LibreOffice in Brno: Dragons, Friends, and Homebrew Wine

[This post is a re-upload as the original was accidentally deleted! -R]

The plan was simple: Fly from Portland to Chicago to Munich to Brno. I had at least half an hour during each layover, and I’d checked my bags all the way through, so I didn’t have to worry about mucking about with luggage claims mid-voyage. I should’ve been more suspicious when I didn’t get a boarding pass for the last leg of my flight, instead getting a boarding-pass-sized paper with a simple “see agent at gate” printed on the front. It seemed very unofficial.

Several hours later and one detour through Vienna, I was on a bus heading for Brno. Oh, the joys of international travel!

Although the trip to Brno was a little rocky at times, the city was amazing! It was a great place for the conference, the walking tour showing off the city’s “Dragon” was very appreciated, and the Czech people were very friendly, even when we shared no common language. I want to thank all the organizers and the Faculty of Information Technology (FIT) for hosting us!

I wish I’d had more time to explore the venue, but the days were so jam-packed, I never quite found the time. The original buildings are part of a 14th century Cartesian monastery, while the presentation rooms were all in a very modern glass building. There were intricate and varied buildings and facades all over Brno, with some very ancient looking houses and roofs just down the street from the FIT. Some spandexed cyclists with modern road bikes were taking a break at a nearby cafe, and I spied a penny farthing in their support van. Brno was certainly full of surprises!

With all the sessions during the day, it was difficult to get a chance to talk with more than a few people. The afterparty event at Charlie’s Square (a Charlie Chaplain brewery-pub) was a great time to catch up with contributors in several different teams. I think that some of the contributors who don’t speak English — or at least who don’t think they speak it well — often stay silent during some of our electronic meetings in Google Hangouts, on IRC, or on the phone. In person, it’s much easier to see who’s actively participating in a conversation and who is staying quiet or is confused, and then to address that person face-to-face, encouraging them to engage with the group.

The Hackfest night was a great opportunity for the QA Team to have an in-depth meeting. Xisco Fauli, the new QA Engineer, eagerly picked our brains for information about Bugzilla, the Wiki, tools, and techniques, and we spent several hours discussing some of the nuances of LibreOffice development and bug workflow, as well as brainstorming new ideas for our roadmap. I’m currently working on pulling together people for a “LibreOffice Q&A Hangout,” an idea we mercilessly stole from the Ubuntu folks (thanks, Jono!)

There were several sessions I greatly enjoyed, but the Google Summer of Code presentations were unique, as they showcased a whole new crop of LibreOffice contributors. Although many students wrap up work with LibreOffice and move on to new adventures, some stick around and become core contributors to our codebase.

During the conference, all the restaurants and cafes I went to served delicious beers with the meals. Unlike restaurants in the US, apparently each cafe serves beer from just a single vendor. At the end of the conference, I noticed that some small wooden huts were appearing around the town, selling Burčák — a kind of homebrew wine — out of plastic buckets and carboys.

As I understand it, Burčák is a young wine made as a part of the pressing process in the fall. It’s light and sweet, and puts a spring in your step as you’re enjoying a nice walk around Brno. I think one of our challenges as a community going forward will be to put a spring in our step.

To keep up our energy and continue to grow LibreOffice’s capabilities, I think we should recruit more GSoC contributors and then fight to retain a greater percentage of those completing the program. Having young, motivated, and imaginative developers working regularly with LibreOffice will not only inject fresh thinking to the mix, but will also attract other young developers to the project.

In the meantime, I’m going to go find some vineyards here in Texas and try to reproduce that Burčák. Let me know if you’re thirsty, and I’ll make some extra for when you stop by for a face-to-face meeting!

Deep in the Heart of Texas: Love for LibreOffice at Texas Linux Fest!

[This post is a re-upload as the original was accidentally deleted! -R]

When I moved to Texas last year, I wasn’t sure that I’d ever get used to the never-ending hot summers and short autumns. As it turns out, Texas had just escaped from a dry spell in the months before I packed up in Vermont, and the monsoon-like rain storms that I learned to embrace in 2015 and now in 2016 are more the exception than the rule. It makes me wonder how much worse it would be if the sun were shining every day non-stop!

I arrived in Austin the night before the conference, and had a chance to chat with Deb Nicholson, the Director of Community Outreach at the Open Invention Network (OIN). Deb was presenting a talk about the effect of the Supreme Court ruling in Alice v. CLS Bank on software patentability in the US. For programmers and geeks, legal talks can get downright sleep-inducing, but Deb has a way of making this content lively and interesting. If you ever have a chance to see her give a talk at a conference (and she packs a bunch in each year), I heartily recommend it.

