How I became a GNOME contributor

Recently, I was asked by my fellow GNOME friends to write how did I transitioned from nothing to a GNOME contributor. The intention is to motivate people to engage. I don’t think my story is that exciting, but, well, why not? If someone gets motivated and start contributing, goal achieved. But beware: there ain’t any TL;DR here. it’s just a long story.

So, where should I start?

From Childhood to Early Contributions

My relationship with computers began at early age, since I was literate by my parents using an old computer we gained from a relative. I remember searching “how to create exe files” around 2004, and that search result yelled me a Yahoo! Answers question with “you need to learn a programming language. Start with C”.

And so I did.

My first app was a command line calculator. Moving to Linux was a natural step. And that introduced me to GNOME, and Gtk+. By that time, Gtk+ was still 2.6. I did some small apps for personal use, like an app to track new habits. Unfortunately, those apps are long gone.

And that’s how it all started.

Translations…

Fast forward some years and, one day, while using a GNOME app (can’t remember which one!), I saw an unstranslated string! I researched a bit and found out that I could translate and contribute to the Brazilian Portuguese translation team. This was 2012, GNOME 3 was just released, everybody were still very angry, things were very confusing.

My first upstream contributions back to the end of 2012, fixing and adding some missing translations.

At that time, there was one project that draw my attention: a new, unreleased app called GNOME Calendar. It was under heavy development in a branch called ui-review, no packages were available… and yet, I simply loved it. The developer, Erick Perez, is highly skilled. This app was a hidden gem.

Unfortunately, development of Calendar stalled and I spent more than 1 year checking the logs almost every day, waiting for changes.

They never came.

… and GNOME Calendar

“This project was too good to die”, I thought. “I have to do somthing.” First, I tried to finish the design specs of Calendar. You can still find it in my DeviantArt page (click here to check it out).

Then I ran Gedit, opened some files and started hacking Calendar. My very first work was on the Week view prototype we had in there. The video of this new feature is still available:

Notice that the second article of this blog talks about that 🙂

Erick saw that, sent me an email, I attached some patches to Bugzilla, and this is how I officially started contributing to GNOME. At the same year, GNOME Calendar had its first release ever – and this makes the third article of this blog.

GNOME Foundation and Google Summer of Code

After increasing my contribution rate at GNOME Calendar, Erick suggested me to get a Foundation membership. In Januray 2015, I applied and was accepted (yay!!). At the same year, I decided to apply for a Google Summer of Code project at Nautilus. The mentor was Carlos Soriano.

The GSoC project was very successfull, and not only Nautilus received the improvements, but also Gtk+ itself. This is when the “Other Locations” view was introduced, and a big code refactor landed (and allowed Nautilus to improve much more!)

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The results of that Summer of Code project

Fun fact: while organizing the tasks of the GSoC, I couldn’t find any personal task manager for GNOME that satisfied me. I took one week and create GNOME To Do to organize my tasks.

With that done, the only step left was presenting that work at GUADEC.

GUADEC and Endless

The presentation at GUADEC was good enough, and meeting the people behind GNOME was one of the most remarkable experiences in my life. At that GUADEC, I met Cosimo, who works at Endless. I remember he downloading the new Gtk+ version and saying “look at this cute ‘Other Locations’ button!” (!!!) 🙂

A few weeks after that, I was contacted by Endless, where I am up to this day. Here at Endless, I’m lucky enough to be able to work upstream almost by default. I’m also happy to be able to make GNOME (through Endless OS) reach more people around the world.

What’s next?

New Control Center, more features in Calendar and To Do, and some other surprises I’ll write about in the future 🙂

Core Apps Hackfest afterthoughts

During last weekend, I was very happy to attend the Core Apps Hackfest in Berlin. This is effectively the first hackfest I’ve ever been! Thanks Carlos for organizing that, thanks Kinvolk folks for hosting the event, and Collabora for sponsoring the dinner.

This event was a great chance to meet the maintainers in person and talk directly to the designers about doubts we have. Since Carlos already wrote down the list of tasks we worked on, I’m not going to repeat it. So here, I’ll report what I was able to work on.

App-specific discussion

GNOME Music

Together with Marinus and Felipe, we were able to give GNOME Music some thought and decide what to do next. Music, unfortunately, was not written to scale, and this is basically the worst blocker we have to deal with. Pieces of code are not contained, and working on something means breaking something else completely unrelated.

