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Apr. 2nd, 2009

ubuntu, wine

Moving my blog - also go join X Hug day!

I've decided to move my blog off of Livejournal to a self-hosted wordpress solution.  It'll be located here: http://yokozar.org/blog/

Meanwhile, I'm making one last post to tell everyone about the Ubuntu Hug day: https://wiki.ubuntu.com/UbuntuBugDay/20090402 -- this is our last chance to catch and fix up all the lingering issues with X and the free drivers before release, so spare a few minutes or a few hours to help with bug triage and you'll get a hug from me.
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Nov. 25th, 2008

ubuntu, wine

Ubuntu and Wine on ARM and Windows Mobile

Last week the news was that Ubuntu is finally getting serious about our ARM port.  This is great news, of course - Ubuntu could become the platform for everything from phones to handhelds to the Pandora game console.  This puts us in direct competition with Windows Mobile.

As far as applications are concerned, Windows Mobile isn't all that different from Windows itself.  The Windows Mobile API was designed to be as close to Win32 as possible.  This means that getting Windows Mobile apps to work inside Wine isn't that much of a stretch - the code changes may even be trivial, at least for Windows Mobile apps on x86.

The harder task is porting Wine to the ARM architecture, where Windows mobile still commands a sizable marketshare.  This likely requires tweaking code in wineserver and a few of our core dlls.  This may actually be an easy task for someone familiar with ARM - currently no one's really tried it, since Wine developers don't know much about ARM.

Porting Wine to ARM and Ubuntu Mobile

The ultimate goal, of course, is to be able to easily bring a Windows Mobile application to Ubuntu-MID.  Wine is not a large piece of software (less than 15 megabytes), so it could easily fit on most mobile devices. The fundamental differences with Windows and Linux applications are also not as big of an issue, as mobile applications tend to take up the entire screen and generally not interact much with other applications.

It's important to remember that this includes free applications as well as proprietary.  We might even be able to attract a large vendor to Ubuntu Mobile if we make their custom application originally written for Windows Mobile a first-class citizen.  That's way better for Ubuntu's future than there being yet another Windows smartphone.
ubuntu, wine

Redesigning WineHQ.org

About 3 years ago, I realized that the WineHQ website needed a serious redesign.  It was 2005, and the website looked like it was from the late nineties.  I posted a thread on the Something Awful forums, got some suggestions, and then began looking for volunteer website developers to help.

It wasn't that difficult a project.  Many aspiring web designers would be happy to have a relatively popular, and very public, website like Wine in their portfolios.  A couple users went as far as to make rough outlines and mockups.

I even talked to Jeremy White on the phone about it.  He warned me that the last change was "controversial" and that the current website was the result of a long deliberative process, and it'd be best to not step on any toes.  I posted a mail to the developer list, but I wasn't quite "in" with the rest of the developers and nothing ever happened.

Enter Wineconf 2008

This year, however, I was finally cool enough to attend the Wine developer conference.  I made a mental note to make sure we discussed a new website, especially since I could easily gather consensus that a redesign was needed by just smiling at the rest of the room.

Two at Codeweavers, Jeremy Newman and Jon Parshall, quietly went to work and churned out a much-improved prototype.  CEO Jeremy White then asked for feedback.

All in all, I think the website is much improved, however there are a few areas for improvement.

The Good:
  • Much friendlier, better looking, easier to focus on what I want. Looks professional.
  • The prominent donate link on the front page is very recognizable.  I guarantee you'll have more donations as a result.
  • All the old cruft links are gone.
  • The new small icon reflects the main image on the site, and also no longer has the tiny artifacts that the old one did.  Impressive.
The improvable:
  • The news should be clickable, and take you to a separate news page with slightly longer stories.
  • Rather than getting smaller when you hover the mouse over the buttons, it should be the other way around - highlight them and they get bigger
  • The slogan "Windows software everywhere" doesn't make much sense.  I would replace it with a very small boilerplate text that says what Wine does, namely "Wine lets you run Windows applications in Linux and on the Mac".  This summarizes everything for someone visiting the site who has never heard of Wine before.
  • The "Help!" button could be a bit friendlier, eg "Get Help" or "Support".  At the least, drop the exclamation point.
  • The text under Donate is obvious, so we can benefit from a bit of explanation.  Something like "Help volunteer Wine developers improve Wine" -- this also helps sell the donate button
  • The text under "Download" could be more extensive too, eg "Get the latest Wine packaged for your distribution" -- I don't think we lose much by using a short sentence here since the text is already partially transparent and optional to read.
  • The download icon is weird.  A large down arrow would probably be better than a CD, especially since we don't offer anything CD-like.
  • Similarly, using the classic "wrench" icon for development would be a bit more obvious.  As it is now I'm not sure what it means except for the word development right next to it.
The Bad:
  • The inlaid scrollbar under the news tab.  However, I think the proper way to deal with this is to simply have shorter news stories rather than change the scroll bar.  The current sample news (Wine 1.1.7 released), for instance, could easily be just 2 sentences and a link to the larger story.  Longer stories could be reserved for a separate news page.
We're still looking for feedback, especially if you've got some web design experience under your belt.  I've likely missed something obvious as well - my initial review here was from a cursory review of the prototype.  Regardless, it is exciting to finally see a good idea actually start to happen.

