end users. The Flatpak integration is strictly for development purposes.

You'll be warned when running Settings with Flatpak.
You’ll be warned when running Settings with Flatpak.

Spotlights to the blueish “I am a development version” header bar:

Blue headerbars
Fancy header bar!

These details might seem small, but they transform the development experience from a burden to a breeze. One can literally clone GNOME Settings from GNOME Builder and just press the Run button – everything will happen automatically. Besides that, Flatpak integration means I can develop GNOME Settings in a locked host system, such as Endless OS or Fedora Atomic, without having to unlock it and install development packages.

This work was partially done in my work time. Thanks Endless for letting me improve my own workflow 😛

Faster CI

GNOME Settings gained rudimentary CI support just before the 3.28 release. It allows us to have fancy green icons on commits, like these:

CI in action
We’re in a good state, everything is building!

CI is important to make sure everything is always building and working fine. Merge requests are always built before being merged, and having a more automated contribution workflow benefits everyone.

But it was inefficient and bloated.

Thanks to the independent contributor Claudio André, the CI was completely revamped. The build process was shrinked, the build environment was standardized so we can reliably reproduce build failures, and the fat was trimmed. In fact, CI times were cut down from 17 minutes to 3 minutes in average.

Thanks Claudio for your contributions!

Tests, More and Better

Another important aspect of improving the development experience is adding more tests, that validate a larger portion of the code base.

Thanks to Red Hat’s Benjamin Berg, the tests in GNOME Settings were reorganized and improved. As a courtesy, more network tests were also added. These tests are integrated into the CI, and every contribution is tested in a job:

CI in Gitlab
The tests run on every commit, and every merge request.

For obvious reasons, tests are absolutely important to avoid regressions. Unfortunately, though, the tests available in GNOME Settings don’t cover even a tiny fraction of the code base. Writting tests is a great way to start contributing to GNOME Settings!

Thanks Benjamin for reorganizing the tests!

Documentation

In addition to all this mentioned work, I personally have been working on improving the developer documentation available in GNOME Settings. As first steps in that direction, the current code style was documented and contribution guidelines were added.

The goal here is that people unfamiliar with the code base can find answers about code style by their own, reducing the communication overload and making the whole contribution process more efficient. It is also important to clearly document what is the expected behavior of contributors.

Improving the documentation is another wonderful and easy way to contribute.

But That’s not all

Even though these advancements mark a real improvement over the current state, there is a long way ahead. Ideally, we want to automate everything that can be automated, and test everything that should be tested. Settings needs and deserves to have some fresh air and code!

A unmerged feature that Claudio worked on is generating development Flatpak bundles. This is useful to lower the testing barrier, since one wouldn’t need to build Settings AND all the dependencies whatsoever. Just download, double-click the file, install and run. Dead easy.

If you have ideas on how the DX can be improved, feel free to share them! I’d love to hear your comments, suggestions, and ideas.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank my employer, Endless, for letting me use part of my work time to develop what I developed. I’d also like to thank Red Hat’s Benjamin Berg for reworking the test suite; independent contributor Claudio André, for making the CI smooth and fast; and specially Bastien Nocera, for helping and advising and reviewing code even after stepping down from the maintainer position.

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GNOME Calendar 3.28.2 released

Another quick PSA:

GNOME Calendar 3.28.2 was released yesterday.

If you were having crashes and problems, please upgrade immediately. Quite a few crashers were fixed, and a few polishes went in too. Hopefully the experience of using Calendar will be much more pleasant now.

This new version was available in Flathub just half an hour after yesterday’s official announcement. Flathub is the only distribution mechanism that I officially support – if you rely on distro packages, please ask your distro maintainers to update.

That’s all for now.

The Infamous GNOME Shell Memory Leak

Memory graph

Greetings GNOMErs,

at this point, I think it’s safe to assume that many of you already heard of a memory leak that was plaguing GNOME Shell. Well, as of yesterday, the two GitLab’s MRs that help fixing that issue were merged, and will be available in the next GNOME version. The fixes are being considered for backporting to GNOME 3.28 – after making sure they work as expected and don’t break your computer.