Deb’s been a strong supporter of LibreOffice for many years. She organized the first “SpinachCon” UX-Testing event at LibrePlanet, where LibreOffice got some great feedback from both new and intermediate users, and helped with introductions to other conferences in the US such as LinuxFestNW, SELF, Fossetcon, and TXLF. At TXLF she introduced me to Denver Gingerich, License Compliance Engineer with the Software Freedom Conservancy.

The second night of the conference my girlfriend was able to escape from work and join me in Austin, and we had a chance to chat with Denver about Free Software, LibreOffice, and his work in Conservancy. For a project as big as LibreOffice, having an independent foundation like TDF provides effective “lubrication” for all of the community, industry, and government interests to collaborate. The TDF Board does a ton of work behind the scenes, dealing with big questions — like a possible relationship with the Thunderbird email client — as well as very routine things such as keeping our domain registrations up to date.

Conservancy fills a similar role for its constituent members, but rather than being a home for just a couple of projects, it provides oversight, financial management, and infrastructure for over 30 projects, including Inkscape, SAMBA, Wine, Busybox, Git, Mercurial, and Darcs. That’s quite a lot of version control systems living together under one roof, eh?

On Saturday I gave a talk “LibreOffice Online: Flexibility and Freedom.” Even for the geeky crowd at the conference, many were unaware that LibreOffice had developed an online version, or that a downloadable VM was available from Collabora (CODE). Several attendees were excited to learn about the Android version of LibreOffice, and  wanted to learn more about the basic editing capabilities in our beta builds.

At the LibreOffice booth I got a lot of great questions about LibreOffice and our vision for the future. Although we initially were lacking AC power, we jury-rigged up a solution for the first day and were able to keep the laptops running and showing off the latest LibreOffice. Several people stopped by to talk about documentation, volunteering, and avenues of development.

I’m always amused by all of the different things I hear at conferences. At TXLF last year, someone was seriously offended by the size of my business card (it was one of the Moo mini-sized cards). I was considering printing up HUGE cards for 2016, but never found the time for it 🙂

It was great to see friends tabling alongside LibreOffice, including José Rey at the Ubuntu booth and Ken Starks at the ReGlue booth. Ken runs an amazing Texas non-profit that takes donated computer hardware, refurbishes it, loads GNU/Linux, LibreOffice, and other Free Software on it, and then gives machines out to under privileged children and their families. Ken and I had a chance to chat about expanding his operation into the Dallas area, offering free classes about LibreOffice with the machines to make it much easier for students to start using them for schoolwork.

At the end of TXLF, we packed up and headed home, but not before we stopped by Franklin BBQ — arguably the best BBQ restaurant in the whole of Texas. We got up at 5:00 in the morning on Sunday to get in line because Franklin’s regularly runs out of brisket, ribs, or sausage. The restaurant opens at 11AM, so we brought chairs, books, and some drinks in a cooler to beat the heat. As early as we got up, we were still the fourth group in line. Maybe some people never go to bed?

With a delicious end to the trip, I’m certainly looking forward to TXLF next year. Although I like my brisket to be cooked “low and slow,” I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that next summer is a lot cooler than this one’s been so that I don’t ever feel like I’m the brisket in the smoker! I just tried to move a tarp in my backyard, and it tore like tissue-paper, weakened by the sun. I’ll keep on applying the sunscreen, and hope that my skin’s made of tougher stuff than those tarps. Woof!

LibreOffice QA: Halloween Bug Hunting, and so much more!

LibreOffice QA has been busy during the last few months!

We just had our first BugHunting Session for the upcoming LibreOffice 5.1 release over the Halloween weekend. Testing our alpha1 builds, members of the QA Team helped to lead users, developers, and other community members in identifying and documenting problems in our very first binaries available for this release series. Having support from members of QA, L10n, Developers, members of the Design community, and regular LibreOffice users was a great sign for continued cross-team participation. We’re looking forward to seeing a similar mix of contributors during our next BugHunting Session in December.

We identified 104 bugs during the Halloween BugHunting session, primarily from initial testing with the alpha1. Of the 74 of bugs remaining open, 80% have been triaged to previous versions, leaving only 15 bugs tied to LibreOffice 5.1. Looking at all 5.1 versions, there are only 212 open bugs pegged to this release series, with only 44 open bugs pegged against 5.1 alpha1.

