Tuesday, April 22, 2014

What's coming in Maps 3.14 and beyond

Jonas has written a very nice blog post about present and future of Maps project. I definitely recommending reading it if you are interested in this project. Since he is not on planet.gnome yet (some policy about having some posts before applying to be added), I thought I share it here.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Location hackfest

I'm organising a hackfest in London from May 23 to 25 2014. The plan is to improve our location-related components and to get them useful to other OSs: KDE, Jolla and hopefully also Ubuntu phone. If you are (or want to) doing anything related to location and want to attend, please do add yourself to wikipage as soon as possible so I can notify our hosts if we'd need a bigger room.

Oh and if you need a place to stay, do contact me!

I'm thankful to awesome Mozilla folks for hosting this event and providing an awesome open geolocation service to everyone.













Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Boxes 3.12

I just rolled out Boxes 3.11.92, which is going to become 3.12 in a week. Apart from lots of fixes and minor improvements like addition of keyboard shortcuts for improved accessibility for example, there are some note worthy changes against 3.10:
  • Dropped use of clutter and clutter-gtk: While it was a good idea to mix gtk+ and clutter at the beginning of the project to make most of the animations and transparency controls possible, Gtk+ gained new API over last few years to make most of what Boxes needed, possible. So I decided to attempt to remove clutter* from the picture and I'm glad to report that my attempt was a success. This means:

    • Less animations: Some of the animations we had are still not possible with Gtk+ (at least not in any easy/nice way) so they had to be dropped but they are nothing really essential to how Boxes work and were only good for impressing first time users. I'm talking about box thumbnail flying around the window for transitions between different UI states.

    • More animations: Making use of new Gtk+ API, we gained some nice animations for UI transitions that nicely makes up for the dropped animations. Here is a video of Boxes 3.12, where you can see all these animations.



    • Simplified code: Removal of clutter actors from widget hierarchy also made it easier to simplify the hierarchy quite a bit. I also took the liberty of moving most of the UI setup to UI description files separate from rest of the code. So overall the code is a lot cleaner and therefore much easier to maintain, hence removed clutter even literally.

  • Ability to easily import existing VMs from system libvirt: Many people have been using virt-manager for years and while they'd want to use Boxes, them not being able to easily use their existing VMs wasn't  encouraging them to switch. Now we've fixed that.



  • NAT networking: Since the very beginning of the project, one complain we kept getting was that the default network setup by Boxes in VMs was slow and VM was unreachable even from the host machine. This has finally been fixed by Boxes now setting up a NAT network in new VMs using the special bridge network setup by libvirt. This means that all VMs are on the same private (to host) network and therefore VMs and host can directly communicate with each other. Its also much faster than 'user-mode' networking we've been using till now.
Thats basically it for this release! Now some features I'd want to add in 3.14:

  • Import and export of VMs. Doing this properly will involve creation of a new library that deals with OVF. I'd like it in a library because there is at least one project (apart from Boxes) that can make use of it: gnome-continuous. Boxes already allow you to import the qcow2 images gnome-continuous produces but since this image does not provide information about the VM itself, you can very easily find yourself creating a broken VM with them. QXL breaking every other release and gnome-continuous tracking git master of that does not help at all here /rant. So if continuous would provide OVF files instead of raw disk images, it can tell Boxes to use 'vga' rather than 'qxl' whenever QXL is known to be broken.

  • Support for express installation for many other OSs/distros, especially Debian/Ubuntu. The idea has been proposed for SoC and there is already one student that has applied for it.

  • Support multiple monitors in VMs.

  • Snapshots: You went for an OS update and it completely destroyed your VM, what do you do? Snapshots will make it possible to save the VM for you before you go for that OS update so that if things go south, you have a way to easily recover. What if you installed multiple updates at different times and you don't know which update caused the problem. Snapshots will also make it possible to save multiple checkpoints of your VM so you can go back to any of them and then use the one that was not broken. Pretty cool if you think about it and makes you wish you could do the same with life. :)

    This idea has also been proposed for SoC and there are two students who have already applied for it.

  • Downloading of ISOs and images (and also VMs, after we have the VM import feature in place). Currently you can't give Boxes URL of a remote ISO or image and expect to be able to handle that. We need to fix that but automatically downloading the ISO/image for you. To make it even better, would be nice to:

    • Autocomplete URLs while you type it in the wizard using the list of known URLs in libosinfo database. E.g you type "Fed" and URLs of all Fedora releases get proposed to you, you keep typing till "Fedora 19", you already have a URL to hit enter on.

    • Provide a way to add entries to the ready menu you get in the wizard. This will allow us to provide 'a few clicks' ™ way for user to try latest GNOME unstable releases and distros to do something similar for bleeding-edge/development snapshots of their distro.

