Librem 5: Desktop Decision and Development Efforts


#1

Purism and Purism Community,

First off, before venturing down this discussion, I would like to say meaningful thank you to Purism and the Librem 5 backers for pursuing a truly open phone. This is a major step forward for privacy and bringing the Linux kernel (in a more mainline form) to mobile computing. Small disclaimer before I share my thoughts: This post will not serve as a place for a rant/flamewar between desktop environments. Nor is it a place to complain about (insert topic). The sole purpose of my post is discuss the initial software direction Purism is taking with the Librem 5 and an alternative viewpoint. The goal is getting Librem 5 ready for end-users.

As one tiny backer of the Librem 5 amidst hundreds, I was eagerly waiting news of the initial software development of the Librem 5. Partnerships with Gnome and the KDE Plasma team where both very positive and a good start. On January 31st, 2018 Purism announced in the article “GNOME and KDE in PureOS: diversity across devices” the early plans for development efforts/dollars. Both KDE and Gnome would receive open support from Purism for “early documentation, hardware designs, and kernel development progress” in addition Purism would be “investing in hardware design, development kits” for the two community’s development teams. Again, a continued good start for all the parties involved. However, since a device could only have one default environment and development dollars need to be spent somewhere, a direction had to be determined. Purism’s decision was “Since Purism uses GNOME as the default desktop environment within PureOS on our laptops, we figured we are going to invest some direct development efforts in GNOME/GTK+ for mobile to stay consistent across our default platforms.” Both desktops will be “supported” but the bulk of development funds will be placed towards the Gnome desktop due to the current absence of a “large community around an upstream-first GNOME/GTK+ for mobile.”

Ok, now that the stage has been set, this is where I share my thoughts. Foremost, I am not a developer, I am a Librem 5 backer, privacy advocate, small business owner, and a Linux user with Gnome at work and KDE at home. Take what I have to say from that perspective. My argument is that I believe the bulk of development dollars should be spent on bringing Plasma Mobile based PureOS to the Librem 5 and Gnome should be supported “as a second desktop environment is directly aligned with our [Purism] beliefs.” Simply taking the inverse of the recently announced plan. To avoid repeating the obvious, I will avoid using the discussion points the Purism article introduced in the paragraph entitled “Why not just use KDE/Plasma and call it a day?” My thoughts are targeted towards both long-term and short term.

Short-term (physical limitation): One Purism’s greatest challenges comes from the unseen opponent of time. As of the writing of this post, we are roughly one year away from the projected launch. Both Gnome and KDE mobile project are in their infancy and require significant work to reach a launch-worthy state (basic features on a reliable/stable system). Despite this Purism stated one is more advanced, “KDE is very far along with their “Plasma” mobile desktop environment, while GNOME is farther behind currently.” If one looks at other projects in mobile space (Sailfish, Android, iOS, Blackberry, PalmOS), the volume of development hours/dollars to reach early product launch already eclipses Purism current timeline. In short, Purism needs to start from the most advanced base to even reach its target of launching a mobile device with a functioning operating system.

Short-term/Long-Term (technical limitation): If the software industry is to be used as a benchmark, the QT toolkit is currently targeted towards mobile interfaces. GTK, while not opposed to mobile from an ideological standpoint, has not developed their current codebase to be overtly accepting of mobile interfaces (my source experience is listening to audio from developers of the Mate and Budgie desktops who use GTK and gnome shell). Arguably, touch as an interface is better developed with GTK, but touch does not imply a mobile phone. Gnome is looking at changing the direction of GTK4 and Gnome shell (please see gnome mailing lists). Focusing on stability, deprecating APIs that are not apart of Gnome’s vision for the future, and hoping to make the shell more modular. While a more modular shell might allow for easier mobile development, the commitment to mobile is visibly uncertain from upstream. Purism may be faced with maintaining code outside of upstream which is a burden for both Purism and the budding open mobile community. My thought is to spend development dollars on the group which displays a long-run commitment to mobile. Plasma in this case. Outside of toolkit performance on mobile, there are other technical details to consider. (Reinsert, I’m not a developer warning). To my knowledge, Plasma is closer on decoupling X server from its compositor Kwin, Plasma desktop has achieve a significantly lower hardware usage footprint that Gnome shell, and Kwin is less hardcoded that Mutter.

