December 6, 2005

OSDL-sponsored conference targets Linux desktop development

Author: Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier

The Open Source Development Labs' Desktop Linux (DTL) working group hosted a "Desktop Architects" meeting last week, at which the group targeted three specific areas to improve to bolster Linux adoption on the desktop. John Cherry, OSDL's Desktop Linux initiative manager, said that the meeting was "wildly successful," and other attendees seemed to share that assessment.

More than 70 developers from more than 30 projects attended the two day meeting in Portland, Ore. Organizations with representatives at the meeting include KDE, GNOME,,, IBM, Red Hat, Neoware, Sun Wah Linux, and Adobe. Jonathan Riddel has posted a few pictures from the event, and Dan Kegel has put up extensive notes about it.

OSDL's Bryce Harrington described the meetings on his site. According to Harrington, during the first day of the meeting the agenda "shifted more and more towards being directed and run by the participants." After lunch on day one, developers voted on the problems that most needed solving.

According to developers at the meeting, the number one priority should be to make it easier for independent software vendors (ISV) to develop applications for the Linux desktop. The second priority chosen by developers was hardware support on the Linux desktop -- drivers and the "plug and play" experience for desktop users. Finally, the developers pointed to relations between projects as another area where improvements could be made to benefit desktop development and adoption.

One might think that usability would be a hot topic at the meeting, but Seigo said it was a topic "more easily addressed within each project." According to Seigo, "usability is not all that frightfully bad, no matter how much noise is generated about that."

The Portland initiative

Having decided what the priorities were, the developers then set to talking about ways to tackle those problems. The Portland initiative is an effort at addressing the ISV issue. Cherry said that Portland would allow application developers to "choose the toolkit to develop with based on characteristics of the toolkit, without worrying about which flavor of desktop Linux its customers are using."

According to Waldo Bastian's email, a task force of four people is to be created to "prioritize integration points, solicit feedback from ISVs, and identify existing functionality in GNOME and KDE that can be used to implement Portland, and possibly provide a first draft implementation." Alex Graveley from the GNOME project and George Staikos from the KDE project have been chosen to lead the task force, and will select the additional members. The first version of Portland is slated to be finished in time for inclusion in the Linux Standard Base (LSB) 4.0, which is due out at the end of 2006.

In addition, Cherry said there were discussions underway to come up with a more structured process of creating desktop specifications similar to the way that the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) develops Requests for Comments (RFCs). Cherry said that there would be an effort to "take specifications currently on and to evaluate which ones need to be moved forward."

Where do we go from here?

Cherry also said that OSDL is putting together resources on writing drivers to help educate developers. (Interested developers may also want to see Greg Kroah-Hartman's HOWTO.)

While on the topic of drivers, Cherry also said that OSDL was focusing on convincing vendors "to be more open with specifications," and dissuade vendors from providing binary drivers -- an issue that has caused some friction in the past.

One good meeting deserves another. Cherry said OSDL is tentatively planning a second Linux Desktop Architect meeting in the Netherlands for May 2006, as well as followup meetings for specific areas like printing, wireless support and drivers, power management, and other areas.

This is not the first time a push has been made to boost Linux use on the desktop. The Desktop Linux Consortium, for example, formed in 2003, has made little headway towards solving the problems facing Linux on the desktop.

Cherry and Seigo both said that this effort will be different, and more likely to be successful in driving Linux desktop adoptions. Cherry said that OSDL is trying to work as a "collaborative point" for developers, rather than "a faction of a bunch of disparate organizations."

Greg Raiz of Raizlabs, who is not a Linux developer, but was invited to the meeting based on an article on his blog, said that he would consider developing software for Linux if the initiatives proposed at the meeting are successful. "It's my hope that the Portland meeting and project will help ease development on the Linux platform. If it does, I expect there will be many developers and companies (including me) who would consider investing time and money in porting their software to Linux."

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