    This has also been proposed as second part of the "Automated installation" SoC project I mentioned above.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Geoclue 2.1.1

I just rolled out Geoclue 2.1.1! Since my last post with Geoclue update, there has been lots of changes. You can find a list of all the changes here but here are the highlights:

  • Modem geolocation: If you got a 3GPP modem, geoclue will now be able to use that to locate you (with neighborhood-level accuracy) using opencellid.org. Additionally if your modem has GPS capability, geoclue can use that as well and as you know GPS is the most reliable geolocation source.

    One issue with GPS currently is that it takes a while before it can get a lock on and reason for that is that we currently have no support for A-GPS. I'll be talking with Aleksander Morgado during the weekend about how we can add that support but if I've understood correctly, it will need more work in ModemManager than geoclue now that it has all these other sources.

    Geoclue locating me using 3GPP source

  • WiFi geolocation: In my last relevant blog post, I mentioned that we'll be implementing this using Open WLAN Map project but around the same time Mozilla announced their own public geolocation API. After careful consideration, I decided to go for Mozilla Location Service. So geoclue now has a geolocation source that makes use of this public service.

    This service being very new, doesn't have a lot of data. If you want to help us (GNOME), Mozilla and all users of this service and geoclue, you can gather data using MozStumbler android application, which should work on most (if not all) android phones. I also implemented data gather in geoclue but it requires a GPS-enabled 3GPP modem and (at least for now) needs to be explicitly enabled in our configuration file.

    An advantage of using Mozilla Location Service is that it offers a Google geolocation compatible API as well. Geoclue uses this compatibility API and you can make it use Google's geolocation service instead by tweaking an option in our configuration file. Please note that geoclue is not responsible for any misuse of Google API. Please do read their ToS before use and you'll need to get yourself a key before you can use their API.

  • API to check if geolocation service is in use and next version of GNOME Shell will make use of it to show an icon in the panel to indicate to user that their location is being accessed.
GNOME Shell indicator for 'location services in use'

So keeping all this in mind, I'm pretty happy with our progress on geoclue2. I will be in Brussels this weekend. Unfortunately my submission about geo* to desktop devroom didn't make it to the shortlist (which I hear is half as short as last year's) but feel free to talk to me about geolocation and maps etc if you are around.

http://fosdem.org/

Friday, October 4, 2013

Moving to London, UK

For those who haven't heard the news yet, I'll be joining Red Hat UK and terminating my Red Hat Ltd, Finland branch contract starting Nov 1 2013. Naturally, I'll be myself moving to London soon along with my wife and cat.

I'm about to embark on a trip to Canada and US to attend Boston Montreal  and Google Summer of Code mentor summits and I'll return on Oct 22. Two days after that I fly to London to start the hunt for a decent apartment. Once I have an apartment, my wife and cat will come over as well.

That's all folks.

GNOME 3.10, 3.12 and me

Wow! Its been months since I last blogged. I have a good excuse and a bad one. The good one is that I've been extremely busy with trying to get some of things ready for GNOME 3.10. The bad one is that w/ me sharing all important events on all 3 major social networks, I don't feel too motivated to put all those into blog posts (yes, I'm very lazy).

As you probably already know, I've been working on Maps, geolocation and geocoding apart from Boxes in 3.9 development cycle. Although there is still a lot of work to do in all these, I'm really happy with what we achieved in a short amount of time:
  • Maps: There was  desire and design page for a map application for GNOME but I didn't see any implementation. I looked around and found out that Mattias Bengtsson had already a repository so I helped him start the project. Currently it only allows you to some basic things you expect from a map application, like searching for places and finding your location but for a preview application that was developed in a few months by a few people, its a big achievement that everyone involved should be proud of. We still have plenty to do for 3.12, where its supposed to be a useful and stable application and not just a preview. Unfortunately, I myself won't have a lot of time for Maps in this cycle, so if you are interested in maps (lots of fun guaranteed!) and are looking for a way to contribute to GNOME (or Free Software in general), here is your chance to change the world for better.



    Since Maps use the awesome OpenStreetMap project (through libchamplain), another way to contribute is to edit maps directly in OpenStreetMap itself. This is ideal for technology enthusiasts who lack programming skills or interest in it. That is not to say that almost everyone would enjoy this kind of contribution. My good friend, Federico tells me that it could easily become an addiction. OpenStreetMap has several editor clients for different platforms so you can choose the one that suits your needs.

  • Geoclue2: So we basically started a re-write of Geoclue some months back. Rationale could be found here. Currently we only have IP-based geolocation and that unfortunately is limited to city-level accuracy at best. While this is not enough for some applications (e.g Maps) its already serves well for some important applications like Clocks and gnome-settings-daemon. So in GNOME 3.10, your local clock is automatically added to Clocks and your system timezone automatically updated (if you choose so) as you travel around with your laptop.

