6 Oct 2007 reenoo   » (Observer)

Looking back

Now that I'm settling in here in Cardiff, it's time to look back at the very busy past year or so.

Back in August 2006 Familiar 0.8.4 was released. I had been working effectively full time towards that release for a couple of months (apart from RoboCup induced interruptions). It was a fairly successful maintenance release which added support for several new hardware platforms. I'm well aware of a number of issues with 0.8.4 but it's basically as good as an OE-using niche-distro gets. Sure, you can upgrade stuff here and there, fix the one or the other bug, but at the same time equally many pending upgrades and bugs pop up at the other end of the tree.

Note that I was one of the most enthusiastic proponents of OE in a discussion earlier in 2006 but handling most of the builds for the 0.8.4 release changed my perspective quite a bit and made it perfectly clear to me that for significant improvements Famliar would need something different.

The post-0.8.4 period also marked the end of the first year of my two year project at university. There, it was similarly clear that a change in direction was needed (never underestimate a robotics problem...) and that it would require significant efforts to turn the (then vague) plan into reality. I basically put all non-university activities on hold as a result.

I was involved in some of the planning for Familiar 0.9 though and I do indeed have a fairly precise idea of how I would like to see it implemented (from scratch by the way). Those plans, however, rely on infrastructure bits which as of today haven't fallen into place yet. The distro-engineering parts as such could be done fairly quickly - I do have a working (significantly improved) new base system which took 3 evening sessions to put together. From there it's probably just a matter of a week all the way up to X (including window manager, etc.). Oh, and we'd get virtually any piece of non-handheld-specific software packaged for free.

Why haven't those plans taken off yet? Honestly, I don't know. It's probably a combination of a lack of time and an after-you-after-you problem among the involved developers. Certain other events of this past year have destroyed a bunch of trust relationships and made communication difficult.

At the same time in a different universe... We made excellent progress with the two year project at university. The project schedule was ambitious, but apart from a few minor issues we successfully reached our goal and presented our results in mid-July. The project report is now also finished and the only thing left for me to do for my degree (Diplom) is writing my thesis. I've even talked to a potential supervisor already and we've agreed on a (rough) topic. I just love it when a plan comes together.

At the same time in yet another universe... I decided to spend two semesters at a university in a foreign country through the Erasmus programme. That also worked out just fine in the end and I'm now studying Computer Science with Distributed and Mobile Systems at Cardiff University. So far, lectures have been interesting and nicely complement stuff I've already done at my home university in Bremen.

So, what about Familiar? I've had a few days off during Freshers' week (I'm taking 3rd year modules) and used a tiny fraction of that time to catch up on what's happened in the Linux-on-handhelds realm during the past 6 months. And, yeah, I still believe there's a need for a distro like Familiar - with a strong focus on end users, secure, reliable software and working upgrade paths. This is especially true since projects that set out to replace Familiar simply don't appear to deliver. Quite frankly, I hate to see so many users left out in the cold. Realistically, however, my schedule here isn't much less busy than back in Germany. And I also have to prepare stuff for my thesis.

Long story short, I'm going to continue concentrating on my studies and no longer consider Familiar a project I'm actively involved with. I wish the remaining Familiar developers and competing projects all the best. Put out some great products for me to find when I check back after graduation!

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