First, I’d like to thank the GJS maintainer, Philip C., for all the hand-holding, the reviews, and the incredibly insightful discussions we had. Secondly, to my employer, Endless, for the support they gave me to fix this issue. And last but not least, to the Ubuntu folks, which made a public call for testing with the changes – this will give us confidence that the fix is working, and that backporting it will be a relatively safe and smooth process.

banner-down
As always, great new features and fixes are a courtesy of Endless

I’m writing this blog post with three goals in mind:

  1. Explain in greater details what is the issue (or at least, what we think it is), the journey to find it, and how it was fixed.
  2. Give more exposure to important extra work from other contributors that absolutely deserve more credits.
  3. Expose a social issue that showed up during this time, and open a discussion about it.

Memory Leak

To me, it all started when I saw GitLab’s ticket #64 passing by in the IRC channels. It was challenging enough, I was curious to dig into GNOME Shell/Mutter/GJS internals, perfect match. Of course, when you’re not familiar with a given codebase, the first step to fixing a bug is being able to reproduce it, so I started to play around with GNOME Shell to see if I could find a reliable way to reproduce it.

Well, I found a way and wrote a very simple observation: running animations (showing and hiding the Overview, switching applications using Alt+Tab, etc) was reliably increasing memory usage. Then a few people came in, and dropped bits of useful information here and there. But at this point, it was still pointing to a wide range of directions, and definitely there was not actionable task there. This is when OMG! Ubuntu first wrote about it.

Carlos Garnacho then came in and wrote a pretty relevant comment with important information. It was specially insightful because he put numbers on the guts of GNOME Shell. His comment was the first real solid step to uncover what was going on.

A week passed, and I experimented different toys tools in order to have a better understanding of memory management inside GNOME Shell. This is the kind of tedious work that nobody talks about, but I learned tons of new stuff, so in the end it was worth the hassle. I even wrote about my crazy experiments, and the results of this long week are documented in a long comment in GNOME/gnome-shell#64. I kept experimenting until I reached heapgraph, an interesting tool that allowed generating the following picture:

Memory graph
Notice the sudden drops of memory at x=42 and x=71

Well, as stated in the comment, GJS’ garbage collect was indeed collecting memory when triggered. Problem is, it wasn’t being triggered at all. That was the leading clue to one of the problems that was going on. One idea came to my mind, then, and I decided to investigate it further.

A Simple Example

Consider that we have a few objects in memory, and they have parent/child relationships:

Example 1
The root object is “1”

Lets suppose that we decided that we don’t need the root object anymore, so we drop a reference to it, and it is marked for garbage collection.

Example 2
The root object is now marked for garbage collection

If we destroy the root object, we would need to destroy the other objects related to it, and go destroying everyone that depended, directly or indirectly, on the root object. Traditionally, JavaScript objects track who they own, so the garbage collector can clean up every other dependent object. Here’s the problem: C objects don’t track who owns them; instead, they only track how many owners they have. This is the traditional reference counting mechanism, and it works fine in C land because C is not garbage collected. To the garbage collector, however, the C objects would look like this:

Example 3
The garbage collector has no means to know the relationships between C objects.

The garbage collector, then, will go there and destroy the root one. This object will be finalized, and the directly dependent objects will be marked for garbage collection.

Example 4
Only the directly dependent objects are marked for the next garbage collection.

But… when will the next GC happen? Who knows! Can be now, can be in 10 minutes, or tomorrow morning! And that was the biggest offender to the memory leak – objects were piling up to be garbage collected, and these objects had child objects that would only be collected after, and so it goes. In other words, this is not really a memory leak – the memory is not being lost. I’d label it as a “misbehavior” instead.

The Solution

While people might think this was somehow solved, the patches that were merged does not fix that in the way it should be fixed. The “solution” is basically throwing a grenade to kill ants. We now queue a garbage collection every time an object is marked for destruction. So every single time an object becomes red, as in the example, we queue a GC. This is, of course, a very aggressive solution.

But it is not all bad. Some early tests shows that this has a small impact on performance – at least, it’s much smaller than what we were expecting. A very convincing explanation is that the higher frequency of GCs is reducing the number of things that are being destroyed each GC. So now we have smaller and more frequent garbage collections.

EDIT: Looks like people need more clarification here, since the comments about it are just plain wrong. I’ll be technical, and precise – if you don’t understand, please do some research. The garbage collector is scheduled every time a GObject wrapped in GJS has its toggle reference gone from >1 to 1. And scheduled here means that a GC is injected into the mainloop as an idle callback, that will be executed when there’s nothing else to be executed in the mainloop. The absolute majority of the time, it means that only one GC will happen, even if hundreds of GObjects are disposed. I’ve spotted in the wild it happening twice. This fix is strictly specific to GObjects wrapped by GJS; all other kinds of memory management, such as strings and whatever else, aren’t affected by this fix. Together with this patch, an accompanying solution landed that reduces the number of objects with a toggle reference.

