Welcome, 2014

So 2013 is finally over and it’s been an energy-sapping year, business-, baby-, and building wise.

Business. The stagnation that was present for pretty much the first half of the year and which forced us to downsize a bit, had been replaced by too many projects all at once in the 2nd half of the year. And while it was welcome since it saved us from closing doors, it prevented working on our private projects, i.e. our apps in the store, but also personal pet projects – let alone anything open source.

Baby. After 7 horrible months between Lara Marie’s 5th and 13th month, she finally began sleeping great, often 12 hours without waking up. She’s now 2.5 years and everything is good. Still, she’s a demanding little one, enjoying being offered a selection of everything instead of deciding on her behalf. I love her.

Building. With a bit of (natural) delay, our new house was finished by November and we did move on 9th of December. We’re now 2 months in here and it’s feeling mostly great. We had to monitor and decide on a LOT of things during the construction phase, but apart from the usual minor issues, the building quality is good and we enjoy the comfort of having a dedicated room for Lara Marie. Being able to use the living room again after 20:00 is nice :)

I took the liberty to install a dedicated server for the house which is living in a 19″ rack in the utility room. I’m going to post about the networking infrastructure soon.

Referring to my last post, I’m still planning on doing the sabbatical, but due to some unforeseeable circumstances with my wife’s health, it had to be postponed for a bit. It’s going to happen in 2014 though, which is why I’m sure, 2014 is going to be better than 2013.

The state of things in 2013

Salut!

I didn’t blog for quite a while, since – as I’ve mentioned before – these days, Facebook seems to me the more appropriate forum for shorter status messages.

That aside, let me recap how things are these days. Since the birth of Lara Marie, quite a lot in my life has changed. I haven’t been contributing to any open source projects nor did I have time to continue my writing of articles and books. This leaves me being quite unsatisfied.

Business-wise, my iOS/Android-company had to struggle a bit in late 2012, since a lot of clients cancelled or postponed their app projects due to the unstable economy in europe. Thankfully we’re now being more busy again, however I find myself being pretty annoyed with how our projects are being performed these days. Dealing with customers who try to squeeze more and more features into an app and loading you with change requests while at the same time insisting on the fixed price offer is extremly annoying. Plus the pure nature of many mini-projects we get (typically one or two person weeks) where the communication overhead results in us working twice the amount of time we actually get paid for.

Perhaps we need to be more strict and organize the workflow better. On the other hand, it rather looks like the mobile app market is dominated by so-called “full service design agencies” which then outsource the actual implementation to us, keeping us out of the actual decisions, but paying us only a minimal share of what they get.

In a world of HTML5 and cross-platform-tools ruining the prices, it also seems increasingly difficult to convey the benefits of a highly device-optimized native app.

With 30 years of experience in information technology (heck, I even received a Ph.D ;) – do I really still need to discuss about button placements and whether billing a bunch of additional hours is justified, when all I did was implementing “that trivial feature”?

After five years of iOS development, it might be the time for me to move to something new – or come back to old things. That’s why I’m pondering about a combination of a sabbatical and a parental leave in 2014.

Towards the end of 2012

Hi folks!

Obviously I don’t manage to update this blog more than a few times a year. I must confess that – for smaller status messages – I find Facebook and Twitter working quite well. So if you want to stay in touch a bit more, hop over to my page @ Michael Lauer or follow my Tweets @ DrMickeyLauer.

The biggest tasks this year was getting Lara Marie to sleep well and buying a house, both which we finished successfully. Right now we have a hole in the ground, but it’s supposed to be finished by October 2013. I’m going to report about the progress now and then.

FOSS-wise I didn’t manage to do anything meaningful more than visiting FOSDEM and the OHSW this year. I tried to catch up with what’s happening in FSO, Vala, and OpenEmbedded though. Since I do no longer use OE on a frequent basis, I decided to not run for re-election as OE board member, thus also resigning from being OE e.V. president. I’m quite happy to hand the paperwork over to someone else ;)

With Lara Marie growing older (she’s now 18 months), I enjoy being a father more and more. While mommy was #1 in the first year, it becomes apparent that I’m #1 in the 2nd year, helping the little one to form her individuality and her will.

Company-wise 2012 was a bit of a ride as due to the economy some of our biggest clients postponed their app updates and we struggled a bit getting enough contracts to keep the four of us busy. Then again, we worked on our own apps in the free time and I’m happy to announce the next major version of Volksradio / Just Radio, which is going to ship soon.

I wish all of you a merry 2013!

Yours, Mickey!

Coming back from FOSDEM

After having skipped FOSDEM in 2011, I wanted to go this year, especially because of the Golden Delicious stand where we had the OpenPhoenux GTA04 on show. A lot of people came around and were excited that someone picked up where Openmoko had left in 2009. The GTA04 is the true successor of the FreeRunner and I strongly invite all of you to support this movement by buying one. You will not get a more open mobile phone anywhere else.

