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My FLOSS

13/11/2010 Leave a comment

I decided to start this blog with a post introducing all the Free Software projects I’ve published.
It’s not much, but this is the work I am most proud of.

In case you didn’t know, FLOSS (aside from string used to clean teeth) is an acronym for Free Libre Open Source Software.
Now, you might think that it would be simpler and shorter just to say “Free software”, not to mention, a lot less confusing, but this way people tend to think it is just software you can get free of charge.
Even though most people like getting things for free, surprisingly 0$ cost often has negative connotations.
Besides, its not about cost, its about freedom.

For me though, coding these projects was, first and foremost, about learning.
Implementing each feature required learning the use of a new function or a new technique. Some times even a whole new set of development tools.
Also, unlike projects I do as part of my job, these gave me the freedom to experiment – implement what I wanted in the way I wanted without deadlines, demands or the need to waste time on useless trickery in a futile attempt to protect the final product from being copied.

And there was one additional bonus: ego boost. Seeing the download count and getting comments from users directly was pretty nice, especially when those comments were praises and thanks.

 

LVMTime

This is the first project I’ve ever published. In fact, it went out even before the first commercial app I did as a professional developer hit the market.

It is a “Today screen” plugin for Windows Mobile devices. It displays time and date in various configurations.

This project started out as a way to learn how to write a “Today plugin”.
Since I did not want to do a pointless “Hello world” test, I decided to make it do something useful. At the same time I saw on the forum that people were unhappy with the way date plugin behaved in the then new Windows Mobile 5 OS.
So I made a very simple plugin that just showed date and time on a single line.
I posted it on the forum to see what happens and, to my surprise, it got popular.

So I kept developing it and adding features.
As it turns out, theres a lot more to writing a properly working plugin then MS documentation shows, so along the way I picked up a few tricks that later came in handy on my job.

Two of the neatest (from my perspective) things I’ve done on this project were implementing from scratch a SNTP client to allow synchronizing time from the Internet (just like desktop Windows does) and sticking a small window on the taskbar that looked as though it was an integral part of it.
I actually managed to put the clock display back to where it was in the previous version of the OS, using an outside utility.

At first, I did not think to release the code, though I had no intention to charge money for the software.
I did send it to a couple of people who asked for it because I believed I should share this knowledge as others shared it and allowed me to learn how to write such a plugin.
Later, when I learned about the GNU/GPL and the concept of “Free Software” I properly published the source under GPL v3 license.

Unfortunately, at the time, I was not well familiar with source hosting sites such as SourceForge and Google Code, so I just published the whole thing on the forum I knew.
The down side is, there is no version control and you have to subscribe to the forum to download it.

Some day I might fix it.
For now, the binary version was picked up by a few freeware sites, which added to that ego boost I mentioned earlier:
LVMTime on PocketPCFreeware
LVMTime on FreewarePPC
LVMTime on Softpedia

 

LVMTopBat

This project, like many other FLOSS projects, began as an attempt to “scratch an itch”.

At the time, I had an i-mate Jamin also know as HTC Prophet.
This was a nice and advanced (for those times) smartphone, but it had a very slow processor (200MHz) and little RAM memory.
I wanted a precise battery meter, but all the ones I could find had a lot of fancy features which were both unnecessary and waste of resources.
Plus, I could not find one that looked exactly the way I wanted, so I just wrote one.

It was interesting to learn how to query and interpret battery status data.
I even managed to use the system notification mechanism to avoid constantly polling for data and wasting CPU cycles.

After making a small modification to make it more general, I put this app on the same forum as LVMTime.
Despite being very simplistic with no configuration options at all, it still had some success – several thousand downloads.

Better still, this was the first time someone took my code and made a derivative application with improvements.
And this is the real power of Free Software: collaborative development and continuous improvement.
Here is one such derivative: iBattery

Though not as popular as LVMTime, LVMTopBat also made it to some freeware sites:
LVMTopBat on PocketPCFreeware
LVMTopBat on Softpedia
 

Registry Display plugin

Technically speaking this is not a project, but a part of one.

After gathering together tips and tricks for writing a properly functioning “Today plugin” from various sources on the Internet I wanted to put it all together in a skeleton plugin which could later be used as a base for real projects.
At some point, I even thought about writing an article on it for the CodeProject site.

I never gotten around to writing that article, but I did make a basic plugin.
To demonstrate how to properly implement things like user selected text size and refresh handling I decided to let the plugin display a string from the registry.

Mean while, on xda-developers forum there were people looking to add GUI components to MortScript, a simple but powerful scripting language for Windows Mobile which allowed users with no programming knowledge to automate tasks on their devices.
This plugin example turned out to be useful to them.

It is possible to write registry values using MortScript so any script could use my plugin to display information on the today screen.
It wasn’t fancy, but it worked.

Since this project was so basic I released it in to the public domain, which means anyone can use the code in any way for any purpose no string attached.
Though even something this basic falls under todays ridicules copyright laws, I do not believe in copyrighting basic examples of code, not even under the GPL or BSD style licenses.

 

scr-rotate

This was the firs project I released for GNU/Linux based OS.
Specifically SHR distribution of the OpenMoko project.

It is a graphical application to rotate the screen.

It took me a long while to learn and get used to the different development paradigm of GNU/Linux based environment.
The idea that UI toolkit was something separate from the OS core and that multiple choices were available was a complete novelty.
Programming for Win32 you had one simple API function for creating a window or a button.
Here, you had to choose a widget toolkit and learn its rules.

And before you could do that, you had to familiarize your self with gcc, make and some shell scripting for good masure.
In the end of course, it was well worth it.
And once you do understand the tools and how to use them, you realize that it is the MS way of doing things that is crooked and uncomfortable.

Since the OpenMoko platform was designed specifically for developers to play with, even its most advanced OS is still missing quite a few functions you would find in a commercial phone.
More precisely, the capability is there but the GUI is not.
So it was easy to pick a small feature which I personally was missing and code a fairly simple app to do it.

Once again, this was a learning experience.
And this time, I properly published the sources on a suitable hosting site with open access and version control. There’s even a bug tracking system which I already got to use.

Well, thats all for now.
I hope that in the future, I will have the time to write and release more Free Software projects, maybe even bigger and more useful ones.
For now I do have some bug fixes I want to do on other projects, but as usual 24 hours a day just aren’t enough.

At least, I managed to get this post out.
Thanks for reading.

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