This obviously needs more testing on a wider ranger of hardwares, specially on lower ends. But, quite honestly, I’m personally sure that this apparently small performance penalty is compensated by the memory management gains.

Other Improvements

While the previous section covered my side of this history, there are a few other contributors that did a great job, and I think it would be unfair with them if their work was not properly highlighted.

Red Hat’s Carlos Garnacho published two merge requests for GJS that, in my testing, substantially improved the smoothness of GNOME Shell. The first one changes the underlying data structure of JS objects, which allows us to stop using an O(n) algorithm and starting an O(1) one. The second one is particularly interesting, and it yields the most noticeable improvements in my computer. Gross, it vastly reduces the number of temporary memory allocations. He also has a number of patches on Mutter and GNOME Shell.

Another prominent contributor regarding performance is Canonical’s Daniel van Vugt, which helped early testing the GJS patches, and is doing some deep surgeries in Mutter to make the rendering smoother.

And for every great contributor, there is a great reviewer too. It would be extremely unfair if those relevant people haven’t had their work valued by the community, so please, take a moment to appreciate their work. They deserve it.

Final Thoughts

At this point, hopefully the cautious reader will have at least a superficial knowledge on the problem, the solution, and other relevant work around the performance topic. Which is good – if I managed to communicate that well enough, by the time you finish reading this blog post, you’ll have more knowledge. And more knowledge is good.

You can stop here if you want nothing more than technical knowldedge.

Still around?

Well, I’d like to raise an interesting discussion about how people reacted to the memory leak news, and reflect upon that. By reading the repercussions of the news, I found it quite intriguing to read comments like these:

weird comment 1

Captura de tela de 2018-04-20 22-51-53

Captura de tela de 2018-04-20 22-52-17

As a regular contributor for the last few years, this kind of comment sound alien to me. These comments sound completely disconnected to the reality of the development process of GNOME. It completely misses the individuality of the people involved. Maybe because we all know each other, but it is just plain impossible to me to paint this whole community as “they”; “GNOME developers”; etc. To a deeper degree, it misses the nuances and the beauty of community-driven development, and each and every individual that make it happen.

To some degree, I think this is a symptom of users being completely disconnected to GNOME development itself.

It almost feels like there’s a wall between the community and the users of what this community produces. Which is weird. We are an open community, with open development, no barriers for new contributors – and yet, there is such a distance between the community of users and the community of developers/designers/outreachers/etc.

Is that a communication problem from our side? How can we bridge this gap? Well, do we want to bridge this gap? Is it healthy to reduce the communication bandwidth in order to increase focus, or would it be better to increase that and deal with the accompanying noise?

I would love to hear your opinions, comments and thoughts on this topic.

Leak Hunting and Mutter Hacking

Greetings GNOMErs!

Last week, when I upgraded to GNOME 3.28, I was sad to notice an extremely annoying bug in Mutter/GNOME Shell: every once in a while, a micro-stuttering happened. This was in additions to another bug that was disappointing me for quite a while: the tiling/maximize/unmaximize animations were not working on Wayland too.

About the former, it may not look like the end of the world, but trust me when I say that a split-second delay every ~10s is the perceived difference of a butter smooth and a trashy experience.

Of course, this is free software, we are free people, and I have this habit of fixing up whatever is bothering me. Naturally, I decided to fix them. I decided to document my journey for people that want to try Mutter/GNOME Shell development be less scared.

Animations

I decided to start working on the animations, since there was a comment written by Jonas Ådahl to bug 780292 that was a leading clue to whatever the issue was. Time to open GNOME Builder, and clone Mutter.

Mutter + Wayland + (Mutter + Wayland + (App))

While testing these changes, I obviously needed to run Mutter and see what was happening. Since we’re talking about Wayland, I was specifically interested in seeing which messages were being sent by the application and which message Mutter was receiving.

To dump the Wayland calls made by an application, we can just use the WAYLAND_DEBUG env var, like this:

$ WAYLAND_DEBUG=1 <application>

This should dump a lot of information into the terminal. This might or might not be useful to you.

One obvious way to test changes in Mutter is to build and install Mutter system-wide, then reboot. Rebooting takes almost 5 minutes to me. Clearly not a good approach. But Mutter has a nested mode where it can run inside another Mutter session.