I know that Brussels is always a bit colder than Frankfurt, so I tend to carry appropriate clothing… what I didn’t expect though was that it was frickin’ -20 on saturday. I have never been freezing more in my life. Lets cross fingers that I won’t come back home with a cold. Especially due to the crazy public transportation situation. The Deutsche Bahn managed to accumulate a one hour delay on my way to Brussels – that’s ok, however they managed to crash the engine in Aachen on my way back. So badly that we had to switch to a regional train and switch again in Cologne. Man… *sigh*

On to some good news… another thing I didn’t expect was kind of an Openmoko family reunion. It was amazing to find Jan Lübbe, Stefan Schmidt, Daniel Willmann, Harald Welte, and even Rasterman hanging around at FOSDEM. That was just great. I also happened to share my hotelroom with Boudewijn which was unexpected but again very cool.

So despite the freezing, it was a great FOSDEM for me and I’m looking forward to go again next year, perhaps bringing Sabine and Lara Marie as well.

IT has seen a crazy year

Information Technology has seen a really crazy year. Among all the smaller incidents, the big bangs involved Nokia partnering with Microsoft, abandoning Maemo, HP driving with WebOS against the wall, patent lawsuits everywhere.

What that means for FOSS-lovers is clear… you can’t trust any company to continue working on anything. Business demands are what counts in the world of mass markets. If you want longterm support for a platform, your best bet is to build a community around it. But you will also want to work on hardware support otherwise you’ll run into the next dead end.

To be honest, right now I don’t see much of a future for any mobile Linux-inspired platform other than the mutation called Android. But that’s not much of a problem per se. The smartphone market is crazy. To compete in that world, you have to give up on freedom. But is the mass market really what we want? Is it what mobile Linux needs?

I don’t think so. There are still huge opportunities for using Linux-based mobile software platforms in niches such as machine2machine communication, home automation, research, teaching, and more. That’s where a service-based middleware like FSO comes into the game: for special interests. However, even niche-adoption is hindered without a minimal set of applications. And that is where we still lack: Even special interest people want to use their smartphones to manage contacts, browse the web, send mails, play media, etc. We don’t have an integrated software stack with a complete set of UI applications that would cover these needs. Openmoko worked on one, but failed. Nokia worked on multiple ones, but gave up (multiple times). What else do we have?

With HP’s recent announcement about releasing WebOS as open source, the game may have changed. If we could use the WebOS application stack on top of the FSO middleware, we may have a real chance to get something great and usable – and complete – soon. I have always liked the WebOS UI. If it’s a bit slower than other UIs, who cares as long as it is free?

Towards the end of 2011

Tempus fugit. I can tell you. Even more so, if you have a baby. I must confess I somewhat underestimated the impact the baby would have on my spare time. In some weird mindset I really thought I could continue working as usual on my open source projects… as we know now I couldn’t. I completely lost track and have to catch up with all changes that happened over the last 6 months.

The first bunch of weeks with the baby were really demanding. I mean, really. She screamed a lot and could only sleep in our arms. Boy, were we tired. We carried her around so much we have Schwarzenegger arms now. But it’s great to see her developing, err… growing up, of course. With 6 months now she is a very interested baby, eager to learn new things and always trying to become more mobile.

Luckily both my wife and me are self-employed. It so much easier when you can skip some hours at the usual start of the workday and also at the usual end. Of course, the work needs to be done, so we have to compensate when she’s in bed. But still, it’s very satisfying being able to see her twice a day for a couple of hours — not all families have this luxury. Plus the existence of our two invaluable grandmas… it’s great.

Company-wise, the Lauer & Teuber GbR had an amazing year with many interesting iOS (and some Android) projects. We have reached the maximum we can do with the two guys we are, so we decided to grow and hire our first regular employee who’s going to start in 2012. We also rented another office and are already moving.

I’m slowly getting back into some of my beloved open source projects… it’s great that work on e.g. FSO did not stall at all, but continued while I was “away”. Last week, I attended the 3rd installment of the Open Hard- and Software Workshop in munich, where the latest development of the very promising GTA04 mobile phone was presented. I had a talk about Vala which was well received. By the way, my Vala-book plans are not dead yet… just in parking position :)

Next week I’m attending the FSOSHRCON, a joined conference with the people working on the freesmartphone.org middleware and the SHR software. It’s going to be great seeing all the folks again, concentrating a full weekend to agree on some important issues laying the path forward for the next year. Can’t wait to be there.

What’s left is the feeling that an extremely busy year has passed by, spiced with incredibly intense emotions. I’m a happy man and I love my life. I’m given exciting opportunities, but also challenges – and I plan to accept everything :)

All the best to you guys!

The Eagle Has Landed!

