Hackfests: The Next Generation

Reports of my assimilation are greatly exaggerated.

— Jean Luc Picard, Star Trek: First Contact

(This is a repost from the discussion on the board-discuss@documentfoundation.org discussion — including all typos and misspellings — for more visibility.)

Hi all,

I recently had a look at a variety of challenges the LibreOffice community is facing wrt Hackfests and especially also tenders:

Status Quo

– due to a set of reasons based in the size of the project, the scope and selection of tender topics, the rules of properly running an NGO and the distibution of skilsets and available time in the BoD it is a lot harder to oversee the tenders for TDF than it would be for a for-profit organization.

– also, for historic reasons mostly, these tasks have been limited to the BoD mostly, while as an open disttributed and tranmsparent community we should not needlessly concentrate this work: rather the challenges and solutions should be shared as widely as possible in the community (and beyond).

– the waterfall modelled tenders have no iterative approach. Because of this they also tend to be mostly quite small, leading to significant overhead at both TDF and for the business implementing the tender.

– contracting out tender in bulk in a blackbox fashion naturally limits the ressources spend on documentation of discovered challenges. It thereby also needlessly limits the educational output to the community. There is such output, but it clearly could be better.

– beyond that we reduced doing Hackfests ~2 years ago, limiting the exchange of knowledge they provide.

– Unlike in the good old days, we dont have urgent infrastructual problems and the like to solve that would rally developers around topics. So motivation for certified devs to attend has shrunk. And those that do attend usually use the facetime for syncing on various issues, while the actual work on the code is somewhat limited. Even more when there is an emergency at the (professional) developers employer (Unfortunately, there often is.)

Suggested new format

So everyone hip in the last decade would see the words “waterfall”, “non-iterative”, “controlling overhead” would scream “get agile” from the top of their lungs. In general that might solve the practical problems, but as agile is essentially a way to move the customer in close enough to create the trust and bond allowing the overhead to go away, that is exactly what we need to watch out for and avoid: the foundation should not bind itself too close to any single commercial provider of services in its core operations.

But maybe revitalizing Hackfests are an opportunity here. Here is a suggested new format:

– TDF selects a small of the tenderable topics (6 man days)

– TDF selects a “product owner” for the topic (could be an TDF employee or a qualified and motivated TDF member)

– TDF hires 2 certified developers from LibreOffices companies for 3 days each

– TDF offers 2 days “development training” to its members, but also to the general community: ideally we select four people for this.

– All are invited to a two day Hackfest.

– Hired consultants are expect to pair program with one of the volunteers on each day, with the hired person not distracted by other business and doing the main effort with the paired volunteer focusing on learning.

– On each day, one of the hired developers works on the projector of the room, allowing other partcipants to the Hackfest to observe and learn.

– Closing the day, each paired team will give a 5-15 minutes lightning talk on their progress and challenges over the day. This presentation should be done by the paired volunteer to the best of their ability and recorded e.g. by TDF staff for publication.

– Rest of the extra booked day should be used for a 1-hour prep Hangouts, follow ups and overtime.

– Selected paired volunteers should ideally be 50% certified or uncertified developers and at least 25% volunteers active in non-development areas (e.g. documentation, l10n …).

– Beyond this, it will be a “normal” Hackfest allowing others to mix an mingle.

What this might solve (hopefully)
– Controlling and the need to proof due diligence going away as it is performed right in the open and self-documented, reducing the vast redtape needed to set up and run tenders in the first place

– the involving the broader community is much more involved in this major aspect of the foundations work

– the community gets a much better transparency on the real cost and challenges
of development

– we approach a more iterative/agile approach without being hit by the challenges this usually implies for an NGO

– we provide clear and visible progress and effort on education for the community and the general public

– we might help onboarding of new developers and make LibreOffice more interesting for contribution

– if this works on this 4-6 man day scale, we might consider extending it (e.g. a three developer week[1] with prep is already a 21 man day project)

There has already been some internal feedback from a smaller circle I shared this with first: There was some concern (one pointing out this new format isnt free of challenges[1], one asking for bigger steps as this proposal was considered to small/iterative[2]), but beyond that the feedback was generally quite positive.

As such, Im looking for people who would like to join in and help giving this new format a try: The starting point would be organizing a broad, welcoming and well-organized Hackfest at a location easily reachable for many in the community: Thus at well-connected place in europe. It should also have local people on the ground, who are enthusiastic to make this a success.

