Friday, 8 March 2019

Videos and Books in GNOME 3.32

GNOME 3.32 will very soon be released, so I thought I'd go back on a few of the things that happened with some of our content applications.

First, many thanks to Marta Bogdanowicz, Baptiste Mille-Mathias, Ekaterina Gerasimova and Andre Klapper who toiled away at updating Videos' user documentation since 2012, when it was still called “Totem”, and then again in 2014 when “Videos” appeared.

The other major change is that Videos is available, fully featured, from Flathub. It should play your Windows Movie Maker films, your circular wafers of polycarbonate plastic and aluminium, and your Devolver indie films. No more hunting codecs or libraries!

In the process, we also fixed a large number of outstanding issues, such as accommodating for the app menu's planned disappearance, moving the audio/video properties tab to nautilus proper, making the thumbnailer available as an independent module, making the MPRIS plugin work better and loads, loads mo.

Download on Flathub


As Documents was removed from the core release, we felt it was time for Books to become independent. And rather than creating a new package inside a distribution, the Flathub version was updated. We also fixed a bunch of bugs, so that's cool :)
Download on Flathub


I didn't work directly on Weather, but I made some changes to libgweather which means it should be easier to contribute to its location database.

Adding new cities doesn't require adding a weather station by hand, it would just pick the closest one, and weather stations also don't need to be attached to cities either. They were usually attached to villages, sometimes hamlets!

The automatic tests are also more stringent, and test for more things, which should hopefully mean less bugs.

And even more Flatpaks

On Flathub, you'll also find some applications I packaged up in the last 6 months. First is Teo Thomson emulator, GBE+, a Game Boy emulator focused on accessories emulation, and a way to run your old Flash games offline.

Friday, 14 December 2018

The tools of libfprint

libfprint, the fingerprint reader driver library, is nearing a 1.0 release.

Since the last time I reported on the status of the library, we've made some headway modernising the library, using a variety of different tools. Let's go through them and how they were used.


When libfprint was in its infancy, Daniel Drake found the NBIS fingerprint processing library matched what was required to provide fingerprint matching algorithms, and imported it in libfprint. Since then, the code in this copy-paste library in libfprint stayed the same. When updating it to the latest available version (from 2015 rather than 2007), as well as splitting off a patch to make it easier to update the library again in the future, I used Callcatcher to cull the unused functions.

Callcatcher is not a "production-level" tool (too many false positives, lack of support for many common architectures, etc.), but coupled with manual checking, it allowed us to greatly reduce the number of functions in our copy, so they weren't reported when using other source code quality checking tools.

LLVM's scan-build

This is a particularly easy one to use as its use is integrated into meson, and available through ninja scan-build. The output of the tool, whether on stderr, or on the HTML pages, is pretty similar to Coverity's, but the tool is free, and easily integrated into a CI (once you've fixed all the bugs, obviously). We found plenty of possible memory leaks and unintialised variables using this, with more flexibility than using Coverity's web interface, and avoiding going through hoops when using its "source code check as a service" model.

cflow and callgraph

LLVM has another tool, called callgraph. It's not yet integrated into meson, which was a bit of a problem to get some output out of it. But combined with cflow, we used it to find where certain functions were called, trying to find the origin of some variables (whether they were internal or device-provided for example), which helped with implementing additional guards and assertions in some parts of the library, in particular inside the NBIS sub-directory.

0.99.0 is out

We're not yet completely done with the first pass at modernising libfprint and its ecosystem, but we released an early Yule present with version 0.99.0. It will be integrated into Fedora after the holidays if the early testing goes according to plan.

We also expect a great deal from our internal driver API reference. If you have a fingerprint reader that's unsupported, contact your laptop manufacturer about them providing a Linux driver for it and point them at this documentation.

A number of laptop vendors are already asking their OEM manufacturers to provide drivers to be merged upstream, but a little nudge probably won't hurt.

Happy holidays to you all, and see you for some more interesting features in the new year.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Pipewire Hackfest 2018

Good morning from Edinburgh, where the breakfast contains haggis, and the charity shops have some interesting finds.

My main goal in attending this hackfest was to discuss Pipewire integration in the desktop, and how it will eventually replace PulseAudio as the audio daemon.

The main problem GNOME has had over the years with PulseAudio relate mostly to how PulseAudio was a black box when it came to its routing policy. What happens when you plug in an HDMI cable into your laptop? Or turn on your Bluetooth headset? I've heard the stories of folks with highly mobile workstations having to constantly visit the Sound settings panel.