So we sit down and analyzed the code, and came up with a solution for that. Music needs to isolate the backend and the UI, so we can write extensions to music providers in such a way that the UI doesn’t have to be patched too much for that. We decided to work on it before trying to add any new features, because otherwise GNOME Music will be unmaintainable.

For the next release, do expect to see lots of action in Music’s codebase, but few features. Most of the efforts will be focused on refactoring and cleaning the code (even if that means more lines of code in the end).

GNOME Calendar

I’ve been able to work on top of Vamsi’s previous prototype of the week view a little bit, and it’s starting to take shape. Basically, getting a working week view is hard. I’m sure we’ll be able to have something working by the end of December, but I expect some pain and headaches before getting into that state.

Andreas also did a quick live testing of GNOME Calendar, and I could see a few bugs to be fixed.

Nautilus

What a great chance to talk about our beloved shellfish! With Carlos and Alex in there, some issues were figured out and hammered off.

We also dicussed the plans for porting Nautilus to GtkListBox and GtkFlowBox. The biggest problem with those widgets is scalability: they’re not performant on big ammounts of data. Put 10k rows inside a listbox and it slows down to death. Same for flowbox.

Following up on the discussion, the flowbox-based view prototype that Carlos did some time ago was rebased against master. I also worked on rebasing the actionbar prototypes against master. From now on, I’ll focus on trying to get the actionbars into the main codebase.

Generic discussions

As Allan detailed in his report, one of the big app-agnostic concepts discussed in this event was the content apps opening and managing files.

I somehow got involved a lot with GNOME Music development, so we discussed how can GNOME Music handle that. We ultimately realized that it’d be better for everyone if we do it The Right Way © and land the code refactorings and backend work before even attempting to do that. This will avoid having to implement the feature twice (before and after the refactoring) and frustrating people with eventual breakages.

This won’t affect GNOME Calendar nor GNOME To Do at the moment, so this discussion wasn’t my focus.

Some Highlights

There’s a bunch of things that happened during the hackfest that I’d like to highlight:

  1. The always-awsome Carlos Garnacho fixed some locking issues in Tracker that gave another performance boost to GNOME Music. Now I can really use Music as my everyday player. It takes only 2 or 3 seconds to load my 10.000-songs library.
  2. The new Online Accounts panel patches were reviewed, and started to land on the main codebase. Thanks Rishi!
  3. The GNOME hackers are absolutely awsome. They’re great people, really. I’m proud and honored to be part of this team with such incredible people. I feel like a small kid both in technical and human terms when with them.

I’m very grateful for the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring me. I wouldn’t be able to attend without the sponsorship. And I also thank Endless for allowing me to attend the event. This event was very productive and I have a strong feeling that this really pays back to the community.

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I’m going to the Core Apps Hackfest

In this exact moment, I’m packing up my stuff to attend the Core Apps Hackfest organized by Carlos Soriano and kindly hosted by Kinvolk. It’ll happen in Berlin, German.

I have mixed feelings about this trip.

The Good:

  • I’m super excited to see old friends again. Do you guys remember Carlos was my GSoC mentor? Kudos for him for he organized this event, I want to see you again dude!
  • Looks like Berlin is a great place to be and, even though this is a focused trip, I want to quickly visit one or two historical places.
  • This hackfest has an incredibly high potential to be productive. Major core contributors will be there.
  • I’m positively surprised that my sponsorship request was accepted. Traveling from Brazil is very expensive. I can’t thank the GNOME Foundation enough for that. I really wouldn’t be able to attend without it.
  • That’s a great oportunity to get some fresh winter German air. There’s a chance I’ll see snow for the first time ever (ya’ know, Brazil has no snow…).
  • Even if the average German consumes a lot of meat, appearently there is an unbelievably high number of veg(etari)an restaurants nearby.

The Bad:

  • It’s cold. I lived my entire life in a place where the worst possible weather is worth a jacket. I’m talking about the possibility of snow. Frozen water falling from the damn sky.
  • I really hope I can be productive. The last few weeks of my life were insane, and my performance is not at its peak. I want every single cent spent by the GNOME Foundation on me to be worth it.
  • I also hope that Endless benefits from this hackfest’s outcome.
  • I don’t speak Dutch. I don’t know how receptive they’ll be with a foreigner in their country that doesn’t speak a single word in their language. (Sorry folks.)
  • I’ll miss my wife!

Of course, even if I have some fears, I’m extremely happy with this hackfest. Thanks again for the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring me, and thanks Endless for allowing me to attend it.

