Community Time at Collabora

I haven’t yet blogged about this (as normally I don’t blog often), but I joined Collabora in June last year. Since then, I had an opportunity to work with OpenEmbedded again, write a kernel patch, learn lots of things about systemd (in particular, how to stop worrying about it taking over the world and so on), and do lots of other things.

As one would expect when working for a free software consultancy, our customers do understand the value of the community and contributing back to it, and so does the customer for the project I’m working on. In fact, our customer insists we keep the number of locally applied patches to, for example, Linux kernel, to minimum, submitting as much as possible upstream.

However, apart from the upstreaming work which may be done for the customer, Collabora encourages us, the engineers, to spend up to two hours weekly for upstreaming on top of what customers need, and up to five days yearly as paid Community days. These community days may be spent working on the code or doing volunteering at free software events or even speaking at conferences.

Even though on this project I have already been paid for contributing to the free software project which I maintained in my free time previously (ifupdown), paid community time is a great opportunity to contribute to the projects I’m interested in, and if the projects I’m interested in coincide with the projects I’m working with, I effectively can spend even more time on them.

A bit unfortunately for me, I haven’t spent enough time last year to plan my community days, so I used most of them in the last weeks of the calendar year, and I used them (and some of my upstreaming hours) on something that benefitted both free software community and Collabora. I’m talking about SparkleShare, a cross-platform Git-based file synchronisation solution written in C#. SparkleShare provides an easy to use interface for Git, or, actually, it makes it possible to not use any Git interface at all, as it monitors the working directory using inotify and commits stuff right after it changes. It automatically handles conflicts even for binary files, even though I have to admit its handling could still be improved.

At Collabora, we use SparkleShare to store all sorts of internal documents, and it’s being used by users not familiar with command line interfaces too. Unfortunately, the version we recently had in Debian had a couple of very annoying bugs, making it a great pain to use it: it would not notice edits in local files, or not notice new commits being pushed to the server, and that led to individual users’ edits being lost sometimes. Not cool, especially when the document has to be sent to the customer in a couple of minutes.

The new versions, 1.4 (and recently released 1.5) was reported as being much better and also fixing some crashes, but it also used GTK+ 3 and some libraries not yet packaged for Debian. Thanh Tung Nguyen packaged these packages (and a newer SparkleShare) for Ubuntu and published them in his PPA, but they required some work to be fit for Debian.

I have never touched Mono packages before in my life, so I had to learn a lot. Some time was spent talking to upstream about fixing their copyright statements (they had none in the code, and only one author was mentioned in configure.ac, and nowhere else in the source), a bit more time went into adjusting and updating the patches to the current source code version. Then, of course, waiting the packages to go through NEW. Fixing parallel build issues, waiting for buildds to all build dependencies for at least one architecture… But then, finally, on 19th of January I had the updated SparkleShare in Debian.

As you may have already guessed, this blog post has been sponsored by Collabora, the first of my employers to encourage require me to work on free software in my paid time :)

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