Wednesday, 24 September 2014

I wanted to go to Portland because it's a really good book town.

Plane at Heathrow terminal 5 taking me to America for Debconf 14Patti Smith is right, more than any other US city I have visited, Portland feels different. Although living in Cambridge, which sometimes feels like where books were invented, might give me a warped sense of a place.

Jo McIntyre getting on the tram at PDX
I have visited Portland a few times previously and I feel comfortable every time I arrive at PDX. Sure the place still suffers from the american obsession with the car but similar to New York you can rely on public transport to get about.

On this occasion my visit was for the Debian Conference which i was excited to attend having missed the previous one in Switzerland. This time the conference has changed its format to being 10 days long and mixing the developer time in with the more formal sessions.

The opening session gave Steve McIntyre and myself the opportunity to present a small token of our appreciation to Russ. The keynote speakers that afternoon were all very interesting both Stefano Zacchiroli and Gabriella Coleman giving food for thought on two very different subjects.

The sponsored accomodation rooms were plesent
Several conferences in the past have experienced issues with sponsored accommodation and food, I am very pleased to report that both were very good this time. The room I was in had a small kitchen area, en-suite bathroom, desks and most importantly comfortable beds.

Andy and Patty in the Ondine dining area
The food provision was in the form of a buffet in the Ondine facility. The menu was not greatly varied but catered to all requirements including vegetarian and gluten free diets.

Neil, Rob, Jo, Steve , Neil, Daniel and Andy dining under the planes
Some of us went on a visit to the Evergreen air and space museum to look at some rare aircraft and rockets. I can thoroughly recommend a visit if you are in the area.

These are just the highlights of the week though, the time in the hack-labs was productive with several practical achievements Including:
- Uploading new packages reducing the bug count
- Sorting out getting an updated key into the Debian keyring.

Overall I had a thoroughly enjoyable time and got a lot out of the conference this year. The new format suited me surprisingly well and as usual the social side was as valuable as the practical.

I hope the organisers have recovered enough to appreciate just how good a job they did and not get hung up on the small number of things that went wrong when the majority of things went perfectly to plan.

Monday, 15 September 2014

NetSurf 3.2

We recently released a new version of NetSurf this was largely to address numerous small bugs but did also include the persistent caching implementation I have written about previously. A release used to require the release manager (usually me) to perform a lot of manual processes and while we had a checklist it was far too easy to miss things.

The Continuous Integration (CI) system combined with signed release tags in git has resulted in a greatly simplified process indeed it has become almost completely automated. The majority of the manual work is now confined to doing the tasks that require actual decision making and checking we are releasing what was intended.

By having the CI system build release binaries the project now has a much clearer and importantly traceable process, I can recommend such a system to any project that produces releases especially if they release binaries for any of their targets.

I have also managed to package and upload this version of NetSurf ready for the Debian Jessie release. I would like to thank Jonathan Wiltshire for his assistance in ensuring this was a good quality package.

The release incorporates the successfully merged work of Rupinder Singh who was our our GSoc 2014 student. Rupinder mainly made improvements to our core DOM implementation and was very responsive and enthusiastic throughout his time despite the mentor team sometimes not being available.

This work goes towards improving NetSurf in the future by ensuring the underlying features are present in our core libraries. The GSoc mentors and all project developers are all pleased with the results of this years GSoc participation and would like to thank everyone involved in making our participation possible.

Along with the good news comes a little bad:
PowerPC Mac OS X
Despite repeated calls for assistance with new hardware and Java builds none has been forthcoming meaning that from this release we ware no longer able to ship PowerPC builds for MAC OS X.

The main issue is the last version of MAC OS X that runs on PPC is Leopard and there is no viable Java 1.6 port necessary for our CI system to run. Additionally the fully loaded PPC Mac mini (kindly donated to us by Mythic Beasts) had become far too slow to keep up with our builds and was causing long delays.
NetSurf 3.2 Bug graph
We have a lot of bugs, in fact just during this release cycle we have 30 more bugs reported than we closed.So while the new bug reporting system has been a success and our users are reporting issues when they find them the development team is not keeping up..

The failure to keep up stems from the underlying issue of lack of manpower. We have relatively few active developers which is especially problematic when there are many users for a platform, such as RISCOS, but the maintainer is unable to commit enough time to fixing issues.

If you would like to help making NetSurf a better browser we are always happy to work with new contributors.