To run a nested Mutter Wayland session:

$ mutter –nested –wayland

If your changes are making Mutter crash, you might want to run it with GDB. But Mutter is built with Autotools, which of course makes every single thing more complicated than it should be. You’ll notice that src/mutter is not an executable, but a wrapper script. To run Mutter under GDB, do that:

$ libtool –mode=execute gdb mutter

(gdb opens)

> r –nested –wayland

This will open a window with your new raw Mutter session. To run any graphical application against this new nested Mutter, as long as the toolkit supports Wayland, run:

$ WAYLAND_DISPLAY=wayland-1 <application>

Inspecting Mutter and Wayland

This was the trickiest part to me. Mutter has some env vars to control debugging, but I could not use them properly. Either it would dump too much info, or nothing useful at all.

I then decided to go the dumb way and just add dozens of prints around the code.

If you’re aware of any better way to do that, please leave a comment!

The Issue

The root of the issue was in this function:

static void
zxdg_surface_v6_set_window_geometry (struct wl_client   *client,
                                     struct wl_resource *resource,
                                     int32_t             x,
                                     int32_t             y,
                                     int32_t             width,
                                     int32_t             height)
{
  MetaWaylandSurface *surface = surface_from_xdg_surface_resource (resource);

  surface->pending->has_new_geometry = TRUE;
  surface->pending->new_geometry.x = x;
  surface->pending->new_geometry.y = y;
  surface->pending->new_geometry.width = width;
  surface->pending->new_geometry.height = height;
}

Can you spot the issue here?

Look again.

Notice that Mutter is accepting whatever the new geometry is. It doesn’t check if the new geometry differs from the current. When the geometry doesn’t change, we should not report anything to the compositor. If the compositor is GNOME Shell, things get even worse: we go through the JS trampoline, which is slow, when could have avoided it.

Apparently, GTK reports geometry changes even when they don’t happen, e.g. when hovering whatever area of the window. Every single one of these hundreds of geometry changes that didn’t actually change per second would go though IPC to Mutter, which will mindlessly jump into the compositor’s JS trampoline just to do… nothing. Because the geometry didn’t actually changed.

This was fixed by this commit.

Stuttering

The second point that was actually freaking me out was that Mutter was waking up my discrete GPU quite often. On a PRIME system, this means the GPU is put to sleep after a few seconds without being used. Every wakeup would produce an incredibly annoying stutter.

This was only happening on Wayland.

After further investigation, I came up with this temporary fix until Mutter becomes smarter about how it should handle GPUs. This one is already merged, and will be available on the next GNOME 3.28 release!

Memory Leak

Oh, dear, the infamous memory leak… I’ll just leave this link to the GitLab comment. Go figure.

On GNOME 3.27.90, time management, and a goodbye

Greetings GNOMErs,

It’s been a long time I don’t write here. These past months were excruciatingly busy and intense, and lots of things happened but I didn’t manage to keep up with the blog posts. I’ll try to condense everything that happened and is still happening and will happen here.

Calendar & To Do

I spent a good part of January polishing and fixing bugs in Calendar and To Do. Just to name a few:

  • GNOME Calendar
    • A huge memory leak in Calendar was fixed.
    • The support for weather forecast in Calendar was polished.
    • Calendar’s codebase was modernized and cleaned up. This has no user-visible side effects (except, of course, the bugs that are avoided because of that), but maintaining a clean and modern codebase is absolutely essential to keep the project healthy, the maintainers motivated, and the new contributors excited.
    • Many warnings and crashes were fixed.
  • GNOME To Do
    • The Todoist integration was reworked, and is much more stable and functional now. More improvements will land before 3.28, but this was already a remarkable rework.
    • The Todo.txt integration also received some attention, but is not yet where I want it to be. The support for subtasks was temporarily dropped until we figure out a way to implement it correctly. If anyone knows something about it, please comment below.
    • The Flatpak support matured a lot in the past few days, and now the Flatpak Nightly version will enable tracing by default. This will simplify the lives of users that want to test it and report bugs; and maintainers (read: me) that want to fix stuff before the stable release.

I’m feeling a bit pressured to put these apps in a good shape for GNOME 3.28, specially To Do, since it was selected to be installed by default on Ubuntu and I don’t want the new users having a bad and unstable experience. I also don’t want to deal with hundreds of possibly bugs after the release.

