Sunday Aug 04, 2013

Some times it’s a book sprint, other times it’s a marathon

One of the areas the X.Org Foundation has been working on in recent years is trying to bring new developers on board. Programs like Google Summer of Code and The X.Org Endless Vacation of Code (EVoC) help with this somewhat, but we’ve also been trying to find ways to lower the barrier to entry, both so the students in those programs can learn more and so that other developers have an easier time joining us.

Some of our efforts here have been technological - one of the driving efforts of the conversions from Imake to automake and from CVS to git was to make use of tools developers would already be familiar and productive with from other projects. The Modularization project, which broke up X.Org from one giant tree into over 200 small ones, had the goal of making it possible to fix a bug in a single library or driver without having to download and build many megabytes of software & fonts that were not being changed.

Another area of effort has been around the X.Org documentation, as I’ve written about before. Several years ago, Bart Massey suggested we try organizing a Book Sprint to write a guide for new X.Org developers, similar to the sprint he’d participated in to write a Google Summer of Code Mentoring Guide and a matching GSoC Student Guide. The Board agreed to let him try organizing one, but finding a time to bring everyone together was challenging.

We finally ended up holding a first session as a virtual gathering over the internet one weekend in March 2012. Bart, Matt Dew, Keith Packard, Stéphane Marchesin, and I used Gobby and Mumble to agree on an outline and write several chapters, along with creating some accompanying diagrams using graphviz dot. Unfortunately, the combination of the work from home setting, in which people kept dropping in and out as their home life intervened, the small number of people, and lack of an experienced organizer made this not as productive as other book sprints have been for other projects.

After the first weekend we had drafts of about 7 chapters and a preface, and outlines of several more. We also had a large chunk of prewritten material on graphics drivers that Stéphane had been working on already to link with. Over the next few months, Bart edited and formatted the chapters we had, while we got a little more written, including recruiting additional authors such as Peter Hutterer.

We then gathered again, this time in person, hosted by Matthias Hopf at the Georg-Simon-Ohm-University in Nürnberg, Germany, over the two days prior to the 2012 X.Org Developer’s Conference. We had some additional people join us this time, including Martin Peres, Lucas Stach, Ben Skeggs, and probably more I’ve forgotten. At this session, Bart, Matt & I worked on polsihing the rough edges on the guide we’d been creating, while the others worked more on the driver guide that Stéphane had started. Bart figured out the tools needed to generate ebook formats of the guide, such as epub, and made a cover and pulled together an overall structure for the guide, and by the end of that sprint, we had something we could read on the Android ebook reader he'd brought with him.

And then, we waited. Bart tried to figure out how to make the setup maintainable and reproducible, and how to make it available to our users, but his day job as a University professor kept taking time away from that. Bart also gave a lightning talk on our book sprint experience at the Write the Docs conference in Portland earlier this year covering what worked and what we learned didn’t work in our virtual sprint, and asking for ideas or help on how to go forward.

Meanwhile, the burden of fighting the spammers on the X.Org & FreeDesktop.Org wikis had gotten overwhelming on the current wiki software, so the freedesktop sitewranglers evaluated different solutions, and after looking at how well ikiwiki had been working for the past few years on the XCB wiki decided to move the rest of the FreeDesktop hosted wikis to ikiwiki as well. One major advantage is that it let us use the existing freedesktop authentication infrastructure for wiki accounts instead of having to find different ways to let our users in while keeping the spammers out. Another benefit is that it uses Markdown and git to update the wiki, so we can easily push files in Markdown format to the wiki to publish them now.

In a shocking coincidence, the geeks who wrote the X.Org Developer's Guide also used Markdown & git to author it, so with just a very little conversion to make links work between sections, it was possible to publish the guide to the wiki, where you can find it now:

It’s not perfect, it’s not even fully finished, but it’s better than nothing, and since it’s now on a wiki, it’s even easier for others to fill in the missing pieces or improve the existing bits.

Stephane is still working on the companion guide to graphics drivers, covering the stack from DRM and KMS in the kernel up to Xorg & Mesa. He posted the PDF of the draft as it was at the end of the March book sprint, but not yet a version with the contributions added from the September followup.

When working on applications higher up the stack, not hacking on the graphics stack itself, we refer developers to the documentation for their toolkits, or to general guides to OpenGL programming, as those are beyond what we can document ourselves in X.Org.

And for other open source projects, if you’d like a chance to have a professionally organized, in person doc sprint for your project, applications are being taken until August 7 for 2-4 projects to hold sprints as part of the Google Summer of Code Doc Camp in October, including travel expenses for up to 5 participants from the sponsors.


Engineer working on Oracle Solaris and with the X.Org open source community.


The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle, the X.Org Foundation, or anyone else.

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