Mobile UXes - From the DebConf11 BoF to the stars

Didier Raboud odyx at
Thu Sep 8 08:36:17 UTC 2011

Hi all, 

This is the sumary of the discussion held at DebConf11 during the "Mobile 
UXes" BoF, on 2011-07-29, at 18h00 in the meeting room.

(    = tl;dr version =                                    )
(    Search for "Proposal" down this mail.                )
(    Please answer to debian-devel at only. )

The point of this mail is to inform people and communities of the content of 
those discussions and propose a sort-of plan of action. Note that nothing has 
been clearly decided there but the discussion was really nice and promising so 
I sort-of hope the consensus acknowledged upon there can be reflected online.

= Outline =
 0 - Commented overview of the various available stacks
 1 - Proposal for future actions and meet-together

= 0 - Commented overview of the various available stacks =

The initial idea to frame the discussion was to share experiences and opinions 
about known free software mobile stacks: are they packaged in Debian? What has 
been the experience so far? If not, why not?

The main reference to build up this list has been, which is still a good reference! Now to the 

== Android ==

The Canonical effort [0] to port an Android execution environment is currently 
reported as a dead-end. The most free-software-friendly efforts reported are 
IcedRobot [1] and Replicant [2]. They don't seem ready enough for inclusion in 
Debian though but we should keep an eye on them.


== MeeGo ==

Back when the MeeGo project was launched, some hoped it could be Debian-based. 
Some persons from the Debian community tried to make that a reality back then 
but didn't succeed. Then the pkg-meego team [3] was formed to get software 
produced by the MeeGo project in Debian. This effort has faced a tough reality 
with regards to project management, interfaces stability, FHS respect, 
trademark policies, etc; and as a result it is currently stalled.

Nowadays, various software pieces produced by or within the MeeGo project are 
probably interesting to get in Debian:

  - Maliit [4] it is the input methods solution used in MeeGo (in particular
    it's the project behind the Harmattan virtual keyboard / input method;
    also used for the N900/N950 Community Edition)
  - the Tablet User Experience [5] released by Intel earlier this year.
  - Handheld UX in the MeeGo CE form [6]

As a side-note; the software released with the Nokia N9 (of which the "swipe" 
user interface [7] is not known to be available as free software) is available 
as a downloadable qemu image [8].

MeeGo CE [9] is a community effort both to make free MeeGo releases for a few 
smartphones, and to make MeeGo as a project more transparent by being an 
example of a contributing "vendor". Since the project aims for a product level 
quality in the UIs, the packages they've put on top of MeeGo Core and 
integrate back to the Core are interesting for Debian as well. Timo Jyrinki 
wrote a very interesting blogpost on this topic [10].


== Maemo ==

Maemo [11] is the Debian derivative that powers the Nokia N900 that was one 
branches of the MeeGo merge. Nowadays, both Maemo 6 and Harmattan (software 
basis of the Nokia N9) are reported to be dead-ends. A Debian team [12] was 
formed to work on the inclusion of the Maemo software back in Debian, but it 
decided earlier this year that Maemo is a dead end and removed Maemo related 
software from Debian [13].

It could still make sense to package some of the Maemo GTK themes to make 
running unmodified GTK applications easier on mobile devices. Openmoko also 
produced some.


== GNOME Mobile & Embedded Initiative ==

The GNOME Mobile & Embedded Initiative was announced in 2007 for developing 
and promoting the use of the GNOME platform in mobile devices. It is not 
packaged in Debian (although the GNOME team might be able to give more 
insightful information) and doesn't seem to have a home on the Internet. It is 
part of the Hackable1 distribution (see below).

== KDE Plasma Active ==

From their website: "KDE Plasma Active [14] aims at creating a cross-device 
user experience for emerging devices such as tablet computers, media centers, 
smartphones, and more." It is currently not packaged in Debian, but some 
members of the pkg-qt-kde team could certainly be interested [15].


== E17 / Illume ==

Enlightenment [16] in its 17 "version" is available in Debian right now, 
package e17, maintained by the pkg-e team [17], which would welcome more 


== GPE ==

GPE has been in Debian for years. It is more for palmtop devices, a phone 
component was produced [18] but is dead upstream. It is more suitable for 
stylus based devices and not that useful for recent mobile devices, not touch 
friendly. Upstream development has largely stalled.