Settings (aka Control Center)

I’ve been working a lot recently on GNOME Settings, and reviewed (quite literally) more than a hundred patches in the past couple of weeks. Lots of interesting stuff landed:

  • GNOME Settings switched to Meson. The build times were cut down by a factor of 5, it is amazing!
  • A new Background panel is in the works, and appearently reaching a good state. Hopefully it’ll be ready before 3.28.
  • A new privacy option is about to be added (we’re just figuring out the wording) that blocks phoning home to detect the network status. Privacy-aware users will enjoy that new option.
  • Lots of smaller cleanups and code refactorings.

Now, something happened to Settings these days; it lost its maintainer. I’ve been trying to act as a maintainer during this blackout, and I’d be happy to continue doing that. Fortunately, there are many other heroes involved (shouts to Bastien Nocera, Debarshi Ray, Robert Ancell, Julian Sparber, Ondrej Holy,  and many others for your contributions and being great maintainers.)

Hopefully Settings is already in a good shape for 3.28, and will get even more solid in the following weeks.

A New Master

Big news: I’ve finished writing my Masters’ thesis, and it’s over now. It was a hell of a ride, and seeing in retrospective, I think enrolling a Masters did me more harm than good.

I’m finishing it with a bittersweet taste in my mouth; I’ve learned a lot, but, for many reasons, it was a bad experience overall that led me to a few burnouts and episodes of night terror and depression. I made the mistake of not stopping when I should, and advancing in this shitswamp had pretty catastrophic implications, including physical ones (in one of these nights of terror, I cut my own hand with a knife, and it was painful to use the computer for a couple of weeks.)

It is now over, and I’ll need to recover from the past 2.5 years. Which leads us to…

A Goodbye

But hey, it’s only for a month! I’ll be taking some weeks off and disconnecting from everything (including GNOME, Endless, family and everything else), a time that I’ll spend backpacking through some places around the world. I’ll refrain to tell where since I want to avoid being recognized (it’s not like I’m famous, but who knows!). I’ll be with my wife, and only her, during this period.

I just hope my apps don’t fall apart during this time. For someone who is routinely connected and helping others on IRC channels, disconnecting will be an interesting experience; perhaps agonizing in the first few days, but only time will tell.

So, see y’all in a month I guess? 🙂

The Road to 3.28: Calendar and To Do

New tasklist view in To Do 3.27

Greetings my GNOME friends!

It’s been a long time with no news. I guess work and masters are really getting in the way… good news is that I’ll finish masters in 2 months, and will have some free time to devote to this beloved project.

“Bad” news is that, after almost 6 years, I’ll finally take some time to have a real vacation. I’ll stay 3 weeks out of the loop in February, a time where I’ll be traveling to the other side of the world, watching the sunset at the beach with my wife. Without a computer. While it’s unfortunate to the community, I think this time is necessary for my mental health – I’ve gone way too many times through the almost-burned-out state recently.

But even with all of these thing in our way, thanks to the help of awsome old and new contributors, Calendar and To Do received a lot of new features!

Calendar

Lets begin with my beloved Calendar. My focus for the past weeks was rewriting the Month view. It was a hard, painful process, but I can say for sure now that, of the very few responsive widgets in GNOME, the Month view is the best one! 😛

The most substantial changes were:

  • The day numbers are at the top of each cell now. This is thanks to the hard design work of Allan Day, Jean-François and Lapo.
  • Each cell now only shows the overflow button when absolutely necessary. When implementing this new behavior, a few longstanding issues were fixed.
  • The Month view now finally has a fully working, sane code to deal with RTL languages.
  • When clicking the +N button, the cell “zooms in” and display the list of events. This is a big design improvement over the popovers that we were using.
  • Code-wise, the Month view code that position the events is an order of magnitude simpler and easier to read. It may sound like a purely technical matter, but it has user-visible effects too: easier, cleaner code means more features and less issues in the future.

Of course, no words can make people as excited as a sequence of pictures! Lets check this out:

 

The animations were implemented usuing the animation framework in libdazzle, all thanks to Christian Hergert’s work on GNOME Builder. Kudos!

For the next cycle, thanks to the hard work of a new and awsome contributor Florian Brosch, this is what’s coming next:

Weather indication in Week view
Weather indication

We’re on track to land the features that were proposed for this cycle. You can check out the plans at the Roadmap page of Calendar. You can also get help us with these tasks with design, code and testing!