We’ve been busy with regression-hunting, performing over 550 bibisects this year, and over 200 since June. With one of our chief regression hunters and bibisect sorcerer Matthew Francis taking a well-earned respite from the cauldron of crafting new bibisect repositories and hacking on Python internals, we’re actively recruiting new QA members to help perform these binary searches on all platforms.

In fact, with so many of our developers (and other community members) using Free Software operating systems on their workstations, there’s always a need for contributors who are running MS-Windows or OS X to help us track down OS-specific bugs. This includes not only performing bibisects, but also debugging and getting a backtrace for a crashing bug.

Keeping our UNCONFIRMED bug count steady has been challenging. Currently hovering in the mid-500s, other important QA tasks and processes have commanded our time, and we could benefit from several more QA Team members to help shoulder the daily influx of new, untriaged bug reports. With the focus of our regular BugHunting Sessions on finding and identifying new issues in our upcoming builds, we may find it useful to host similar events that focus wholly on triage and “gardening” of the mass of existing reports in Bugzilla. Maybe we could have something like “Clean Sweep Mondays,” where we tackle the existing clutter for a set period of time, and post some quick stats such as total drop in UNCONFIRMED, # of NEEDINFO cleaned up, etc.

Work continues on our comprehensive Media Support wiki pages, a collection of tests designed to directly verify the level of support for various image, audio, video, (and other) file formats across all of our platforms. Keeping these pages up to date ensures that they continue to be a resource for QA bug triaging as well as for our volunteers helping to answer questions on the Ask LibreOffice site. Lead by QA Team member raal, we now have initial image test results for Android, and are interested in talking with developers who’d like to expand the Android Viewer’s capabilities in this area, as well as testers who would like to expand our battery of test results for the Android OS.

Coming up during the first weekend in December, we’re holding our BugHunting Session for the 5.1 Beta1 build. For those of you who are interested in kicking the tires and working with a still-rough-around-the-edges piece of software, your help is greatly appreciated. With a large package such as LibreOffice, it’s invaluable to have the technical members of our userbase exercise some of the more esoteric features of LibreOffice, and identify any minor regressions or usability concerns early-on in the release process.

The QA Team looks forward to seeing you in IRC anytime, or stopping by one of our weekly Wednesday meetings. We’re always happy to answer your questions about bug reports, bibisecting, etc., and to helping new contributors get started with the LibreOffice community!

Up up and away to FOSDEM

It’s quite amazing to be 6 miles up in the sky, hurtling through the air at hundreds of miles per hour, and have the opportunity to work on rebasing Bugzilla customizations as easily as if I were at my desk at home.

When I was in the air, the outside temperature was south of -60°F, a fair bit further down the scale from what we get in Vermont, but a blanket over the knees is the proper remedy in both places, so I felt right at home as I poked and prodded away at reviewing and testing bits of code. What an amazing time it is that we can bring our work with us to the furthest reaches of the world!

Speaking of the reaches of the world, I’ve now just arrived in Belgium for FOSDEM. the largest Free/Open Source Conference held in Europe, and an excellent opportunity to learn about a number of very tasty beers! Held every year at Université Libre de Bruxelles, FOSDEM attracts a large number of students in addition to the professionals and volunteers who descend upon Brussels from Europe, the USA, and elsewhere.

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LibreOffice at LinuxFest Northwest

Tucked up at the top of Washington state — only a few miles away from Canada — LinuxFest Northwest is a perfect example of a welcoming, regional FOSS conference.

Like the town of Bellingham that plays host to the weekend’s activities, LinuxFest Northwest isn’t gunning to get as big as possible. Rather, LFNW provides a smaller-sized conference that is much more accessible to newcomers to GNU/Linux than bigger, industry-lead events. When I gave presentations in the rooms at Bellingham Technical College, I had a marvelous mix of both experienced technical experts as well as individuals that had just shown up because they were interested in learning more about computers and Free/Open Source Software.

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Working on badges for the Document Liberation Project

I love free and open formats

The graphics are still a work in progress, but they’re coming along quite well. I think this one is my favorite so far, as the message is so universal, and the small splash of red is the perfect balance for the blue of the background.

Once I finish these badges and wrap up some related work, I’ll try to find time to create badges for TDF and LibreOffice as well. I don’t usually get time to spend on graphic design, which is too bad, because it can be so much fun. Working with Inkscape can be a little bit tricky at times, but I’ve been trying to follow good habits (e.g. resizing and aligning objects using exact numerical values), and that discipline is very helpful in staying sane when trying to work on a set of different graphics all at the same time.