posted by David Ford on Tue 26th Aug 2003 15:00 UTC
IconInterview by David Ford with Jonathan Walther, on fantasy, literature, life and primarily Xouvert the branch of Xfree86, which he is leading.

PART ONE (Sunday August 17, 2003)

DF: Hello and thanks for giving me this interview, would you mind saying a little bout yourself?

JW: Hi. It's nice to be here. I've been a Debian developer for more than 5 years, and am a proud father of two. I enjoy making organic all-grain beer at home. My friends tell me it is delicious. I agree with them, of course.

DF: Sounds wonderful, might I have a glass?

JW: If you're in the neighborhood, definitely. My latest batch is called "Owen Meany Bitter" and should be ready to drink in a week.

DF: So what has been your involvement with XFree86 prior to this branching?

JW: Interested observer, daily user, and increasingly, a frustrated user. Xmame started reliably crashing X on me; the OpenGL acceleration stopped working for my Matrox G400 video card. Definitely a bit of frustration.

JW: As an X developer, I contributed to the ratpoison window manager with some minor patches and the ratmenu value-added utility. I worked on some Xlib apps with Bowie Poag to test some of his incredible new user interface ideas.

JW: The scrollball was a particularly fascinating UI idea from Bowie that we coded and tested two years ago. Recently he has come up with "pogo", a sort of super-glitzy looking dock.

DF: Can you tell me more about scrollball and pogo?

JW: Scrollball and pogo are totally unrelated to Xouvert and XFree86. Perhaps we could discuss them another time?

DF: That might be a good idea, they sound interesting so aside from frustrations, what lead you to consider branching such a big project?

JW: A few months ago I noticed that XFree86 had made more public its emphasis on stability, as opposed to new features. So I saw a need for a development tree that wasn't as worried about trying wild new ideas. I also saw that arch had made such a project possible, without compromising stability too much. It seemed the only way to convince people that it was possible was to actually go out and do it.

DF: Tell me a little about Arch then, it seems to have an important relationship with the new Xouvert project.

JW: Arch is a project I've been watching for the last year. Its author, Tom Lord, has made all the right development moves. He prototyped it in shell script to prove the concept, then rewrote it in C for speed. He wrote it to handle things that CVS and Subversion just cannot handle, by their designs. But most especially I liked the way arch allows you to easily make local modifications to a source tree, then keep updating your source tree from the original source, but WITHOUT LOSING YOUR MODIFICATIONS. This was what Xouvert needed to be able to be a branch of XFree86, and NOT a fork.

DF: Exciting stuff. How much 'setting up stuff' is left to be done?

JW: As far as getting to a point where people can start coding, I am finishing a tagging script that prepares the CVS sources to be compared to the current arch sources. After that, it will be a simple import and make-mirror to the Savannah web server. The IRC logger is working, but I need to set up a cron script that will process the raw logs into easily accessible HTML, on a yearly, monthly, and daily basis. Finally, we want to get a wiki going again, but with a little more security so we can deal with vandals as they arise. Today's episode with our wiki was rather embarrassing.

DF: I think I missed that, anything serious?

JW: A vandal put an ASCII graphic of goatse.cx on our wiki, and had a bot refreshing it every 2 minutes. So we couldn't change it back, noah and mharris of the Xwin project dealt with the problem as soon as they became aware of it, so it isn't a problem right now, but we are going to wait a bit and see what comes down the pike in the way of Wiki space for the Xouvert project.

DF: Sorry to hear you had troubles, would you please tell me a little bout the plan and purpose behind project Xouvert?

JW: Xouvert is intended to be a project for finding new talent to contribute to XFree86, and for pushing the envelope of what is possible with todays hardware. Bringing tomorrows technology to your desktop today is our motto for a reason.

DF: Any idea of the sort of changes that will be made?

JW: There may be some directory restructuring in the source to enhance modularity. We definitely want to make individual video drivers independently available on a daily basis, so people can always have the latest and greatest drivers for their video cards. We plan to try out some things like enabling backing store by default, supporting 3d stereo vision goggles, and the like.

We definitely want to see what we can do about integrating the DRI/DRM project into the tree. As well as other relevant projects, like NX (compression that works over 9600 baud modems) and of course we are interested in the Xr/Xc projects, and the Xft project. We also plan to more fully support resizing the virtual size of the screen on the fly, something that windows users have had for years.

DF: So who is Xouvert's target audience?

JW: Right now, we are interested in developers with coding abilities and ideas for the future of X. But we have a second target audience: all users of X11. Knoppix has some very nice, effective setup scripts, which we may be able to incorporate.

DF: Well its 5 am here and I'm tired, mind if we call it a day and return to this tomorrow?

JW: Not at all, get some sleep. I look forward to completing this interview with you. have a good night!

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