To Do

GNOME To Do also received a lot of attention already. We’re going through a big redesign, thanks to the leading design work of Tobias Bernard, and the results are already gratifying.

The immeditaly noticeable change is the tasklist view:

New tasklist view in To Do 3.27
New tasklist view in To Do 3.27

 

The rows are entirely draggable now. I’ll continue working on these features, but more importantly, I want people to take some of this work over and contribute to the project!

Talking about managing tasks, GNOME To Do was moved to GitLab! I can’t state how much of an improvement it is over the previous Bugzilla approach. We now have an updated and organized Kanban Board:

 

GNOME To Do in GitLab: the Kanban Board
GNOME To Do in GitLab: the Kanban Board

The reason for that is to have a consolidated workflow:

  • A designer moves the task to “Design” column and works on it.
  • Once design is settled, a developer moves the task to the “Development” column and fixes/implements the task.
  • When the task if implemented, the developer moves the task to “Code Review” column, and a maintainer will review the code.
  • Once the code is reviewed and the code landed, the task is moved to the “QA” column, where a tester will pick up and test it.
  • When all the regressions and issues of that task are fixed, the task is closed

So far, the experience with this workflow has been outstanding. We were able to find out much more bugs due to QA being a first-class citizen in the process.  Filing bugs is now a breeze too! There are bug templates already available, and I took the burden and made a colossal cleanup and organization of the bug list:

GNOME To Do in GitLab: Issue Templates
GNOME To Do in GitLab: Issue Templates

I encourage everyone to not trust me and go check it out: https://gitlab.gnome.org/GNOME/gnome-todo. The downside is that I’m feeling incredibly demotivated to check Calendar bugs in Bugzilla now 😦

We’re Not Quite There Yet

While many of these changes are super exciting, this is just the first part of the cycle. There are much more to work on, and the more people get involved, the more we will accomplish. Things are moving in a fast pace, and I’m incredibly happy with the direction of these projects.

To help pushing community involvement, I went ahead and wrote a page describing how can you help testing. With Flatpak, this is ridiculously easy – and yet, absolutely necessary! So, don’t hesitate to get in touch and help us shaping the next GNOME version.

See you all around o/

Improved half tiling available in Mutter 3.26.1

A late night announcement: the improved tiling patches (shown in a previous blog post) were merged in Mutter and and GTK+3, and will be available in GNOME 3.26.1 / GTK 3.22.23 (not yet released; should be available this week).

I’d like to thank Florian Muellner, Matthias Clasen, Jonas Adahl and AlexGS for all their support, time, code reviews and testing.

Have a wonderful night!

Visual revamp of GNOME To Do

Greetings, GNOME friends!

I’m a fan of productivity. It is not a coincidence that I’m the maintainer of Calendar and To Do. And even though I’m not a power user, I’m a heavy user of productivity applications.

For some time now, I’m finding the overall experience of GNOME To Do clumsy and far from ideal. Recently, I received a thank you email from a fellow user, and I asked they what they think that could be improved.

It was not a surprise when they said To Do’s interface is clumsy too.

That motivated me to experiment and bother our designers about ways to improve GNOME To Do. With the great help of Tobias Bernard, a super awsome contributor, we could figure out a way to improve the current situation.

Opaque Task Rows

One of the problems of GNOME To Do was the translucent task rows. Priorities would be semi-transparent colors applied on top of transparent rows.

Of course this mess could lead to things like this:

Mess
Can you tell which tasks are high, medium and low priority tasks?

After some investigation, a lot of experimentation and feedback from multiple design team members, we could come up with this:

New colors
All opaque rows with priorities at the borders.

I personally think this is a small, but huge improvement over the previous state. When you have to stare at tasklists for hours, the minor annoyances are what causes the biggest frustrations.

Inline Editing

Another big aspect of To Do that was the task editor panel. This was initially made based on some old mockups, but this proved to not be the ideal experience.

The biggest problem was that there were no connection between the editor and the task. Of course there is an arrow pointing to the task row, but consider that:

  • The task title is edited in the task row
  • All other fields are edited in the side panel
  • The arrow might now be obvious to spot
  • The real representation of the task was the row, not the panel

So Tobias suggested me inline editing of tasks. I went ahead and implemented it, and the result looked actually very good!

Inline editing
Editing the task where the task is represented.

