Oktober 2007

Almost back in Germany

Taipei by day

你好! My stay in Taipei is almost over and I want to update you all on some news around my work here in the OpenMoko, Inc. office. During the past couple of months, I have dedicated lots of my resources to improving the current incarnation of the software stack for our existing users, the GTA01 early adopters. We have now come to a point where the OpenMoko SmartPhone Stack is almost there. Especially Telephony, PIM and the mediaplayer have gotten much better throughout the last months. We even have a nice new webkit-based browser with a slick and simple interface. All in all it’s getting better every day and I’m very confident, we’ll iron the last problems out within the next couple of weeks… and this is where the actual fun begins — once you guys can implement all your crazy ideas on top of this platform.

Fun in the OpenMoko Apartment

To support this, the management and me agreed that for the remainder of this year, I suspend my position as overall platform architect to become the head of the new tools group. As such, I’m going to concentrate on improving and streamlining the developer’s experience (read: SDK). Once the most important problems in this field have been solved, I will get back to my original role. As for the future of GTA01, we have yet to ship a GSM firmware update and a working GPS driver. This is pending some legal issues at our end which I would have hoped were resolved by now, but once the ball is in the court of the lawyers, it’s rolling very slooooooooooow.

Structure-wise there has been a lot of friction — disagreement, fear, uncertainty, doubt, you name it — while OpenMoko migrated from being that crazy open source project inside FIC to being an independent 50-something-people-company whose upmost priority is to stay in business. We grew so fast that we couldn’t scale, hence the only way that got us back to operational mode was to impose a renewed and improved structure on it. I guess this is an almost inherent effect of rapid growth.

Taipei by night

The actual outcome of it is that we engineers can now safely step down from being part-time network administrators, product managers, marketing experts etc., since we now co-work with dedicated people that perform these tasks. Which is good. Even better is that I really enjoy working with the local engineers. It took us a while to get started communicating well, but now it’s great. We have so many bright guys in this company that I’m proud of being a part of it. With the improved structure and a respectful passing of ideas, specs, and code forth and back, our engineering teams will perform much better implementing exciting new software products for OpenMoko.

All in all I have enjoyed this stay in Taiwan very much, a lot of my pleasure courtesy to the great weather, my health, and all the nice buddies in the OpenMoko Apartment and the Office. Thanks guys, you know who you are — 谢谢! 😀

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On to Taipei

Tomorrow, I’m heading over to Taipei for a while. I have mixed emotions here, on one hand I’m really looking forward to meeting all the guys again and seeing the shiny new OpenMoko office — on the other hand, there is quite a bit of internal disagreement which may only be resolved by some serious discussions. Being the optimist though, it is my hope and utter belief that I will return from this journey with a renewed vision and plan for the next 12 OpenMoko months.

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Back from OEDEM’07

Mickey moderating OEDEM07

The second annual OpenEmbedded DEvelopers Meeting took place in Berlin from the 6th to the 10th of October 2007. Due to the slight overlap with my vacation in Portugal, I couldn’t attend the coding sprints on 6th and 7th, however I could make it to the technical discussion days on 8th and 9th. On 9th, the generous folks from Tarent sponsored our dinner for which I’d like to say a big „Thanks, folks!!!“

This time we not only had the core developer team on board, but also key people from the various communities and interest groups, i.e. Stelios from Digital Opsis, Robert from Tarent, Graeme and me from OpenMoko, Florian from Kernel Concepts, Uli from ROAD, Philip for the Gumstix community, and more.

I’m not going to repeat all of the discussions we made (that’s what we have the meeting minutes for), however this is the executive summary from my point of view:

OpenEmbedded has four major issues that prevent even more wide spread acceptance. In a nutshell, it boils down to
  1. Too much progress: org.openembedded.dev keeps constantly changing and (temporarily) breaking.
  2. Too much flexibility: If you want to use it as the base for your product, you’re overwhelmed by the amount of options.
  3. Not enough documentation: The reference documentation is nice, but it lacks actual workflow based tutorials and a general overview.
  4. Bad reputation about being too complex: If all you want is building applications, the learning curve is a killer.
We sat together to come up with a plan of action to fix most of these issues. Briefly:
  1. Last year we agreed to releasing metadata snapshots. Most of the infrastructure (autobuilder, regression tests, etc.) is in place now, so we can actually start doing these releases early next year. The snapshots will be known-good for a certain — documented — combination of image targets and target architectures / machines. Once the snapshot gets tagged, we will branch and only apply very critical bugfixes to this branch. People can then base product work on such a snapshot. We believe it’s going to be two or three releases per year.
  2. We will add more product-based templates as examples, e.g. images like wlan-router-image.bb, nas-image.bb, set-top-box-image.bb, …
  3. Once the OE foundation work has been installed, we will use these resources to hire someone for improving the documentation.
  4. At the end of the day, there are lots of people using OpenEmbedded who really shouldn’t. OpenEmbedded gets (ab)used as a development environment, which it is not — although there is the incredibly useful command bitbake -c devshell. This can be fixed by handing out prebuilt OpenEmbedded toolchains to the people. People then can use these for application work without having to deal with OpenEmbedded at all. Alternatively — once they feel more brave — they can again use OpenEmbedded, but speed it up since they won’t have to go through the complete toolchain generation.

Once again, the issue of creating a registered non-commercial non-profit foundation was discussed. And this time, we finally agreed on the legal form and the statutes. We will create a german e.V. (eingetragener Verein) and the statutes will be based on the statutes of the KDE e.V.. The actual founding work will take place at FOSDEM’08 in February.

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