Short-term/Long-Term (sales and brand): Firstly. I understand the value of brand. Purism, as a company, desires its to be brand clear and uniform for its current and future customers. This brand separates it from others and adds value. For this reason, I understand Purism wanting to investing GTK/Gnome, it is very ideological. Now, permit me to poke holes in my own statement. GTK/Gnome out of the gate is not pragmatic. Brand is important, but it is a double-edged sword. Rolling with a less uncertain and less mature technology for the sake of image can backfire and harm the product as well as other products associated with the brand. iOS when it launched did not look like Mac OS X. Android did not try to replicate the look and feel of either Mac or Windows. Both of these successful interfaces chose instead what was available at the time and worked on it. Uniformity came second. The Librem 13/15 should not drive the UI of the Librem 5. The Librem 5 needs to stand on its own and work well out of the box. A functioning device will push your brand better than any color-coordinated UI ever will. Additionally, you could face the situation where many Librem 5 buyers will not be purchasing a Librem laptop as well. This reduces the effectiveness of your initial development dollars. A new product for a small company must focus on itself first and cohesiveness second. Make sure the device works well and do what it promised (privacy on a functioning phone); sales will come naturally and your brand is safeguarded. As a sidenote: when backing the Librem 5 I looked at convergence as not the Librem 5 looking like a Librem 15 when plugged into a monitor, but rather the Librem 5 sharing itself, its apps, and retooling its UI perfectly in a desktop format (I know nothing of your other product’s UIs, per say).

Closing thoughts. There are so many more thoughts and technical details to dive into, but this post needs to draw to a close for a discussion to start. If anything was unclear, here are my short, simple takeaways. I believe it would be better for Purism and the Librem 5 project if Purism invested the first-round development dollars into fixing Plasma Moible bugs/features (KIO, missing QML apps, stability, Kwin Wayland, etc…). Keep the door open to Gnome developers and provide support just like you planned in your news article. Have the first generation Librem 5 as functional as possible with Plasma and then pull an Apple down the road and retheme. If inclined, move to Gnome at that time. This give Gnome upstream a chance to prove there commitment to mobile (phone). The Librem 5 needs to stand on its own. Convergence is not about the Librem 5 and the Librem 13/15, yet! Initial convergence is about the Librem 5 and itself. Be as pragmatic as possible with the Librem 5 by doubling down on the “highest quality computers without compromising users’ rights to privacy, security, and freedom.” As enticing as the ideal of a unified GTK experience is, development time and current codebases are the real driving factors. I whole-heatedly want the folks at Purism to be successful. The world needs the Librem 5. Pick any technological news horror story of the day to prove the need for it. I feel that pushing Plasma mobile’s development might be wiser, but I’m just one backer. Please remember this post is meant only for the purpose of open and friendly discussion. End of the day, all of us here want a solid Librem 5 launch!

Now the ever so open phrase: Thoughts anyone?

Sincerely,
Numeric


Edit: Spelling, too much text :wink:


#2

I love the way you wrote this. So clean and well structured. :ok_hand:

On the topic, I’d say that I totally agree with you. Chasing two rabbits… will definitely make things harder for everyone.

Though even if they do get the phone to work properly with KDE Plasma, unfortunately it might not mean that we’ll have the phones sooner since we don’t have yet an ETA for the i. MX 8M CPUs, which was kind of decided to be used for Librem 5 (which is great btw).
We’re left to wait for the Purism team to attend this month the Embedded World in Nürnberg, Germany where they’ll meet the representatives of NXP. source

CPUs are just one component. They also rely on some other things, like Matrix, which might or might not have all the software (communication features) ready to be deployed into Librem 5’s.

But again, if they will eventually be able to release the phone sooner, ohhh God, that would be amazing!!!


#3

Which they are not exactly doing. While they long for support for both environments, the latest progress report states that they will most probably offer hardware resources to KDE, while focusing human resources on GNOME :slight_smile:


As stated in the Progress Report #3:

We are well aware of the huge amount of work ahead of us and the great responsibility that we have committed to. As part of this research, we reached out to the GNOME human interface design team with whom we began discussions on design as well as implementation.

As soon as a roadmap, or at least major milestones are defined and no longer subject to debate within the dev team or with GNOME team, releasing it would probably relieve a lot of people!