The necessary width was reduced, and now the window can be shrinked to small sizes. And it works nicely on Dark Themes too:

Dark theme
New rows on Dark Theme variant

This work already landed on master, and will be part of GNOME To Do 3.28. And, of course, our traditional sequence of images:

 

Any comments? Thoughts? Please let me know in the comments! And don’t ever forget, you can always get involved – you just need to get in touch, and join us at #gnome-todo at irc.gnome.org.

Enjoy!

GNOME 3.26 is great

Greetings!

I am incredibly excited for GNOME 3.26, and it’s been hard to wait for it. I openly admit this fact. This release saw serious, important improvements all over the places, new features landed, some others didn’t, thousands of bugs were fixed all across the platform, and I’d like to share my personal highlights for this release.

Calendar

As the result of a successfull Google Summer of Code project from Yash Singh, Calendar now supports events with recurrences. So far he did an outstanding job! There ain’t no secret in using it, and in fact it should be as simple as one could expect. Here’s a small video showcasing this new feature:

 

To Do

Another successful Summer of Code project from Rohit Kaushik introduced Todoist integration. This was made in cooperation with a GNOME Recipes intern, and many improvements to the entire stack landed.

Todoist in GNOME To Do
Todoist in GNOME To Do.

Builder

What can we say about Christian Hergert’s work on GNOME Builder? It’s simple wonderful! This cycle, GNOME Builder received a redesign UI, code indexing, documentation cards, debugging capabilities and a great fullscreen mode. The code highlight is working like a charm too.

GNOME Builder 3.26
GNOME Builder 3.26 showing documentation card and displaying the functions with ‘gcal_manager’ prefix.

After using Builder for a couple of years now, I can finally say that, as a user of the application, it now covers all of my big needs. I am really happy to see how Builder is coming along, and how my development workflow was improved by this tool. Really, it allows me to code much faster now!

Thanks Christian, you deserve all the best!

Games!

Games is an app that I have a love and hate relationship. I love how simple and straightforward and powerful it is – specially because I love retro games – but I hate how it tempts me to spend my time playing instead of working.

I think Games is the GNOME app that makes the best usage of Tracker currently. It literally just works. I can plug my joystick, select a game and play it. And, because it uses libretro, I can play the games I love the most: Playstation games. Even the ones with multiple disks!

GNOME Games
I’m terribly awful playing Megaman X6 😦 Still fun though

Thanks Adrien for creating this great app 🙂

Flatpak

I didn’t say this before, but nowadays I only use the unstable version of GNOME apps through Flatpak’s Nightly channel. Also, I run Steam and Spotify through Flathub.

It works like magic. Almost literally.

You should give it a try.

Stability. I love Stability.

When I wrote my impressions about the 3.24 release, I was really frustrated about the overall experience of 3.24. Having a session that crashes every 2 minutes when you already have your own tight deadlines didn’t help.

Things improved drastically during the cycle, of course – thanks to the tireless efforts of Philip Chimento. He was brave to make himself responsible for a very core component (GJS) and work on it. He fixed all the worst bugs already, and the JS platform is finally advancing again thanks to him. We should really get him a drink, don’t you agree? 🙂

And I now realize that I wrote about those issues in the worst possible way I could’ve. And, from the very bottom of my heart, I beg the pardon of the community about that.

Sorry, folks.

My Contributions

This cycle, I did a few things that I’m happy. Specially because I myself will benefit from them as well! 🙂

Settings

You’re probably aware of it already, but GNOME Control Center’s UI was revamped and rebranded as “Settings”. I think that this rebrand, together with GNOME Tweak Tools becoming “Tweaks”, make it clearer and more obvious the different purposes of those apps.

New Network panel
The new, single column Network panel

The panels are now much more consistent, and the overall experience should be more streamlined now. It’s looking simple and intuitive, and yet we present the same ammount of features! I wrote about it in this blog post. Even though this work was huge, and I am feeling mentally tired after this battle, I’m also very happy we managed to get this done for 3.26.

Thanks for everyone involved!

Fullscreen Mode in Builder

This was one tiny contribution from my side, and Christian was the one that actually made it great. But it makes Builder much more usable on a standard 1366×768 screen, where I can’t half-tile it. This is how it used to look like:

Yay!

Moar Music Performance

Another cycle, another round of performance improvements in GNOME Music. This time, an issue in the Album Art loading code was killed with fire. Check this out:

 

Quarter Tiling, where are you?

This is complicated. As you know, I’m not a window manager expert. And Mutter is huge, with dozens of edge cases that I didn’t know of. This led to me spending a stupidly long time testing a high number of different setups and configurations.