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CSS blend modes in Gtk+

As part of my work on Endless, I have to maintain and adapt GNOME applications to better suit our needs. This usually includes fixing bugs, working around limitations of the toolkit, and sometimes implementing new features.

Some time ago, I was asked by multiple designers about the CSS blending modes. This is a well-known feature that is widely used in photo manipulation apps like Photoshop®, and recently Adobe is trying to port this to CSS3 spec.

This allows designers to be more flexible and have a finer control over the rendering, and saves some bandwidth because we don’t have to send the blended image as an asset.

This marvelous feature is starting to see its light in Gtk+.

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Background blend mode is about to land.

This is the second time I’m working on something big on Gtk+ (the first one being the Other Locations view) and I’m pretty excited! This was requested by our beloved designer Lapo and also by Endless designers.

When it lands on master, we’ll also have a nice demo in Gtk3-demo app. And, as tradition dictates, a demo video:

In the near future, I plan to work and support more blending operations and CSS properties. Hopefully, this puts Gtk+ ahead of many browsers that doesn’t support these operations. What do you think? Share your comments, ideas and suggestions! 🙂

Endless joined GNOME Advisory Board

Right after I wrote about my unexpected dream hacking routine at Endless, an intriguingly positive news arose: Endless joined GNOME Advisory Board, and I particularly think I should talk about that. That’s old news, but important nevertheless.

Let’s start.

Why does it matter?

Endless is intimately connected to GNOME. We extensively use the GNOME stack, and our apps are based on GNOME technology like GJS, GLib, Gtk+ and others. The spirit of Endless is to upstream as much as it can.

By joining the Advisory Board, Endless formally states that it supports GNOME. “Formally” because it was already rooted in the very essence on Endless for quite some time – many GNOME contributors (including me) work on Endless. Endless supports and motivates us to keep doing upstream work.

By growing the number of sponsors, GNOME Foundation calls attention. It’s an open door to make a difference.

A win-win situation

I’m really happy with the alignment between GNOME and Endless. Both teams end up winning on this game.

As a GNOME contributor, it is really satisfying to see it running on custom hardware. A GNOME-based OS, reaching people who never had contact with technology! More people knowing GNOME increases the number of potential contributors. If 0.1% of GNOME users ends up turning into contributors, and Endless wants, say, 1 billion users, that’s 10,000 potential contributors. Endless gives users and potential contributors for GNOME.

As an Endless employee that believe in it’s mission, using GNOME as the base of the system is cheap and easy. We don’t have to maintain applications, we just consume what’s already there – and obviously push it upstream when it makes sense. Also, we benefit from contributors’ work on the apps. GNOME gives a stable and amazing plataform for us.

In the end, GNOME benefits from Endless, and Endless benefits from GNOME. It’s a lovely relationship.

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How’s my hacking routine at Endless

As some of you may know, I’m working with Endless for some months now. It probably is a cultural shock, but they exceed every aspect I’ve imagined. If you dear reader is not aware of what Endless is and does, I strongly suggest you to go to endlessm.com and check it out. Believe me, it’s worth the time.

I usually have to deal with some daily things: martial arts training, chores, mastering research, wife, among other less important stuff. My first surprise: in terms of work, this doesn’t matter. As long as I’m able to handle my tasks, it’s not required to work from X a.m. to Y p.m. nor my workflow is enforced.

A second to explain some cultural curiosities: here in Brazil, it’s absolutely normal for an employer to set up the exact time an employee must arrive, leave, break, talk, breathe and anything else you can do besides working. Also, one should expect a daily 2h travel to reach the workplace, usually accompanied by the 3rd (Rio de Janeiro) or 7th (São Paulo) worst traffic worldwide.

After adapting to my new routine, it is quite common for a day to run like this: wake up, do my chores, turn on my laptop and work for some hours. After lunching, some more work, study and research, train hard, work some more and sleep.

But why am I writing this? Because I’m so, so happy with this routine. I just arrived home after removing the last bits of a surgery, and I can work. And it’s something I love. I’d be doing this work even without payment.

That said, let’s return to our lives 🙂

I’m joining Endless

Some of you may have asked why I’m so silent for the last 3 weeks. Well, the titles pretty much explain things: between university duties, moving to a new house and conducting my research, I’m also joining Endless!

I’m ridiculously happy with this opportunity, and Endless folks were extremely respectful of my schedule – I’m working remotely, and only as a part-time intern. This is a great chance for me to work with FOSS on something that directly changes people’s lives!

So, wait for 2 more weeks so I can settle again, and I’ll start sending patches and crafting new features on rampage – like the good ol’ times.