== Lower level stuff == 

FSO [19] and oFono  are both in Debian already. The new Vala-based FSO2 stack 
is now entering Debian.


== Other stacks ==

Those are software stacks or distributions that were mentioned during the 

  - The DeforaOS project [20] releases some Debian packages.
  - The QtMoko distribution [21] is based on Debian Squeeze and packages a
    fork of Qt Extended to /opt. Qt Extended is apparently from an old version
    of Qt.
  - PyNeo, "software for driving a mobile device" [22] develops python
    applications for the user interface and proposes Debian packages.
  - Qalee "is a desktop environment designed for the Freerunner" [23]. Their
    "official website"  hostname hasn't been renewed.
  - QuantumSTEP "is a Mac-like Application Platform that can be installed on
    existing Linux devices" [24].
  - Hackable1 [25] "is a community distribution for hackable devices like the
    Neo Freerunner. It is based on Debian and implements the GNOME mobile
  - SHR [26] "is a GNU/Linux based operating system for smartphones and
    similar mobile devices", based on OpenEmbedded.


== Single-user X launchers ==

"Single-user X launchers" were perceived as a prerequisite: nodm and uxlaunch 
are both already in Debian and share goals and functionality. Someone should 
critically review them both, make sure the greatest functionality set stays 
available and drop one of both from the archive.

== Virtual keyboards ==

This topic was mentionned during the meeting as an important issue to solve; 
here is the list of (currently) known virtual keyboard implementations:

 - Thibault Girka worked on an "On-screen keyboard for g-i" [27].
 - xvkbd is a "software virtual keyboard for X11", currently packaged in
   Debian (but without releases since oldstable).
 - matchbox-keyboard is an "on-screen keyboard", currently packaged in Debian
   (but without upstream releases since 2008).
 - "Florence is an extensible scalable virtual keyboard for GNOME" [28],
   currently packaged in Debian.
 - "CellWriter is a grid-entry natural handwriting input panel" [29],
   currently packaged in Debian (but without releases since oldstable).
 - eekboard [30]
 - QtMoko has multiple integrated input methods, including several virtual
 - Enlightenment 17 has one integrated virtual keyboard.
 - MeeGo has integrated virtual keyboard: Maliit [4].
 - KDE Plasma Active has integrated virtual keyboard [31].
 - GNOME 3 has integrated virtual keyboards [32,33,34]
 - "Dasher is an information-efficient text-entry interface, driven by natural
   continuous pointing gestures." [35], currently packaged in Debian.
 - And there are certainly many others! *sigh*
[35] , 

= 1 - Proposal for future actions and meet-together =

During the meeting, it has been noted that the effort to bring sensible Mobile 
user experiences is currently scattered across many different packaging teams, 
communicating trough many different channels. It was then acknowledged that a 
merge of those forces under a common umbrella would be a clear improvement of 
the current situation.

The proposal was formulated as follows:

a) keep low-level stuff (hardware drivers, kernel, etc) where it belongs:
  - debian-kernel at
  - debian-arm at
  - emdebian:

b) keep middle-level (dbus interfaces, FSO, etc) where they belong:
  - pkg-fso:
  - smartphones-userland at
  - oFono: pkg-telepathy-maintainers

c) Create a new Alioth project, 'mobile-ux', with associated mailing-lists and 
a wiki page. The proposed definition of what systems would be the target of 
this project is:

    "Systems which
    - have a user-interface different than the traditional 'keyboard-mouse'
    - can be battery-powered,
    - have a generally small form-factor and/or
    - which only allow few elements on a given screen."

Given reasonable consensus, I plan to request the above-mentionned Alioth 
project "soon". 

d) Once everybody is registered there, close all now-useless projects, mailing 
lists, etc. Merge wiki pages, organize BBQs and have fun!

What is your opinion about all this ? (Please answer to this mail on debian-
devel only [M-F-T and R-T set accordingly].)

Finally, I'd like to thank all attendees of this BoF, which revealed itself 
being rather productive and highly interesting. Special thanks go to Timo 
Juhani Lindfors and Paul Wise for their help in writing all this down.

Best regards,

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