Nov. 23rd, 2008

ubuntu, wine

Estimating our user base makes me want to contribute more

The Fedora project is claiming between 9.5 and 10.5 million users, as measured by unique IP addresses asking for updates*.  This puts them ahead of the latest published estimate for Ubuntu, of about 8 million users.

The 8 million figure is out of date.  I first remember hearing it about a year ago.  Historically, Ubuntu has been doubling in users every year, so there's a good chance the 8 million figure is far too small.  The 8 million was also a conservative estimate from Canonical using someone mysterious means.  It would be nice if they were open about the process - at the very least we could release a figure using the same methodology as Fedora (unique IPs poking the update server).

I'm skeptical of Fedora's claim to be ahead of Ubuntu, even if the 9.5 million users is accurate.  In 2007, a Desktop Linux Survey estimated Ubuntu had a 30% marketshare while Fedora had about 6%.  A google trends search shows searches for Ubuntu increasing substantially over that time, while Fedora has been decreasing.  It just doesn't seem right that Fedora would quintouple in marketshare while simultaneously experiencing fewer google searches.

Now, people often only run google searches when they have problems; trends data could then be a measure of bad things.  However, it's not a terrible proxy for popularity; Ubuntu is 5 times as trendy as Fedora, which fits nicely with the survey data.  It's unlikely Ubuntu users would be 5 times as likely to google as Fedora users.  Perhaps another desktoplinux.com survey will help settle things.

Usage Statistics are Important:

Every once in a while, I ask myself if my volunteer contributions matter.  I know from popcon results that Wine is installed on about 10% of Ubuntu machines.  I have hundreds of thousands of users.  If I were to improve the Wine package to give the software equivalent of a stick of gum to every user (about 10 cents or so), then in real terms I've just created 80 thousand dollars in value.  That's a conservative estimate: maybe there are twice as many Ubuntu users, popcon doesn't count Wubi users who are probably more likely to use Wine, and so on.

I do this for free.  I've been working on Ubuntu and Wine for about 5 years now, and sometimes when I'm low on money I find myself asking if it's really worth it.  I struggle with a part time job to make rent, and dedicate the equivalent of a full-time job volunteering for Ubuntu; meanwhile, my consultant friends charge 150 an hour to format/reinstall Windows.

I ask myself if it's worth it.  Looking at those user stats, I have no doubt that it is.  Even if I'm only making a stick of gum's worth of improvement.  Sometimes it's a thankless job, but then again charity usually is.

*bad journalism: see first comment

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Nov. 21st, 2008

ubuntu, wine

Integrating MediaTomb into the desktop, and a hectic few weeks

The MediaTomb software is extremely powerful, however it's a serious pain to get it working.  I had one task in mind: get my videos folder playable on my Dad's PS3 by streaming.  It took me about 2 hours to set up and configure by manually editing a config file and creating some custom scripts - and that was after I even learned what UPNP streaming is and which software I had to download in the first place.

In the end, however, it worked beautifully.  My dad could click "search for media servers" on the Playstation, have it discover my computer, then he could just click videos and find the one to play.  In the background, MediaTomb was silently transcoding the .mkv format (which the PS3 doesn't understand) to MPEG2.

We can do so much better

Imagine how amazing an easy interface to mediatomb could be.  I could right click my Videos folder, select sharing options, and then check a box for "stream media in this folder over the network."  Instead of manually editing configuration files and scripts, I click a button that says I have a Playstation, and it sets that all up automatically.  I never even have to learn what codecs are, what UPNP does, or even that I'm using MediaTomb.

This could be a major feature in Ubuntu.  This is something where we can easily outclass Apple and Microsoft, who seemed to be more worried about copy protection then actually letting you watch your own movies.  It could even be a selling point for the Best Buy clerk trying to explain the boxed Ubuntu copy to a console gamer.

This requires real work to do

On a personal note, I haven't made a post in a few weeks.  Real life has been very hectic.  I moved back in with my parents to save some money, but the situation has become clearly unlivable for me and I'm finding it very hard to spend enough time on open source.  There's so much for me to do in the coming months, and it'd be a real shame if Jaunty wasn't as good as it could be because I was too busy doing "real" work so I could get out of the house.

I'd really like to get more involved with making things like this much easier for every day human beings.  I'm going to be visiting some apartments tomorrow in preparation for moving out, however I'm not sure if I'll have the savings to do it without making a huge financial risk.  I may get stuck in a menial job just to pay rent, working even less on Ubuntu than I am now.  Or, I might luck out and land a job at a place like Canonical, and be able to spend 80 hours a week just doing what I love.  I can't help but feel optimistic in this community.

