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Thursday, April 17. 2008
Posted by Neil Williams in Debian
Defined tags for this entry: Debian
It's time for me to stop complaining about the commercialisation of SourceForge and vote with my code. I'm leaving for brighter, bluer pastures at Alioth.
Query Object Framework is first (libqof1). The others will follow. I'm leaving because of unusable mailing list archives, impossibly slow web pages and wiki and the general amount of work involved in the SF interface. I'm gaining sane mailing lists, a friendly and usable ikiwiki and a simpler (although very similar) interface.
I'm also migrating most of those packages to subversion. With so many other changes, it's not exactly a problem to add cvs2svn into the mix.
Now, of course, this does not mean that these upstream packages suddenly become Debian-only or Debian-native. It does mean that I have a chance of encouraging new developers to join the team by providing the kinds of services and support that people need when starting off with a new project. (I suppose the one thing I don't yet have is an IRC channel. Not sure if it is worthwhile but I'll see what happens.)
QOF will form the basis of the support available for each of the other projects - all will share the same low-volume QOF-devel mailing list and QOF Wiki as provided by Alioth. I'll also migrate QuickList because I'm looking at restarting development on a stalled project allied to QOF and which could provide missing functionality in QuickList. I did look at Gaby in this mix but a botched Gtk1->Gtk2 transition that ended up with two incompatible forks running different parts of the original codebase put me off completely (and neither of the forks actually worked). (Some packages deserve to be dead upstream.)
I'm looking for new blood, fresh faces and a new desire to take these projects forwards. The driving force is data freedom - creating data-driven applications that are completely agnostic to where and how the data happens to be stored. It is user data, it should be as free as the source code that wrote it. Who cares what format it is in? Let's get it into a format that some other program can use and make use of the existing data instead of duplicating it all the time. (The observant will note that my old haunt of GnuCash is stubbornly ignorant of the merits of a decent import/export implementation that actually covers more than 50% of the data in the application. No wonder I took the chance to sponsor homebank.)
DWI Data With Interaction (aka DUI -- Data Under the Interface) is what can provide the missing interfaces. It'll take a while to get it back up to date and available in Debian but it can provide the link between data and interfaces. GNU/Linux users should be able to design an interface purely on the basis of the data that it needs to handle and not care one jot about how that data comes from one free software app and goes on to the next free software app. QOF is gaining a connection to libgda which means that data can go to and fro between a whole range of databases and file formats. Homebank and pilot-qof can gain new data inputs (and possibly outputs) by utilising the existing import/export support in new ways via DWI/QOF (as libqof2). That can give a complete interface for all PIM and financial data for a typical SOHO user and all based on SQL-type queries so that every stage of the process can be tweaked and optimised according to user requirements at runtime.
(Where does Emdebian come into this? Well, many people like me need to record and process PIM/financial data on the move so Emdebian means that those users can have the same data processing on their handhelds as on the desktop. Smaller apps to capture the data quickly and efficiently whilst on the move; larger apps to refine, optimise and filter the data on the desktop entirely under user control but with a simple, scriptable, interface based on runtime queries so that the user can do exactly the same conversions tomorrow with new data but none of the configuration. Easy!)
Is this groupware ? No - it is personal, ultimately flexible and entirely customised for particular users by the users themselves. It's about small niche markets, about independent business people with bespoke and highly specialised requirements. No one is going to spend time writing their reports in Scheme or Haskell, because they are the only people who need that particular report. Instead, that individual user needs to be empowered through a simple and intuitive interface to take a piece of data from one source, correlate it with a static piece of data from individual configuration sources, calculate a result according to a third piece of data from a completely separate source and combine them all into a new set of objects that can be used in other queries. It's about preparing invoices from Palm data, it's about handling customer accounts for a one-man company or handling a stocks and shares portfolio for a partnership. Ultimately customised, ultimately flexible and completely format-agnostic.
These are the kind of applications that hold people back from GNU/Linux migrations - bespoke applications that are developed for just a few small companies or just a few situations. Free software finds it hard to provide those apps because free software depends (currently) on someone else being motivated to write a bespoke program and that person rarely understands the niche. This is a chance to put the development into the hands of those with the motivation to do the work, by making the development process more WYSIWYG.
The question is: Can we come up with a better name for DWI, dear lazyweb?
"DWI is a fairly simple environment for quickly creating data-driven applications, that is, graphical applications that manipulate and show info from a database. This environment differs from others in that it is focused on native GTK/Gnome support through the Glade GUI designer, and thus allows you to build user interfaces as elegant as you can make them in Glade."
The big appeal is that DWI is database-agnostic - it only cares about the data structure, not the file format. Ally that with QOF which provides data-centric SQL-based queries and conversions between objects (including combining elements from one object into one or more other objects without having to hardcode the connection between the objects at compile time) and we have an interesting and powerful combination of engines, frontends and backends that are all data-centric.
Please, if this sparks your interest, join the QOF-devel mailing list, have a play with the ikiwiki at http://qof.alioth.debian.org/ and have a go with the code. This whole area is begging for development but it is just so far from being usable by the target audience at this stage. There is a lot of programming to be done by current developers before the principles can be let loose on the masses.
This is about working between existing projects and between distributions - no longer dedicated to a single application, platform or file format, no more tunnel vision. Work on the edges of existing applications (and indeed projects), remove the sharp edges of applications that should work together but can't. The majority of the code in these libraries and applications is already stable and mature. Like so many parts of free software, it is time, IMHO, to put aside our egotistical devotion to the one-true-executable and come up with an actual solution.
Bah! I'm beginning to sound like a PR exec instead of a dedicated geek. What does it take to motivate people and get things done around here?
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