For example, we started to implement a proof of concept widget that would make it much easier to adapt existing desktop applications to a phone or even other style of user interface.

That’s encouraging!

What we would like to achieve is a convergence of devices so that a single application can adapt to the user interface it is currently being used with. This is still a long way ahead of us, but we are working on it now.

I’m very confident regarding Purism team’s ability to determine what is feasible, realistic, and what is not. I can’t stress enough how much a roadmap/milestone would back the team decision to go full efforts on GNOME.


On a sublty different topic, I might have interpreted the two latest Librem 5 news, but I understood that the Librem 5 will be shipped with Plasma mobile, and then GNOME Mobile will be released (mostly due to the amount of work on GNOME mobile which would not allow it to be ready at launch).

As some redditors remarked, this is nowhere stated explicitly. Are my assumptions erroneous?


@nicole.faerber those are probably questions you are the most qualified for to answer :slight_smile:

TL;DR:

  • A roadmap or main milestones would relieve many people regarding the feasibility of porting GNOME to mobile
  • Does Purism plan to launch the Librem 5 with Plasma Mobile, and delay GNOME mobile’s release until “when it’s done”?

#4

Hi numeric,
I just joined this forum to thank you for your post. It pretty much reflects my feelings on this topic.


#5

Hi Zapp, Hi Numeric,

I am pretty interested to see where this discussion goes too. From the non-developer’s prospective, which I also share, it makes sense to me that the KDE environment should take priority over GNOME. It appears to be, so much further along in development. Again, this comes from a guy who loves his installation of Archlinux with the GNOME desktop. I think this phone is so important on a whole litany of levels. I would love to see it launch with the smoothest functioning interface possible, perhaps furthering market adoption.

I would love to hear some feedback from the developers on why they feel it is important pursue both routes out of the starting gate versus just focusing on getting one up and running smoothly.


You guys at Purism are awesome! At long last, I have another option besides iOS and Andrioid, and best of all … this one comes with terminal! :slight_smile:


#6

I think you’re wrong here … (see below)

I think your right, I’d just rather say “will likely be shipped

@Numeric, have you read this November post? Did you follow the links to seba’s blog, the Plasma roadmap and finally this prototype video from 2015?
Except for the sound, that video amazed me. I would totally accept that as initial release on the Librem 5. But again: That prototype is 2.5 years old! I have always been a KDE lover, but when (desktop) Plasma was introduced I just thought how silly of them to just follow a new trend (widgets) instead of refining existing stuff. But now it makes so much sense.

I totally trust the Purism guys to do the right thing. I’ve seen it in everything they did so far. It makes sense, even if every now and then wise-guy shows up and tell’s them how to run their business better, for example by NOT having PureOS. Or, be “less pure”, ditching FSF endorsement.
But it all makes so much sense in the long run - and Purism is about the long run.

As said, im not a Gnome guy. Not at all. Plasma is all I would ever want on my desktop or mobile. (Maybe Gnome mobile will surprise me one day…) Why do I still think it is very smart to support both projects?
@nicole.faerber said it’s because that’s their default UI choice. But there’s more: Purism is a company that gives back to the community. And more importantly: Working with (and on) the two major UI projects with the goal of “The ability for users to switch” should give us some confidence that it will not be a new kind of walled garden. It has been discussed here before, how important it is to have standards and APIs. Like a shared phone book data base that will/can be used by Gnome and Plasma if you want to switch.

In other words, Purism is not just doing “their thing” that will likely fail spectacularly like all the other attempts of bigger companies, they support the FLOSS community to do their thing, hopefully leading to interoperatable environments, maybe even with some blessing of freedesktop.org sprinkeled on top :heart_eyes:


#7

Purism Community,

@beFree, Zapp, JohnGreen Thank you for your kind words. This is an exciting project and I’m sure all of us can’t wait to get our hands on a new shiny (and open) Librem 5!

@Caliga I think we might vary on our interpretations of infancy/alpha-state, but I think we can agree on Plasma being nice on a mobile phone. On the topic of having multiple interfaces, having UI choice is awesome. As I previously posted, it not a question of should we have multiple UIs, but rather the question is should we have multiple UIs being developed here at the beginning with limited time and money available? And if we need to focus one, shouldn’t it be the one most ready to launch? Lastly, have no fear about Purism being told on how to run their business. As community members, we cannot directly impact Purism decision making. We can however share our advise and provide feedback. A kin to how marketers solicit information from participants to improve products or derive new ideas.