PulseAudio has policy scattered in a number of places (do a "git grep routing" inside the sources to see that): some are in the device manager, then modules themselves can set priorities for their outputs and inputs. But there's nothing to take all the information in, and take a decision based on the hardware that's plugged in, and the applications currently in use.

For Pipewire, the policy decisions would be split off from the main daemon. Pipewire, as it gains PulseAudio compatibility layers, will grow a default/example policy engine that will try to replicate PulseAudio's behaviour. At the very least, that will mean that Pipewire won't regress compared to PulseAudio, and might even be able to take better decisions in the short term.

For GNOME, we still wanted to take control of that part of the experience, and make our own policy decisions. It's very possible that this engine will end up being featureful and generic enough that it will be used by more than just GNOME, or even become the default Pipewire one, but it's far too early to make that particular decision.

In the meanwhile, we wanted the GNOME policies to not be written in C, difficult to experiment with for power users, and for edge use cases. We could have started writing a configuration language, but it would have been too specific, and there are plenty of embeddable languages around. It was also a good opportunity for me to finally write the helper library I've been meaning to write for years, based on my favourite embedded language, Lua.

So I'm introducing Anatole. The goal of the project is to make it trivial to write chunks of programs in Lua, while the core of your project is written in C (we might even be able to embed it in Python or Javascript, once introspection support is added).

It's still in the very early days, and unusable for anything as of yet, but progress should be pretty swift. The code is mostly based on Victor Toso's incredible "Lua factory" plugin in Grilo. (I'm hoping that, once finished, I won't have to remember on which end of the stack I need to push stuff for Lua to do something with it ;)

Friday, 22 June 2018

Thomson 8-bit computers, a history

In March 1986, my dad was in the market for a Thomson TO7/70. I have the circled classified ads in “Téo” issue 1 to prove that :)

TO7/70 with its chiclet keyboard and optical pen, courtesy of

The “Plan Informatique pour Tous” was in full swing, and Thomson were supplying schools with micro-computers. My dad, as a primary school teacher, needed to know how to operate those computers, and eventually teach them to kids.

The first thing he showed us when he got the computer, on the living room TV, was a game called “Panic” or “Panique” where you controlled a missile, protecting a town from flying saucers that flew across the screen from either side, faster and faster as the game went on. I still haven't been able to locate this game again.

A couple of years later, the TO7/70 was replaced by a TO9, with a floppy disk, and my dad used that computer to write an educational software about top-down additions, as part of a training program run by the teachers schools (“Écoles Normales” renamed to “IUFM“ in 1990).

After months of nagging, and some spring cleaning, he found the listings of his educational software, which I've liberated, with his permission. I'm currently still working out how to generate floppy disks that are usable directly in emulators. But here's an early screenshot.

Later on, my dad got an IBM PC compatible, an Olivetti PC/1, on which I'd play a clone of Asteroids for hours, but that's another story. The TO9 got passed down to me, and after spending a full summer doing planning for my hot-dog and chips van business (I was 10 or 11, and I had weird hobbies already), and entering every game from the “102 Programmes pour...” series of books, the TO9 got put to the side at Christmas, replaced by a Sega Master System, using that same handy SCART connector on the Thomson monitor.

But how does this concern you. Well, I've worked with RetroManCave on a Minitel episode not too long ago, and he agreed to do a history of the Thomson micro-computers. I did a fair bit of the research and fact-checking, as well as some needed repairs to the (prototype!) hardware I managed to find for the occasion. The result is this first look at the history of Thomson.

Finally, if you fancy diving into the Thomson computers, there will be an episode coming shortly about the MO5E hardware, and some games worth running on it, on the same YouTube channel.

I'm currently working on bringing the “TeoTO8D emulator to Flathub, for Linux users. When that's ready, grab some games from the DCMOTO archival site, and have some fun!

I'll also be posting some nitty gritty details about Thomson repairs on my Micro Repairs Twitter feed for the more technically enclined among you.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Fingerprint reader support, the second coming

Fingerprint readers are more and more common on Windows laptops, and hardware makers would really like to not have to make a separate SKU without the fingerprint reader just for Linux, if that fingerprint reader is unsupported there.

The original makers of those fingerprint readers just need to send patches to the libfprint Bugzilla, I hear you say, and the problem's solved!

But it turns out it's pretty difficult to write those new drivers, and those patches, without an insight on how the internals of libfprint work, and what all those internal, undocumented APIs mean.