    In 3.12, I would like to first address the privacy concerns: Users should be given control over which applications should be allowed to access their location. This will be done through per-user agents running in desktop sessions. I already have implemented the geoclue side of this and have implemented a demo agent but I gotta implement an agent in at least GNOME Shell before Geoclue by default requires all apps to be authorized. KDE (every linux-based OS) folks will also have to implement an agent if they intend to use Geoclue2.

    Once privacy in place, I would really want to add more geolocation sources: GPS, 3G and WiFi-based geolocation. The first two, I'm told should be easy to add w/ latest ModemManager.

    WiFi-based geolocation will most likely be based on Open WLAN Map project. I have not yet looked at the API their library provides but I'm hoping its not too hard. Implementation difficulty aside, one big issue is that their database is hardly comparable to that of Google, Nokia, Microsoft etc so in most cases (unless you are in Germany) we'll not be able to rely on this source to locate you. That is a pity since this is the only option we have for wifi-geolocation, being open database of this type. On the bright side, they provide easy ways to improve their database using your smartphone. I'm hoping that by making use of this service, we'll further encourage contributions to this database and in a few years, this database will have enough data from many different areas around the globe.

  • Geocode-glib:  As I said, Maps already allow you to search for different places on the planet. This is done through a process called geocoding. This process translates a string, which could be the place name or part of it, and gives you details about all places that match such a string. The most important part of these details are coordinates. Another small feature you might notice in Maps is the "What's here" item of the context menu, which shows you details about the place where you cursor currently is on the map. This is done through a process called reverse-geocoding. Simply put, given the coordinates of a place, you get details (especially name) about it.

    Bastien had been working already on a library for geocoding and reverse-geocoding called geocode-glib. Since I needed this for Maps, I helped clean it up. While doing so I realized that it used Yahoo Places service, which not only is a closed/proprietary service, it doesn't have enough data and most importantly is not designed to be used for geocoding. Turned out that OpenStreetMap folks provide an open service for geocoding, Nominatim I ported geocode-glib to use Nominatim instead of Yahoo Places. Since Nominatim shares the same database with OpenStreetMap, contributing to Nominatim is the same as contributing to OpenStreetMap and vice versa and you use the same clients/tools to do that.

All this would not have been possible without help from our awesome community. Special thanks goes to my Google Summer of Code students, Kalev Lember and Mattias Bengtsson, and my colleague and friend Bastien Nocera. For Maps, I was also very lucky to get help from an awesome new contributor, Jonas Danielsson. Maps wouldn't look any good without his work.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Last week in Gothenburg


Just like every year, I'm a mentor in Google Summer of Code 2013. This year I'm mentoring two students:


  • Mattias Bengtsson, who will be working on implmenting route search in Maps. Since the Maps project was actually started by Mattias himself before he even thought of SoC and he has been working on maps (in general) as his fulltime job for 2 years now, I feel very confident about him being able to deliver.
  • Kalev Lember, who will be working on implementing the new date&time panel in GNOME control center. Kalev has been contributing to different GNOME projects and has been very active in Fedora packaging business. Having had the pleasure of pair programming with him last week, I feel very confident about him delivering his project as well.

So I got two awesome students, what could be better? There is the coincidence that both of them are located in ̶G̶o̶t̶h̶a̶m̶ ̶C̶i̶t̶y̶ Gothenburg, the very same city where one of our designers, Andreas Nilsson lives in. Since Fabiana Simões (another designer) was visiting Gothenburg, Andreas saw an good opportunity for a hackfest and thats where I was at last week along with the rest of the Maps team. I'm glad to report that we got some stuff done:





  • We all discussed the design and investigated which online services we can use for various features. Topics included:
    • Single vs. multiple instance app
    • Map view animations
    • Specialized printing of routes
    • Rendering our own tiles in the future
  • Andreas drew us icons and mockups for zoom-in/out control and routing UI.
  • Mattias worked on moving most of the Maps UI code into .ui files, implementing zoom in/out controls and made sure that he has everything he needs from designers for his GSoC project and beyond.
  • I ported Maps to geoclue2, made progress on porting geocode-glib  from Yahoo Places API to Nominatim and to directly use libsoup, and reviewed patches from Mattias and Kalev.
  • Kalev helped me out with porting Maps to geoclue2, figured out the cause of annoying bug in Maps that made it impossible to do anything in Maps once you click on any markers, and added basic printing support.


It was really nice to meet Mattias and Kalev in person and I finally had the pleasure of meeting Andreas Henriksson outside the Internets. There was also the GNOME Beers event and in general we did quite some team bonding. My only regret about last week is that that I didn't get around to do any sight seeing.

Special thanks to


  • Andreas for arragning the event and helping me navigate the city.
  • Chalmers University of Technology and Henrik Sandklef for the venue.
  • GNOME foundation for sponsoring my flight tickets.
  • Hanne Sundin and Martin Zackrisson for providing me a place to stay.