2006 Edition Free and Open Source Software Developer's European Meeting


2006-01-31 - Michael Meeks

An interview conducted by Lionel Dricot (aka "ploum")
FOSDEM - Please present yourself.

Michael Meeks - I'm Michael Meeks, Christian, Hacker, Husband, Irritation - that sort of thing. I enjoy working for Novell who pay me to make great Free Software even better for our customers, currently I'm working on OO.o most of the time.

FOSDEM - What, in OOo2, makes you happy?

Michael Meeks - I was very pleased to be involved in the native desktop integration work that makes OO.o look & feel so much better. In fact - some of the things I'm most happy with are things people should never know about: main-loop / threading integration between gtk+ & VCL, letting you mix gtk+ and VCL code in the same process without problems. Of course some other invisible things: slowly prying open development & encouraging others to work with us is good too. I suppose it's also nice that nowadays people can build OO.o 2.0, and get hacking on it or just package it for their distribution with relative ease - that's real progress from when I started.

FOSDEM - What, in OOo2, ashamed you the most?

Michael Meeks - Well - the quality I suppose, 2.0.0 was later than expected and far too buggy. The irony is that OO.o has a -very- 'professional' development setup - complete with tons of tedious process: eg. a small feature requires a written specification, an iTeam, a dedicated QA person, UI review ... and yet the result is demonstrably either not that good, or perhaps worse than it would have been if common-sense & peer-review were applied instead. Part of my mission is to try to remove stifling process that kills productivity & drives away volenteer developers, and encourage a more Free-software-friendly approach.

FOSDEM - OOo is a major piece in the OpenSource world. It's the first thing that end users see when switching to an OpenSource solution. What feedbacks do you receive and what do you think about the MS Office/ comparison?

Michael Meeks - Right - so OO.o rocks, process problems aside, it's an amazing piece of software, and well - extremely powerful. It's also exciting that we are increasingly able to compete with a product that provides 30% of MS' revenue - on it's own platform.

Some of the feedback I get (just randomly meeting OO.o users at dinner parties) is extremely positive & happy. On the other hand, there are hard-core users, particularly of spreadsheets that are less than happy, and calc is 1 area that Novell is investing in - we've got Jody Goldberg spreadsheet guru on the case here eg.

FOSDEM - Some people were disappointed because OOo 2 is almost as slow and "bloatted" as OOo 1.1. Do you care about such advices? And what do you reply to those people?

Michael Meeks - They're right - OO.o 2.0 performs quite similarly to OO.o 1.1, and yes I care a lot about that. As it happens this is now a big are of focus: my team and I, some lads from Intel, and some of the Sun hackers are all focusing on improving OO.o performance. Since 1/3 - 1/2 of OO.o (warm) startup time is spent in the linker - I've generated a glibc/binutils patch that reduces that by 75% - currently festering un-reviewed by Ulrich Drepper. Of course, we've also done a chunk of work reducing cold start & 2nd start time, much of which will be seen in 2.0.2 - we now have a systray quickstarter replacing the rather awful previous quick-starter applets. Of course document load time is also a major issue - we've been doing some profiling & optimization there - Radek Doulik eg. has some ~5 fold improvement in impress slide thumbnail rendering he's showing off.

So - sure, it's great that people keep pushing us on performance - there is a genuine issue here; My short reply to these people is: don't assume that because OO.o performance (on Unix) is bad that there is some fundamental problem / nastiness here - there is not. Also - optimizing in my experience is a really rewarding process - and there are plenty of unoptimized code-paths left for people to get involved with. As it happens I have a smallish 6Mb(shared) memory saving sitting on my disk as a patch that needs some polish to get up-stream - volunteers appreciated.

FOSDEM - What is the future of and how do you see your own future in the OpenSource world?

Michael Meeks - Well - so, there is some exciting news about OO.o here that has perhaps not filtered out onto the street. We took nearly 2 years of development to get from 1.1.x to 2.0.0 and during that time, -loads- of problems were fixed and tons of features implemented in eg. the first 6 months that then didn't get debugged / see the light of day for another 12 months, and this was just really bad for building excitement around OO.o.

The good news is that from 2.0.0, we're making an excellent move: switching to time-based releases every 3/6 months; including new features ( after they have been suitably QA'd etc. ). This will keep a steady flow of new features & improvements coming that can speed up the user feedback process, get more people involved, and may also improve quality: getting bug fixes to people faster. eg. in 2.0.2 we should have: themable icons, optional cairo rendering for slideshows, improved performance as well as a bunch of other small features I don't know about.

So - the future of OO.o is bright - I'm optimistic about it, the more people we can get involved, the quicker it'll improve & the lower the barrier to entry will become. Currently we're really just inching up the beginning of this virtuous circle.

My future in OpenSource - I've no idea; the OO.o role is very varied and interesting - not to mention challenging & rewarding. Either way - what I like most is hacking - preferably on a project people use & appreciate in their millions; so I'd like to stick with OO.o for some time to come & grow my team there.

FOSDEM - What will you talk about at FOSDEM this year (more precisely than just "it will be about OOo2")? Will you talk in "bullet list style" only? ;-)

Michael Meeks - So - I can talk on a number of subjects - depends what people want really; one of the things that's nice to do is take a straw-poll of
people's understanding beforehand to tailor the level of detail to the audience. If you ask "Who's a hacker" at LWE eg. you tend to find perhaps 1 or 2 hands go up - what I love about FOSDEM is that there would be a sea of hands there: you get some great attendees, they're what really make FOSDEM special. Personally I'd like to talk about the performance & VBA / calc interoperability work we've been doing; look at UNO & the Mono integration, and take a look at some interesting places where OO.o could be useful in future.

FOSDEM - What do you expect from FOSDEM and what makes you happy (if any) to come here in Belgium?

Michael Meeks - Brussels is of course a beautiful city, I anticipate some excellent company, hopefully to get some people excited about OO.o, hear some other great talks myself, and perhaps encourage some people to get work with us on OO.o: if you're a developer & can't make FOSDEM do pop into #go-oo on & get stuck in.

FOSDEM - Thanks you for your answers, for coming to FOSDEM and for your involvement in Free Software.

Michael Meeks - The pleasure is entirely mine; thank you.


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