Maemo Summit and Desktop Search Hackfest (part 1)

2008-09-28

The first Maemo Summit was held in Berlin on the 19th and 20th of September. Nokia proposed to organise a "Desktop Search Hackfest" in collaboration with the GNOME foundation. This proposal was forwarded to all the participants in the discussions on a set of common standards for desktop search called Xesam. The list of attendees was very interesting and I had the impression that it would be hard to get the same group of people together soon. So I decided to skip a family day at my employer, PANalytical, and went to the hackfest.

On the way to Berlin, which is a single train from Hengelo, I joined Ben van Klinken, the author the the excellent CLucene library. He brought his girlfriend, Femke, and she brought a book, which was a very sensible idea. Ben and I talked nothing but indexes all the way to Berlin. Discussing ideas and browsing code in the dining car is an excellent way to travel.

The summit was held at C-base a non-for-profit for computer and network enthusiasts that is housed in a crashed space station which is merged with a school for acting. As a result, the halls were filled with a mix of free software programmers, Nokia employees and wanna-be actresses. The corridors were lines with pictures of drama performances and next to the main lecture room was a storage room for acting props and costumes.

The hackfest would to start on day two of the conference, so we could spend day one by attending various lectures. There were about 300 people at the conference which I thought was a large amount. Nokia has really done their best to invite many members from all over the free software community.

The schedule had a lot of good talks. Here are some highlights:

Ari Jaaksi

The VP of maemo software is mostly know in the community for his statements about patents and DRM. He has a tough job because he is leading the most free software project within Nokia and thereby leading a revolution within Nokia: The N810 is not locked down at all in contrast to most other mobile devices. The N810 is not a phone, but the next version of the internet tablet will have support for HSDPA so you use a mobile connection if no wifi is available.

Maemo UI Vision

Harri Kiljander, director of user experience, gave a look into the way UI designers work and listed a number of rules to follow when designing application for small devices. 30 milliseconds are the maximal lag any application can have at any time. If feedback to a user action is slower, the user will not perceive his action as successful and will attempt to repeat it or will be annoyed by the slow application. A UI element that requires finger input must be at least 9x9 millimeter, which is equal to 80x80 pixels on the N810. When listing the target audience of the internet tablet, he mentioned that two thirds of the current Maemo users are developers.

What users want

Reggie Suplido maintains a community website for the Nokia internet tablets. He mentioned that competition in the high end devices market is currently very high and he envisions Plasma-like (not his exact words ;-) user interfaces.

What can we get out of Fremantle

Peter Schneider gave this interesting talk. Fremantle will be the next software release of the Maemo platform. Many big changes have been planned for it. Not all details of the next generation hardware can be revealed yet, but HSDPA and access to the 3D acceleration of the device are already announced. He talked about the search hackfest and Tracker. Nokia has chosen Tracker for search on the Maemo platform and the hackfest should help ensure that it will be compatible with the other search solutions out there. He did not mention Xesam, but I'm sure that's what he meant. Peter said that Clutter will be available on Maemo. This is an interesting choice considering that, in contrast to QEdje, Clutter has little to show for so far (although, I may have missed where the cool clutter stuff is). It also makes Nokia depend on OpenHanded, an Intel company.Users are encouraged to write applications using the gecko rendering engine. Firefox extensions and Greasemonkey extensions are also encouraged.An important remark was that Nokia is not choosing between GNOME and KDE. But are supported. This makes sense, I think: by keeping the platform really open and allowing multiple options they give the user real freedom. Supporting both does not mean they will provide both or either on the vanilla device.You can publish you code on garage.maemo.org. The best code will be endorsed on maemo.nokia.org. Nokia will provide search engine sponsoring (whatever that is), early devices (that must be returned), and free UI consulting to free software developers.The roadmap to Fremantle plans an alpha in November and a beta somewhere between March and May. It will contain a theme maker and Qt 4.4. (let's hope we have a fast KDE4 version for it by then).In conclusion, Peter said that big decisions about Maemo will be made on the summit and not at the Nokia headquarters. This is how seriously they take the community.

Lightning talks

Among the many lightning talks there were a few great ones. The best talk was from a university project that wrote an application for the N810 that can help analyze cow milk in remote areas. Elisator takes a photo from an Elisa well plate and analyses it by looking at the colors in the different wells. This makes it possible to take a complete lab to the bedouins.
QEdje gave an impressive demo of how to easily develop fancy GUIs that allow easy embedding of Qt widgets. The presentation was written in QEdje and embedded a QWebkit component in a cover flow. The last talk I saw was a demonstration of a usb2svg adapter. This presentation was given from an N810 and controlled from a mobile phone.

So what about the Hackfest? You will have to wait for my next blog post. I can tell you though, that I predicted that whatever would come of it, it would be a very interesting social experience, considering the Xesam standardization process so far. This prediction came true.

I will leave you with a great video impression of the conference courtesy of Karoliina Salminen.

Maemo Summit 2008 from Karoliina Salminen on Vimeo.

PS Almost forgot to mention that Marijn gave a stunning demo of running a complete KDE4 on the N810.

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