After letting us wait for a bit longer than scheduled (13 days), the hospital initiated the contractions. For the first couple of hours, everything went just perfect, but then the little one got stuck on the way and we had to resort to a cesarean section. Lara Marie Lauer was born 8th of June at 04:41 (AM) with 3460 gramms and 49 cm.

Mummy was still on intensive care and so they gave her to me. I can’t express the feelings I had in this very moment. I’m still kind of overwhelmed every time I see her. Thanks for all of you who waited anxiously with me and those who prayed for us. The most important tasks for the near future is getting Mummy to recover and Lara Marie to become accustomed to us and the rest of the outside world.

Please bear with me if in the next time I’m not as responsive as usually :)

Lara Marie Lauer

German Post on time!

And now for something completely different… while we are all waiting for my baby to arrive (who was scheduled for 25th of May), she just received her first greeting card – together with a personalized bib and a towel (with integrated hood – pretty fancy!) from my good friends at #openmoko-cdevel.

Guys, seeing this card was very heartwarming – it means a lot to me that you share my anticipation, thanks a lot! And I’m 100% sure she will appreciate her gifts… now let’s cross fingers it won’t take much longer… waiting is the hardest part of it :)

Yours,

Mickey.

Towards the end of 2010

Howdy, dear reader!

It’s been a while on this blog, mainly due to the fact that many short status updates are better twittered than blogged. Then again, as promised / threatened in last year’s installment of this column, I had to spend most of the time this year with iOS development, rather than with FOSS — and it doesn’t look like this will change much (you know, food and things…). Still I do care a lot about projects like OpenEmbedded, Vala, freesmartphone.org, and the like, so here’s what has been going on this year:

OpenEmbedded (www.openembedded.org)

OE moved along quite well this year. I did not have much time for it — other than taking care about a couple of Vala and FSO recipes — but I’m especially pleased that the community finally embraced major clean up. Thanks to Frans, Richard, and all others involved, OE is improving heavily — although it wasn’t easy: Over the last couple of years, the OE core contributors developed a resistance against any changes affecting more than a handfull of recipes, however in order to make OE handle even more contributors and various use cases, we had to do some substantial cleanups. This will reduce maintenance and improve the overall quality of recipes in OE, which is the #1 complaint I hear.

Vala (www.vala-project.org)

During the first half of the year, Vala went through some extremely tiring phases of non-activity, which improved vastly when its main developers opened up a bit, i.e. giving more developers access to the tree, adding branches, etc. There have been many changes in the Dova profile, but also the GLib profile has seen an incredible amount of work, bugfixes, some new features, and more.

The pace of changes that affect basic things had also impact on my vala-book plans; apart from a severe lack of time on my side, I think it’s better to wait until Vala is closer to 1.0. Otherwise I risk describing a moving target, which — considering the time I have to work on that project — would effectively kill it. That said, it’s great to see that Vala is getting better every day and gains more and more popularity from all kinds of developers.

FSO (freesmartphone.org)

The progress on freesmartphone.org is two-fold; on one hand, we have seen quite a nice amount of work to support more devices. On the other hand though, in contrast to all the work I did in 2009, there has been a severe lack of development of the core in 2010. This I plan to change as soon as possible. For 2011, I see myself continuing to develop FSO in the following three dimensions; internal, external, and integration.

  1. Internal | FSO is a heavy DBus consumer. I think by now we are one of the largest projects using DBus, at least considering the amount of API and running processes that communicate with each other via DBus. We always had our share of problems with DBus, especially some concurrency problems and race conditions are still haunting us. Both libdbus and dbus-glib exhibit their own share of problems, obviously this is not much of an issue on the desktop, but it turns out to be a major PITA on embedded systems, such as a phone. That’s why I have been excited since I heard that the glib team planned to write their own DBus backend and put it right into the glib. This work has now been released as of glib 2.26. Over the next weeks, I will port FSO to using gdbus in a branch.
  2. External | DBus-signals have some problems. That’s why some big projects (BlueZ and ConnMan, to name two of them) adopted an agent-style of API, where the clients have to implement a server API which is being called by the actual servers. While this means some more work for client developers, it has major benefits. I’m going to change some of our APIs to adopt this style.
  3. Integration | To deliver an integrated solution for today’s mobile phones, FSO needs to add more glue to work with existing services, such as BlueZ (bluetooth connectivity), Connman (ethernet and wifi connectivity), and some VoIP services. While these services work fine on their own, FSO lacks an API that uses these individual services in combination to achieve higher level tasks.

All this means that I will not be working much on the actual ports, but rather use my — very limited, did I say that yet? — time to drive the core forwards. I still believe that we will have full FOSS phones — other than the Openmoko devices — soon. Please help to make this dream a reality. (And no, please don’t talk to me about Android…)

Cheers,

:M:

Gernot Schäfer (1972-2010)

Rest In Peace, buddy! You will be missed.