If you want a different perspective, Jupiter Broadcasting’s Linux Action News hosted by Chris Fisher and co-hosted by Joe Remington offered there own take on the Librem 5’s development. I will include a link for those interested in listening to the podcast. To summarize both Chris and Joe are hopeful about the Librem 5 but concerned (like I was) about the initial development dollars being poured into Gnome-Mobile, GTK, and maybe a new compositor. To put it fairly, the two were very… blunt in their explanation. (If you are a bit sensitive about Purism, Gnome, Librem 5 and feel that an semi-harsh analysis might trigger you, please do not listen to the podcast.) https://youtu.be/uL_5xl5e1l4?t=907 . The point is we know the Librem 5 is one of the last attempts that normal GNU/Linux gets to make on the mobile market. Because of all of the previously failed Linux phone projects (there where many before Ubuntu Touch), there is a growing feeling of fatigue in the community (user/developer/vendor) regarding a non-android based Linux that exists on mobile phones. As privacy advocates, Linux users, and smartphone consumers, we want the the Librem 5 very badly. Open hardware paired with open software will eclipse all previous mobile Linux efforts if we can get this project to launch successfully. And those last two words are the sole purpose of my first post and now this one. To “launch successfully.”

My fellow community members, let’s not kid ourselves. We knew at the beginning that this project was a long-term one. Our funding was to get the hardware off the ground and have a basic working platform in our hands come January 2019. It is safe to assume that most of us have either a practical or conceptual understanding of the struggles of software development. We know it takes time. Heck, our general community is still using X.org on many machines and it took us 23 years to get it to where we are today. So we understand development time. That is why many of us in the community saw Purism decision as a red flag. Not because we have something against Gnome. Not because we have something against a company making a decision. And most certainty not because we are opposed to new ideas. But a red flag because we legitimately understand the physical constraints of time/money placed on Purism and how important this project is to our community/world.

To the Purism staff, in my posts and other’s posts hear what we have to say as not opposition to your vision but rather the coveted feedback in which the open source world was built upon. You have a vision. We understand that. We have a hope and we believe you understand this. Directed efforts towards a sole desktop like Plasma, might feel like you are venturing away from your long-run goals of a harmonious GTK experience. However, if the Librem 5 is unbelievable successful by having a solid launch and continued development, GTK developers and the Gnome Foundation will make the transition to your hardware. We are not trying to be naysayers. We are not trying to force your hand. We are, however, quite afraid of what might happen if the launch doesn’t go smoothly. As a community, we tend to invest a lot of hope, sometimes money, or even coding time into our technological/ideological passions. The Librem 5 is one of my passions, its success is what motives me to share my thoughts. Best of luck.

Sincerely,
Numeric

Edit: I don’t overly agree with Chris and Joe about replicant/LineageOS, but I do agree with the notion that a general Linux user will pursue a functional OS over an non-functional OS.


#8

Hello @Numeric,

All your concerns are valid, and I couldn’t stress enough how hard I want a Librem 5 to be released!

Still, a few things that might comfort you about the Librem 5 not being a failure even if GNOME mobile is not ready at launch:

  • You can follow the Plasma Mobile Roadmap Dashboard and see KDE devs are already well organized and willing to push their product forward!
  • As stated in this blog entry by a Plasma dev and architect “If you or your company want to ship on a specific date, work with us and we’ll plan together”. Purism has announced to have partnered up with KDE. I don’t think Purism will be putting zero resources at all on KDE, especially if they want it to be ready before GNOME is as they all well aware of how much work it will require :slight_smile:

Let’s not forget Purism does an incredible amount of work, and they dedicate resources to communicating Phone Progress Reports weekly (which takes a lot and effort). We could avoid getting too far in telling ourselves frightening stories of Librem 5 failure before they actually get a chance to develop a bit more their vision (what I have in mind here are main milestones, or a roadmap).

I’m quite positive we’ll get the team’s feedback about community’s thoughts and worries during next Phone Progress Report, or in a blog entry :wink: