main tech

PulseAudio in Hardy by default!

Woa! That’s a news! I’m a huge fan of PulseAudio, it really seems to be the Compiz of sound.

I dream about the day when I’ll be able to move audio streams live between my 5.1 sound system and headphones without restarting apps.

I dream about the day when I’ll be able to use 2 laptops to emulate dolby surround by setting one laptop as a front speakers and another as rare speakers.

I dream about the day when I’ll be able to make browser not play sounds (flash ads!) while Amarok is loud. Until Skype is calling of course, when Amarok goes down to 5% 🙂

PulseAudio promises that, and I’m happy my next Ubuntu will go this path.

main tech

Project watcher update (part 2)

Updates, part two.

  • Crystal Space – In January 2007, Crystal Space finally, after 10 years (sic!) of development, has reached 1.0 release. One of the most popular and important projects related to open source gaming space has a stable release! It’s a big step forward, and I consider it as a symbol. Many of the things that happened after this release could of course happened before CS 1.0, but the magical barrier, that means “you can rely on this release” is important. CS is now in 1.2 stage, with many game projects using it, and it’s joining with Blender in effort to create a new game, more on this later. CS is healthy and stays important part of currently rising open source game world. Read changelog to get an idea on where CS is in terms of new features.
  • Yake – this project spent the last 1,5 year in the shadow, but surprisingly it’s alive! They have skipped 0.5 release, and went straight forward to 0.6 released on April 2007 to public and 0.7 being ready in it’s branch. On the other hand, the wiki is down for some time, it’s hard to find any changelogs. Most of the communication happens through forums, and there’s not much going on yet. I’d say that probably Yake is waiting for it’s “1.0” to get momentum and attention. Pity, cause it seems to be the cleanest API for game writing and it bases on OGRE, so you get all the beauty of OGRE updates and Yake updates with each release.
  • Speaking of OGRE 3D – In mid 2005, OGRE got it “1.0” and it took a year to get next stabel release – 1.2. It happened on May 2006, and was followed by 1.4 in March 2007. I’m not a game dev, just an observer, but OGRE seems to be the biggest project around. With professional games like Ankh or Pacific Storm it was tested in battle, huge wiki, strong and ultra-active community, and huge amount of projects using it, it’s just a pleasure watching it’s growth. It seems that this project is getting attention beside of the Open Source/Linux walls and may be one of the best ambassadors beside of Firefox, Open Office, Thunderbird or Blender that we have.
  • Blender – another success story. Since last Project Watcher, Blender upgraded itself from 2.40 to 2.45. It’s simply impossible to list all the new features between those two. Just read the release notes: 2.41, 2.42, 2.43, 2.44, 2.45.
    By the way. I love how they present themself to the community. Their release notes are the best I’ve ever seen (even a total newbie can *see* what’s going on), they have huge amount of community related websites, great video tutorials, and extremely interesting UI. It has rather high learning curve, but it’s very intuitive once you get it and feels very fast.
  • GIMP – This project reminds me Mozilla Suite it many ways. It has great potential, but UI blocks it from being a success. It took them a way too much time to release 2.4, but it’s very nice and mature. The only problem that stays is the UI, which is impractical and hard to learn. Fortunately they guys know what keeps them down. MMIWorks, a company specialized in UI design, is tracking the work on the new UI. What’s interesting here is that Gimp team tends to use the community and they keep their progress in open. Read the Wiki, and the blog. I may be wrong but it seems to be the first “big” open source project that goes through major UI redesign to match the world standards and it happens in open. It’s very interesting to watch how this works.
  • Elephant’s Dream – The movie is ready now. You can download it and watch, it’s beautiful, but too “artistic” in screenplay for me. I’d like something “easier” to attract wider attention. They probably can read my mind, cause they already started project “Pitch” – another open source movie made in the model of “Hack’a’ton” (well, half year of it). It’s going to be cute, pink and funny. During each movie they testing quality of Blender and influencing it’s development. Oh, it’s perfect model of development 🙂 You’ve got open source movies, better 3d software, and models from the movie will be used in the open source game (Crystal Space + Blender). Tadam 🙂

Enough for today. The gaming/modeling stage is very healthy and all the projects are progressing (with Yake a bit behind) 🙂 I should add Irrlicht and Inkscape to the group, and I’ll write more about it once I get through the current state of whole Project Watcher list and start adding new members.

main tech

Mandriva 2008 Live UX

Ok. I put my hands on Mandriva 2008.

I must say honestly, I never liked Mandriva (Mandrake) too much. In the times when I was working for MaxWeber, I tried to use it as my main distro for some time and I felt like in a candy shop, with all those plastic colors, plus the overall experience was pretty “old-fashion-linux-like” in terms of feeling that I’m using a combination of pieces glued together. It’s my old and well known accusion against KDE. (Gnome was a bit better, especially in Ubuntu edition)

I hope that the past did not influence my review, thus I decided it’s better to inform readers about it, to stay fair.

I focused during this test course on the things that are specific to Mandriva distribution plus the overall experience during 10-20 minutes test. It’s not sufficient to put any general statements about the quality and (same as with OpenSUSE 10.3 UX review) I’d like people to give it a try before judging. I did not install Mandriva 2008, and this may influence the experience I have had, altough most of the things I focused on are unrelated to what could have change in the installed system. (that statement bases on my knowledge about Linux and installation processes).
The first thing you see after booting from the CD is a nice, blueish theme. It’s still a bit too candy like, but I feel ok with that, and I’m sure many people will really find it attractive.
A little glitch with grub is that you see a (themed) menu but with only one option to choose and 10 delay before auto starting it. Most people won’t notice, and you can’t say it’s a bug, but what for? I can guess that it’s made to allow some people in corner cases modify the launch options, but once more the sin of Linux Distributions is presented. Majority experiences options made for minority.

Boot screen is just like a modern boot theme in Linux distros. I find it less attractive than suse’s one, but that’s probably because I spent so much time with designers and they raped my aesthetics, so in result I love when things are very small. suse’s progress bar is smaller. 😉

The first thing that I found different to most live cd’s is that you have to make some choices before seeing the deskop. You’re choosing languages, time zone, time format, 3d special effects (metisse, compiz fusion or nothing).

I can understand the reason for which they did it. Especially the 3d part makes you aware of what the desktop will be like. There is a clear description of each choice, so even a novice user will understand the consequences of his choice. User who’s already aware of what he’s doing (experienced linux user testing mandriva) will like this idea. I like it. It makes it possible for me to choose in 3 steps how I want the desktop to looks like.

main tech

UX of OpenSUSE 10.3

Today, I tried OpenSUSE 10.3. Installation went fine, although it was at least partially because I installed various OpenSUSE many times before. The installation process is definitely too long but I don’t have off hat ideas on how to make it shorter.

The initial feeling after login is… fresh. It feels fresh. I like the wallpaper, sound theme. The start menu is as always extremely cool and usable. Those three aspects make OpenSUSE first experience really nice. My gf spent about 10 minutes and had absolutely no problem to find herself in the new environment. She knew it’s different from Windows, but she liked they way how different it is.

The first unpleasant experience came after updating system with suse system update. Sound card went down. After some debugging it came out that all devices in /dev/snd were in group audio, and I was not a member of this group (nor any other system user was). I just added it to /etc/group, but that’s totally a blocker that makes the system useless. Imagine Joe Average on my place with his first, brave try of this Linux thing, when he can hear cute login sound on the first time, then he clicks on “update” icon to update his system and then, after reboot – no more sound Joe!

Second unpleasant experience came few minutes later during short user-testing session on my gf. She really liked the wallpaper set, she found the start menu very nice and intuitive, she clicked through apps/docs/places, read right column, wowed over search menu, but then said “It seems there’s not too many apps here” – user used to Windows like start menu with zillion apps feels a bit “empty”. She did not find the “Other apps” icon, but this may be due to the nature of this experiment with me standing over her head.

But the problem appeared when I pointed her this button. She clicked on it, and it took over 30 seconds for the new menu to appear. The new menu is a window, almost full-screen with huge amount of apps in a flat layout. That’s different to Windows, but nothing “bad”. Until she started reading the descriptions. “DMA channels”, “OpenGL”, “PCI”, “Partitions”, “SCSI”, “Samba status”, “Processor”, “X Server”… thank you! Stop!

Who the hell came with this idea? Let me guess… no one. No one actually took care to do this very freakin simple user action flow – login, click on Computer, click on Other Apps, read the first line, compare it with what the user expects to see. Hello!?

Clicking on “Home folder” icon on the desktop to see a window with “bin”, “public_html” directories and one file named “nautilus-debug-log.txt” is also something that should be considered as a suicide.

That’s it for now. OpenSUSE looks really good, it makes great first impression, more familiar for Windows users than Ubuntu, it has way more complicated installation process and lacks the LiveCD+Installer idea from Ubuntu which is so obvious once you get used to it.

Anyway, it’s really frustrating that with each and every linux distro I launch, it takes up to 3 minutes to find a first UX bug. Always. And I’m not talking about super-duper-heavy-LFS like distros. I’m talking about Ubuntu, Mandriva, Fedora, OpenSUSE…

We overcame huge limitations of X system, we developed eye candy to the extend never seen before, we have very, very secure systems, we have huge variety of distributions that create healthy ecosystem of competing solutions and ideas. We developed the best ever seen system of application management and installation, we made it all. Few years ago the blockers for Linux adoption were technical. Sound cards didn’t work. Monitor resolution was badly autodetected. Printer was unavailable. CDROM was not detected. Today, we overcame ALL of those. Virtually ALL! Last three or four hardware pieces I bought were much better recognized by my Ubuntu than Windows! Including USB headphones which are recognized as USB hotplugged sound card! No problem for Ubuntu! Huge problem with Windows.

But in the end, it’s depressing that we still fail to provide the UX without very visible, simple to avoid, flaws. In Ubuntu, you have great chance to see something like “/dev/sda2” on the very first desktop you open after logging in. In SUSE you hit “nautilus-debug-log.txt” in your virgin home folder and “DMA Channels” as an example of “other apps”.

I know that users will learn this. After one day, such problems disappear and new patterns are memorized, I know that people with motivation (and the motivation is easily raised by the blue screen of death) will switch and will be happy in the end. But all those “mistakes” looks like ignorance. Like if no one did actually install his own distro on an empty drive and SEE how it works. For 5 minutes. To make those 5 minutes perfect.

Tomorrow I’m going to try Fedora 8.


Project watcher update (part 1)

As some of you may remember, over one and a half year ago I posted a list of software/hardware projects that I’m interested in. I named it “Project watcher” and some of my friends and readers followed my path. I really liked the idea, but on the other hand I felt I’m not updating the list and it may become obsolete with time.

Overall, the project seems to be my personal success. I really used it every month or two to see what’s going on there and I want to keep the project alive 🙂

Now, I’m going to prepare an update of the list, but first I’d like to summarize what happened in the project I’ve been following since  7th of March 2006.

First on the list are games:

