Thursday, February 7, 2013

Chicagoans Hacking on GNOME, part 4 (and part 5 preview)

We had our January Chicago GNOME meeting back on January 19th; because I was busy getting ready for the Developer Experience hackfest, I didn't get around to posting about it until now. Better late than never, so here goes:

We started off the meeting with an "Intro to Emacs" talk by Chris Webber. Chris started out with a brief-ish demonstration of Emacs Tetris and Nyan mode (which kept showing up repeatedly after he turned it off). He followed this with an intro to OrgMode, which basically uses a directory-style structure to organize lists. He went on to explain some basic level but pretty interesting stuff, including understanding Emacs keyboard shortcut syntax and terminology.

Part of the intro involved a general discussion about what Chris calls "Fighter Jet" software: applications like Emacs that have a steep learning curve and lend themselves to lots of customization and command-line use. The question he explored then, and that we talked about during the hackfest, is whether or not promoting the use of such software shuts people out of the FOSS community. My opinion is that the community has the obligation to provide some type of support if it promotes the use of this type of software. The question is whether the steep learning curve presents too much of a barrier for new people and therefore shuts them out. I think that learning to use FOSS requires a lot of patience and tolerance for failure. In some ways I think this is worth the trade-off, because I also feel like projects such as GNOME (and many others) are working to make the process of becoming a "power user" more intuitive. I feel that FOSS is like having a free card to a very good library -- having access is only one piece of the literacy puzzle, but it is arguably very important. Having a solid community with resources to teach and support all newcomers hopefully makes the process a little more approachable.

 The text (written in Emacs, of course :) from Chris' talk is available here. It's quite informative, so check it out!

I gave the second talk, covering some of the basic APIs used in GNOME application development. Because we were trying out the idea of having a group project for people who were new to work on, I mainly talked about the structure of Documents, and what is you need to be familiar with for hacking on it: Gkt+, Tracker, GObject Introspection, LibGData, Libzapojit, GOA, etc.

After I finished we moved to the hackfest area. One of the attendees had brought an old Dell computer that wouldn't boot, so a few others helped him to troubleshoot his problem. The feedback we got from attendees was that they generally come so they can set aside time to work on their own projects, so, although people are welcome to come and work on a group project in the future (if you want help getting started, etc), we will generally be continuing to bring our individual projects to hack on.

Our next meeting will be on Saturday, February 16th at 12 pm at Pumping Station: One, 3519 N. Elston Ave, Chicago. Michael Larabel will be giving a talk on Wayland, and I'll give a short update on what happened at the GNOME Developer Experience hackfest. Come hack with us!

Thanks again to the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring pizza!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting, thanks for the feedback! To me, while many linux users know emacs, it's not likely newcomers do, thus yes, community has to propose something else (without exluding emacs). A newcomer already has to learn a lot, he cannot learn glib and other libs + autotools + emacs + packaging + jhbuild. That's simply too much, and that's why I believe current meetings / discussions are very important.

    Not even mentionning the old emacs / vi battle. Which still is an issue. I'm sure there are lot of valuable, newcomers-friendly alternatives, eg geany / gedit / anjuta and so on... (to be honnest, trying the kde IDE to build gnome app persuaded me there is still *a lot* to do on this field).