If you are interested in helping with this, either as:

– someone on the ground helping to organize the Hackfest

– someone who wants to pair program with a hired certified developer at a Hackfest

– someone who is just interested in joining the Hackfest in general

– someone who helps fleshing out the details of this idea

feel free to contact me. I will try to set up a team of people interested in getting this off the ground. As noted above, if this proves to be successful, this might be the start of something excited and big bringing this community and project to a new level!

Another (final) note: This list is currently unfortunately less used than it should be to provide information on the proceedings of the foundation. The Board is mindful of that and tries to change this. This is a start. Feel free to share this message to those in the community who might have missed it as they are not (yet) subscribed to board-discuss@.



[1] But neither is the status quo — in many more ways.
[2] note that the two kinds of criticism pointed in exactly opposite directions

If you are interested in this effort, feel free to:

UPDATE: Time and date for the call are set: Sunday 2017-09-03 14:30 UTC, Talkyoo room 21 24 86 #. Please join!


LibreOffice 5.2.3 as snap from Day One

Meist scheint manches auf den ersten Blick unmöglich.
Manches ist es auch, doch es wäre tödlich, das selbst zu glauben solange noch nichts feststeht
und die Party zu verlassen, bevor sie losgeht.

— Die Sterne, Stell die Verbindung her

Yesterday, two nice things happened: For one, LibreOffice 5.2.3 has been released and secondly Ubuntu Core 16 has been released. But beyond that, something in the middle between these two has happened: LibreOffice 5.2.3 has been released to the stable channel of the snap store at the same day. Now LibreOffice has been in the snap store for some time — and has also been on the stable channel since the Ubuntu 16.10 release. But this is the first time the LibreOffice snap is released in sync with The Document Foundation announcing the general availability of the final downloads. This was possible even though I was on vacation yesterday: LibreOffice snap packages are now being build on launchpad, which simplifies a lot, and launchpad can be asked to populate the edge channel of the store. This is making life very easy. Having smoketested the amd64 build from that channel before, to release LibreOffice 5.2.3 to the beta/candidate/stable channels too all I had to do was push three buttons on a web interface and it was available to all.

Building on launchpad, I also had the opportunity to create builds for armhf and i386 along with the usual amd64 builds with little extra effort. If you are adventurous you are encouraged to test these builds too: Be aware though that these so far aren’t even smoketested, I havent looked at them at all yet, so use them at your own risk.

All in all, this is great progress: LibreOffice 5.2.3 is available to users of Ubuntu 16.10 and Ubuntu 16.04 LTS as a snap on the day of the upstream release. And beyond that on all other distributions where snap is available — quite a few these days.

Update: ICYMI here is how to get the LibreOffice snap: http://www.libreoffice.org/download/snap/ — although strictly speaking you dont need the --channel=beta option anymore now. I will fix that soon.

Merging Communities

Come together, right now
— Beatles, Abbey Road, Come together

So September, 28th 2016 is the 6th birthday of LibreOffice and at the recent conference, we took a picture of those who were there on day zero:


As you might notice, I am not on that picture — on day zero I was working at Oracle, and were surprised by the news — like many others in this picture:


This is everyone at this years LibreOffice conference who used to work on the OpenOffice.org codebase at StarDivision, Sun or Oracle. A few people are in both pictures: Caolán McNamara and Thorsten Behrens were with LibreOffice from the start, but also worked at the OpenOffice.org team in Hamburg at some point in time. Of those working on OpenOffice.org still when LibreOffice started, I was the first to join LibreOffice — I had quit my job for that. It was an exciting time.

Looking back, both of these groups appear small — mostly because merging them, the LibreOffice community became so much more that the sum of its parts:


And of course, while a lot of people were at the conference, not everyone could
join, so there are more contributors from each of these groups than are in the
pictures. This years “state of the project” presentation showed again that the members of The Document Foundation are a truly worldwide community:


So, like the branches of the different descendants of OpenOffice.org, the
contributors and communities did come together in Brno to push
LibreOffice forward as one!

LibreOffice available in the snap store

‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
— Taylor Swift, 1989, Shake It Off

The latest release candidate of the upcoming LibreOffice 5.2.0 feature release is available for installation from the snap store. This makes it very easy to install this prerelease of LibreOffice for testing out new features (an incomplete glimpse on what to look forward for can be found on the LibreOffice 5.2 release notes page, which is still under construction, go on #libreoffice-qa if you want to help with testing).

To install this build of LibreOffice on any snap supported platform just open a terminal and run:

sudo snap install --channel=beta libreoffice

To start this version of LibreOffice, you run:


The full path should only be needed, if you have another version of LibreOffice installed. If that is not the case a plain “libreoffice” should do.