  •  TA Sprint –  it came up I didn’t follow the progress of this project to carefully. Simply, had no time to play this game. I still feel there’s a lot of potential inside and according to my knowledge progress was made from release of 0.72b into 0.75b with 4 releases in the given interval. Projects is alive and kicking 🙂
  • Boson –  I really miss a good RTS for Linux (Blizzard! Open Starcraft!), so I use Boson as one of the references for “new C&C“. In 2006 Boson received two updates – 0.12 and 0.13. Unfortunately since then not much has happened. There was some planning of the campaign story line, but the last edit on their Wiki was made on April 30th, and since then  there’s not much going on. The last SVN commit was made 3 months ago. 0.13 is mostly a graphic upgrade over 0.11, the game is playable but it’s stil in it’s very alpha stage with very “generic” feeling of missions, gameplay etc.
  • Attal – This was my hope for “HOMM” like game. The website is totally down now, for the whole time it was  dead and nobody updated it, but the development of the code has happened. The team (rather very small) did some coding this year, and they seems to be preparing 1.0RC release (+rewrite to Qt4 for 1.1?). The game is in non-playable state, at least for me, it requires huge update of graphics to catch up with the reality but who knows… Once 1.0 is out it may be very different.
  • Planeshift – amazing project. Open source MMORPG game. They’re very active, managed to create a healthy and alive community of developers, beta testers, players. It’s an a huge pleasure to watch them growing. When I was creating first PW, it was just past the 0.3.013 release. 0.3 was a long awaited update over 0.2, huge rewrite, very needed and awaited. 0.3.x line is much more about role playing than any other RPG game I’ve ever seen. At the time there was no fighting mode at all! The game has a lot of unique concepts, like their own races, unique economy system, interesting idea of Death Real which is a separate world where you “live” once you die and can stay there or try to get back to the real world, huge, multilevel idea of Game Masters, and many more. In the time frame between last PW and today, there were many minor updates from 0.3.013 to 0.3.020, but those updates are pretty lengthy – take a look at their website to list them. Short summary is about more skins, more monster variations, better cast spellings, update to stable Crystal Space 1.0 engine, many updates to crafting system, new areas, key/lock system and tens of hundreds updates to the graphic system. Overall the game is totally playable, the world is “alive” and there’s a great future for this game, as it’s one of the examples of huge and healthy open source community and system for players. The authors are not in hurry, have time and patient, and community is happy with current state, so in result I don’t expect any stupid rush, but steady growth which will make the game better and better all the time.
  • America’s Army –  unfortunately, this is a case of a regression. After many years, the game devs decided to resign from Linux version, thus I’ve been following the game progress less carefully. The game is of course free by nature (free as in beer), so you can download the latest version being 2.8.2 and enjoy if you’re Windows user. According to WineHQ AppDB it won’t run on it 🙁 I’m waiting for 3.0 release which will base on Unreal Engine 3. I still enjoy playing the game but didn’t play much during last 1,5 year.
  • Glest –  It’s another interesting project. RTS by nature, it’s a bit similar in structure and model of development to Nexuiz. It’s open source, but strongly driven by a solid core team and does not depend on the community itself. It gathers the community, but it’s definitely ot “driven by” a community. Since last PW it received major update to 2.0, but later there seems to be no active development in public taking place. Such projects are usually either driven by some fundings/sponsorship or as a project for studies. Not sure which happened here, but I hope it’ll go further. The current state is that the game is totally playable, it has nice graphics, but requires a lot of polishing to grow up from the Warcraft I kind of details.
  • Danger from the Deep – not much market noise created by the game, but it received multiple updates since first PW. It’s a submarine kind of game (Silent Hunter, Silent Service) By the time it was 1.0 stage, I remember chatting with it’s main dev about his plans and ideas and he was rather calm and confident about what he wants to make with it. I love such attitude in open source model 🙂 We have 0.3 version now, it’s pretty much playable and gave me a lot of joy, and there is a progress happening on the CVS.  It seems that authors are deeply interested in a realism of the game, as they really try to reproduce the “feeling” of submarine with all the details (not like Silent Hunter, where you have candylike simplification of what a submarine work is). I believe that they need a bit of cleanup in sources, which usually happens in the middle between first alpha and first stable (~0.5) cause currently it’s all flat in one directory. The game seems to have great future ahead, although I think it would be easier if they will switch to some external graphics engine instead of developing their own (leverage).
  • Vega Strike –  this project was nearly dead for last 2 years, but all of the sudden, we have 0.5 beta now! Also, we have a new website and it seems that the project is alive again, I’m just downloading to test it. From what I remember about 0.4.x line it had very nice graphics, but the world felt “empty” and it was hard for starters to find out what to do. I’m going to keep observing the progress.
  • Eternal Lands –  magical project. The whole development is being made behind the scene, there seems to be no elements of a normal open source project (say, news, changelogs are on the forum), it has extremely active community, similarly to Planeshift I think, and huge world. It’s very stable, the graphics are very simple (reminds me Ultima Online), but it’s totally enough to enjoy the huge, full of quests world, many guilds, fan sites and, of course, players. It’s very mature as for an open source project. It has tutorial system, leveling system, fighting, etc. everything that needs to be for a successful game. I think that if the author could upgrade graphics to 2007 standards, it could storm the gaming world 🙂 Look at main dev’s blog for more news.
  • Nexuiz –  As I mentioned before, it seems to be a project similar to Glest. No major community, small but strongly devoted group of devs (friends?) and an amazing result. Nexuiz is beautiful, and very carefully detailed game that is ready to use. New releases ( 1.5 ->2.3 since first PW) are mostly for new maps and performance updates. The team seems to be working on a new game, named Zymotic,  but Nexuiz is still being developed. As always we’ll probably see it once it’s ready to use and will be able to only say “Wow!”. (I found an SVN repo for the game.It seems that it’ll use DarkPlaces engine,  the same as Nexuiz)
  • Legends –  I must admit, I didn’t follow the game progress at all. It seems to be developed actively but can’t say much about it. From what I remember it has nice graphics and platform, but that’s all I know 🙂
  • UFO A.I. –  This game has interesting history – the game was initially developed in close source manner, by a small group of fans since 2003. After major slowdown in development in Q4 2005, the team decided to open the game and since then the project is pretty active, with release 2.1.1 in may 2007. I didn’t play recent releases, but from what I remember from time I did, the game is very nice and really has a “heart and soul” of UFO series. CVS repo is active (last checkins from week ago) and it seems project survived well.