The good news: the patches are working.

The bad news: they couldn’t make it for 3.26.

Depending on the willingness of Florian, and the acceptance of the Release Team, I can try and request a feature freeze break for 3.26.1, but there of course is a chance that this is not going to be accepted. Which is totally reasonable, few people are willing to introduce potentially buggy new features in stable releases.

Even if it doesn’t make for 3.26, I’ll continue to work towards quarter tiling and we, at the very least, can expect it to be very well tested for 3.28.


I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions. What are your impressions about this GNOME release? Drop a comment below!

Introducing Settings (or, the new Control Center)

Greetings my friends,

if you’re following the GNOME development closely, you’re now more than aware of this movement of reworking GNOME Control Center. It was a remarkably colossal work, specially because we used a bottom-up approach: fix the panels, then switch to the new shell.

With the release of GNOME 3.25.91, I’m proud to say: the new Settings layout is the official one now.

This is how it looks like:

Captura de tela de 2017-08-23 21-00-21
The new Settings app

A Long Road

… It all began one year and a half ago. I wrote about it at the time, remember? 🙂

When Jon McCann and Allan Day expressed their vision of how a Settings application should work in the form of mockups, I was particularly excited with them. Specially because, with these mockups, we could easily make Settings work on low resolution displays, which is a very important feature for Endless. Since I adapted GNOME Control Center downstream for them, and we all agree that upstream would be better, it made sense for them to support me working on the new Settings layout.

Chronologically speaking, this is how the work unrolled:

Overall, it took 18 months of work from 15 different people (some more involved than others) and more than 30.000 lines of code changed. This work was massive. Thanks to all the contributors who gave their time and energy for free in order to make it happen.

The new Network panel

You read that right. The last big panel that required an update was Networks. This because it used the old 2-column layout, as you can see here:

Old Network panel
The old, 2-column Network panel

While this layout worked well enough with the previous Control Center layout, it would be inconsistent with the new Control Center layout, since both the panel and the shell would have a sidebar. Thus, we could not set the new Control Center shell until we fixed these panels with 2 columns.

But fortunately, using my remaining energy and abusing the super awsome Rui Tiago Matos’ review capabilities, we managed to review this old mammoth panel and the result is actually nice! This is how it looks now:

New Network panel
The new, single column Network panel

This panel, however, is not final; we’ll do another UI review for the next cycle, and split the cellphone Bluetooth connections into a new panel called Mobile Broadband. The advanced connection editor dialog also received a very needed UI review as well:

Improved connection editor dialog
The improved advanced connection editor dialog

This, as you can imagine, is also not final. The idea for the next cycle is to continue improving this dialog so that we can present the same (or even more) ammount of options in a much saner and simpler way, avoiding confusion and misconfigurations.

Introducing Settings, the new Control Center

Settings is the rebranded name of Control Center. I won’t be mouthful here when I can show you that, right? There you go:

 

Thanks to Jakub Steiner, the Details and Devices rows have dedicated icons that looks super great! Check this out:

New Icons
The new symbolic icons in Devices and Details rows

Allan, Rui and I spent the past couple of weeks fine tuning tons of minor details and the overall behavior of the new Settings layout. More than 40 minor improvements landed in the mean time, and we can expect even more during the next week.

Next Steps

Improve the Sound panel, do another UI iteration over the Network and Wi-Fi panel, introduce the Mobile Broadband panel and fix all the countless bugs that appeared because of this work.

All in all, I’m personally loving how this work went; how many contributors appeared and gave their personal touch to this work; and also, how supportive and positive the community reception was.

(Pshh, only between us; the GNOME community – both users and contributors – is just awsome!)

Of course, as one can imagine, this work was not without flaws. Lots of them were caught early in the cycle, but some issues will only be found by users testing this new work. So, if you’re not sure about how to start contributing, let me reassure that testing the new Settings and filing bugs would be a tremendous contribution. Bonus points if you provide a patch fixing that issue!

Acknowledgements

Many contributors were involved in this colossal work, but I’d like to personally thank Felipe Borges, Bastien Nocera, Allan Day, Mohammed Sadiq and Rui Tiago (in no particular order) for their role on this work, ranging from UI review, panel porting and code review.

I’d also like to thank my employer, Endless, to support me work on this since the very beggining. While this was not my main focus of work, without the support, it wouldn’t be possible at all.

Because, if you still didn’t know…

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