Note that this version is still a prerelease and not for production use yet. That said, it is mostly a full-featured package including everything that would be packaged for end users of LibreOffice. While this package also includes a set of localizations to show that they work, their number has been restricted to English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese (Portugal/Brazil), Spanish for size considerations for now. This set is mostly the one Ubuntu provides on its installer images (removing those that might have issues as they need special fonts).

Another difference to prior downloads is that while LibreOffice still uses X11, now runs in confinement provided by snaps. Unlike previous releases on Ubuntu, this package defaults now to do so via the newer GTK3 backend: This has a lot of advantages, see details on Caolans Blog, but it is also a younger backend, that hasnt has that much time to be polished yet.

A third of a LibreOffice snap

Take your time, hurry up
The choice is yours, don’t be late
Take a rest as a friend
— Nirvana, Come As You Are

I have just updated the LibreOffice snap package. The size of the package available for download created some confusion. As LibreOffice 5.2 is still in beta, I built and packed it with full debug symbols to allow analysis of possible problems. Comparing this to the size of e.g. the default install from Ubuntu *.deb packages is misleading:

  • The Ubuntu default install misses LibreOffice Base and Java unless you explicitly install them
  • The Ubuntu default install misses debug symbols unless you install the package libreoffice-dbg too

As many people are just curious about running LibreOffice 5.2 without wanting to debug it right now, I replaced the snap package. The download and install instructions are still the same as noted here — but it is now 287MB instead of 1015MB (and it still contains Base, but no debug symbols).

The package file including full debug symbols — in case you are interested in that — has been renamed to libreoffice-debug.

(Note that if you downloaded the file while I moved files around, you might need to redo your download.)

LibreOffice 5.2.0 beta2 as a snap package

What’s been happening in your world?
What have you been up to?
— Arctic Monkeys, Snap out of it

So — here is what I have been up to:

LibreOffice 5.2.0 beta2 installed as a snap on Ubuntu 16.04
LibreOffice 5.2.0 beta2 installed as a snap on Ubuntu 16.04

The upcoming LibreOffice 5.2 packaged as a nice new snap package. This:

  • is pretty much a vanilla build of LibreOffice 5.2 beta2, using snapcraft, which is making packaging quite easy
  • contains all the applications: Writer, Calc, Impress, Draw, Math, Base
  • installs easily on the released current LTS version of Ubuntu: 16.04
  • allows you to test and play with the upcoming LibreOffice version to your hearts delight without having to switch to a development version of Ubuntu

So — how can you “test and play with the upcoming LibreOffice version to your hearts delight” with this on Ubuntu 16.04? Like this:

wget http://people.canonical.com/~bjoern/snappy/libreoffice_5.2.0.0.beta2_amd64.snap{,.sha512sum}
sha512sum -c libreoffice_5.2.0.0.beta2_amd64.snap.sha512sum && sudo snap install --devmode libreoffice_5.2.0.0.beta2_amd64.snap

and there you have a version of LibreOffice 5.2 running — for example, you can prepare yourself for the upcoming LibreOffice Bug Hunting Session. And its even quite easy to remove again:

sudo snap remove libreoffice

This is one of the things that snap packages will make a lot easier: upgrading or  downgrading versions of an application, having multiple installed in parallel and much more. Watch out as there are more exciting news about this coming up!

Update: As this has been asked a few times: Yes, snap packages are available on Ubuntu. No, snap packages are not only available on Ubuntu. This text has more details.

Update 2: The original download included debug symbols and thus was quite big. The download now has 287MB. This post has all the details.

Zu Spät: Hackfest Hamburg

Warum hast Du mir das angetan?
Ich hab’s von einem Bekannten erfahren.

— Die Ärtze, Debil, Zu Spät

Its been more than two years since the last Hackfest in Hamburg! So we are indeed much too late (german: Zu Spät) with repeating this wonderful Event. Right a day after everyone updated his or her Desktop to Wily Werewolf we will meet for a weekend of happy hacking again in Hamburg!

Hamburg Hackfest 2013 - carelessly stolen from Eikes Retrospective
Hamburg Hackfest 2013 – carelessly stolen from Eikes Retrospective

So now, we will meet again. You are invited to drop by this weekend, we will celebrate a bit on Friday evening (ignoring the german culinary advise in the song linked above about “Currywurst and Pommes Fritz” — I imagine we prefer Club Mate and Pizza) and hack on LibreOffice on Saturday and Sunday. Curious new faces are more then welcome!