In a summary I’d like to categorize the games via the development model. Please consider that all the games described here are free, and all but one are open source.

“traditional Open Source model pre-1.0” –  strong role of a forum, wiki, bug tracker, low entry barrier. There’s a very thin line between users and a community.  Actually most users of the product are part of the community that follows development progress, report bugs,  take part in feature planning etc. Such model is usually pretty flexible,  and projects are very active, with new code commits every second day or so.  (UFO A.I.)
“traditional Open Source model post-1.0” – still a strong role of a forum,wiki,bug tracker, a bit higher entry barrier. The split line between users and a community is getting higher, but still the community takes a very active role in the direction of the project. There’s a thin line between community and developers. (Planeshift,Wesnoth, FreeCiv)

“silent project model” – the games that are passionately developer by a very small group of people (one or two), with low noise, low activism, very small to none community involvement. Those are the projects were the project leader is driven by the fun of game creating and while he definitely feels that he creates the project FOR users, he doesn’t need a community watching his hands and screaming his name to do his job. In such case, there may be 50 downloads per year  and very small community noise, yet the game progresses with releases every year or two and exists for, say, 10 years.(examples: Boson, Attal, Danger from the Deep, Crystal Core)

“mod model” – in such model, we have a project based on some older game, usually proprietary, where fans of the game creates a community and development group of the project. It’s usually pretty much closed, the barrier is rather high, not because of the attitude but because of lack of time and interest in getting new people involved. In such model the development happens behind the scene, community knows where, while newcomers are just a potential users, there’s no effort in trying to get their energy used for the project. (examples: TA Spring, Legends)

“semi-closed model” – in such model, there’s a group of people that have some external motivator for their work (funding, university project etc.) and have no intention in raising the team. In such model the entry barrier is almost impossible to pass, there’s a strong line between contributors and users and there’s very small “community” that is made of users who stay users. The “community” in such model is just a forum users usually who may report bugs, propose ideas or talk to each others, and the dev team will respond from time to time. It’s very near to usual closed-source gaming model of community (think: community of America’s Army, The Witcher, or most other games).  (examples: Nexuiz, Glest,  Vega Strike)

Notice,that the first two  -named (traditional Open Source) follows the Bazaar model, while the other three, may or may not use it being near to Cathedral one.

I know that some of the projects could hit a few models at the same time (Crystal Core being both, traditional OS before 1.0, and silent model, or UFO A.I. being traditional and mod model), but I tried to choose most important part of the model which seems to define other aspects of how the project is being developed.

Fair enough. In the next part I’ll present new projects from games part that I care about and will update this area.

Hope you like it 😉