Most of the drivers already present in libfprint are the results of reverse engineering, which means that none of them is a best-of-breed example of a driver, with all the unknown values and magic numbers.

Let's try to fix all this!

Step 1: fail faster

When you're writing a driver, the last thing you want is to have to wait for your compilation to fail. We ported libfprint to meson and shaved off a significant amount of time from a successful compilation. We also reduced the number of places where new drivers need to be declared to be added to the compilation.

Step 2: make it clearer

While doxygen is nice because it requires very little scaffolding to generate API documentation, the output is also not up to the level we expect. We ported the documentation to gtk-doc, which has a more readable page layout, easy support for cross-references, and gives us more control over how introductory paragraphs are laid out. See the before and after for yourselves.

Step 3: fail elsewhere

You created your patch locally, tested it out, and it's ready to go! But you don't know about git-bz, and you ended up attaching a patch file which you uploaded. Except you uploaded the wrong patch. Or the patch with the right name but from the wrong directory. Or you know git-bz but used the wrong commit id and uploaded another unrelated patch. This is all a bit too much.

We migrated our bugs and repository for both libfprint and fprintd to's GitLab. Merge Requests are automatically built, discussions are easier to follow!

Step 4: show it to me

Now that we have spiffy documentation, unified bug, patches and sources under one roof, we need to modernise our website. We used GitLab's CI/CD integration to generate our website from sources, including creating API documentation and listing supported devices from git master, to reduce the need to search the sources for that information.

Step 5: simplify

This process has started, but isn't finished yet. We're slowly splitting up the internal API between "internal internal" (what the library uses to work internally) and "internal for drivers" which we eventually hope to document to make writing drivers easier. This is partially done, but will need a lot more work in the coming months.

TL;DR: We migrated libfprint to meson, gtk-doc, GitLab, added a CI, and are writing docs for driver authors, everything's on the website!

Friday, 15 December 2017

More Bluetooth (and gaming) features

In the midst of post-release bug fixing, we've also added a fair number of new features to our stack. As usual, new features span a number of different components, so integrators will have to be careful picking up all the components when, well, integrating.

PS3 clones joypads support

Do you have a PlayStation 3 joypad that feels just a little bit "off"? You can't find the Sony logo anywhere on it? The figures on the face buttons look like barbed wire? And if it were a YouTube video, it would say "No copyright intended"?

Bingo. When plugged in via USB, those devices advertise themselves as SHANWAN or Gasia, and implement the bare minimum to work when plugged into a PlayStation 3 console. But as a Linux computer would behave slightly differently, we need to fix a couple of things.

The first fix was simple, but necessary to be able to do any work: disable the rumble motor that starts as soon as you plug the pad through USB.

Once that's done, we could work around the fact that the device isn't Bluetooth compliant, and hard-code the HID service it's supposed to offer.

Bluetooth LE Battery reporting

Bluetooth Low Energy is the new-fangled (7-year old) protocol for low throughput devices, from a single coin-cell powered sensor, to input devices. What's great is that there's finally a standardised way for devices to export their battery statuses. I've added support for this in BlueZ, which UPower then picks up for desktop integration goodness.

There are a number of Bluetooth LE joypads available for pickup, including a few that should be firmware upgradeable. Look for "Bluetooth 4" as well as "Bluetooth LE" when doing your holiday shopping.

gnome-bluetooth work

Finally, this is the boring part. Benjamin and I reworked code that's internal to gnome-bluetooth, as used in the Settings panel as well as the Shell, to make it use modern facilities like GDBusObjectManager. The overall effect of this is, less code, less brittle and more reactive when Bluetooth adapters come and go, such as when using airplane mode.

Apart from the kernel patch mentioned above (you'll know if you need it :), those features have been integrated in UPower 0.99.7 and in the upcoming BlueZ 5.48. And they will of course be available in Fedora, both in rawhide and as updates to Fedora 27 as soon as the releases have been done and built.


Wednesday, 6 December 2017

UTC and Anywhere on Earth support

A quick post to tell you that we finally added UTC support to Clocks' and the Shell's World Clocks section. And if you're into it, there's also Anywhere on Earth support.

You will need to have git master versions of libgweather (our cities and timezones database), and gnome-clocks. This feature will land in GNOME 3.28.

Many thanks to Giovanni for coming up with an API he was happy with after I attempted a couple of iterations on one. Enjoy!

Update: As expected, a bug crept in. Thanks to Colin Guthrie for spotting the error in the "Anywhere on Earth" timezone. See this section for the fun we have to deal with.