Oct. 30th, 2008

ubuntu, wine

Ubuntu website took a drastic dip in usability today

Today I wanted to make a forum post on Something Awful about the release of Intrepid.  After 30 minutes of clicking around ubuntu.com, I was still unable to find everything I was looking for.
  • No torrents for DVD images (I'm convinced they don't exist)
  • I got to the release notes once, but couldn't figure out how to get back there by simple clicking (a Google search didn't help, though searching with the ubuntu.com toolbar did)
  • No way to find the "What's new in Intrepid" feature list; I ended up having to Google the term and then use the old beta feature list.  Searching for intrepid feature list on the Ubuntu site returns some threads from ubuntuforums.

Oh well.  Maybe someone will take notice and fix it :)
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Oct. 26th, 2008

ubuntu, wine

New feature for game developers coming to Jaunty

A short while ago I came across a post by Linux Hater.  He pointed to a flustered game developer making a Linux port.  One of his issues is also faced by Wine developers: there is no way to read relative mouse movements in X.

Without relative mouse movements, a game like an FPS has to guess which way the mouse is moving by regularly comparing the current position of the pointer with where it used to be, periodically warping the mouse to the center of the screen.  This has several drawbacks: it's a kludge to implement, mouse accelleration gets really weird, and if the cursor is moving fast enough it might escape the window or hit the edge of the screen.  You hear a spy sweeping up to backstab you, race your mouse to make a quick 180, and instead stop 3 times along the way.  If you're a twitch gamer, the whole experience can be more jerky than you'd find at a 7-11 counter.

We've been working around this for years in Wine, and the result has been user frustration.  Fortunately, the X.org guys have heard our feature request: relative mouse moevements are being included in the XInput2 design, and XInput2 is on the feature goals list fo 7.5.

This is an example of another great thing: time-based releases.  We know X.org makes releases in February, we know Gnome makes releases in March, and we know Ubuntu will release in April.  When Wine or some new game needs relative mouse movements for our next release we can depend on that feature, freeze around the same time as Gnome, and quickly get a stable piece of software out to the masses.  When a project like Wine releases at just the right moment, we minimize the amount of time that users are stuck with an out of date version.

If I rub the right shoulders hard enough, Wine will be making its 1.2 release around March, just in time for Jaunty.  Alexandre Julliard (the project lead), expressed ambivalence about the idea during Wineconf, but I think I can convince the team with some effort.  Ubuntu (and any other distro releasing at the same time, like Fedora) would benefit greatly from Wine 1.2 in the next release :)

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Oct. 22nd, 2008

ubuntu, wine

Does Compiz still mess up Wine?

For years now, I've been in the habit of advising all users to disable desktop effects before they use Wine.  Most users, myself included, end up leaving it off entirely, resulting in an inevitable loss of polish.

I heard a while back that this doesn't have to be the case, and that there was work being done within Compiz to make sure it played nicely with other OpenGL applications, most notably Wine.  Is that work done?  Or should Intrepid users still disable desktop effects before launching any Wine application with Direct3D or OpenGL graphics?

I ask because over the coming week I want to make a good, succinct demo of Wine in Intrepid on Youtube.  It will include a very short tutorial showing off how easy (and difficult) Wine can be these days, and first among those issues is figuring out when exactly to tell users to turn off the amazing fancy effects.

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Oct. 5th, 2008

ubuntu, wine

We need a good "most annoying" list

I went to Wineconf last weekend.  I've been solidly busy since then, but I'm calling in sick tomorrow to catch up on Ubuntu stuff and post a report, as well as a massive todo list for myself.

In the meantime, I'm going to toy with the idea of creating a wiki page dedicated to the "most annoying usability bugs" for Intrepid beta.   Some of them may be small and squashable, others might remain open for months.  That's fine.

Candidates for annoying bugs are anything that aggravates you about Ubuntu.  Using the system should be fun, even if it's not very functional.  Stuff like repetitive dialog boxes that ask the same question over and over (or worse, pop back up after you told them to go away) are perfect candidates for this list. 

I encourage everyone to file more usability bugs.  This is a good example:

As it is, the program is perfectly functional.  Assuming, of course, you can intuit how to use it, and not get scared off (or perhaps print the whole document out of caution instead of just the possibly incorrect range).  Fixing this sort of thing is just as important for many users as actual functionality.

Sep. 26th, 2008

ubuntu, wine

Headed off to Wineconf

In a few hours I'll be on my way to the annual Wine developer conference.  What sort of things would you discuss there?

Aside from begging for another stable release in time for Jaunty, I plan on discussing ways the Wine project could raise money and sponsor community members.

Post other ideas here and I'll read them in my hotel room Friday before poking the other Wine devs at the conference.
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