Thursday, May 24, 2007

Maybe I'm not such an idiot after all...

I finally got my powerbook back! Yay!

Even nicer is that my boss in on vacation this week, meaning the workplace is more peaceful for me. It's also given me a chance to get caught up on some miscellaneous tasks at work. Once I crash for my four hours of sleep before heading back to work (really, kids, don't get a job where you work part of the week on a late shift and then turn right around and do an early shift the rest of the week--it really sucks!), I'll find myself going to work to play round with CentOS 4 in a virtual machine (VMWare player is a godsend at times, especially when you work with someone who has access to Workstation to create the virtual machines you need for testing purposes).

I know someone will inevitably want to point out that CentOS 5 is released. I'm well aware of this, but I haven't yet had the chance to nitpick CentOS 5 and get a setup script to customize it directly to our needs. Until I can do those two things, it's largely useless for us (no offense intended to anyone involved in the project!).

Now if I could just con my boss into installing rxvt-unicode termcap stuff on the UNIX box and letting me run Linux on my work machine...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Separate, but not equal? No more.

Many Pidgin users who have tried to seek support on IRC know that the inhabitants of #pidgin have historically been quite hostile to Windows users landing there. The standard response was to always send the person to #pidgin-win32. Well, this has all changed. I'll come back to this.

Gary Kramlich, a friend and the founder of the Guifications project, took offense to some comments made in Pidgin's XMPP conference. While in retrospect I'm not sure whether Gary overreacted or not, it prompted Gary to announce that he wanted to take a break from Pidgin development, and that he wasn't sure if it was going to be a permanent step back. This is a matter on which I am as of yet unsure of his decision.

Part of the discussion that triggered Gary's announcement was a reiteration of the desire some members of the development team have to kill off Windows support in Pidgin. Note that this does not mean they want to discontinue Windows support for libpurple--in this case they are preferring that a native client would appear, much as AdiumX did on Apple's Mac OS X platform. I, too, would like to see a native Windows libpurple client happen. This is another issue I'll come back to shortly.

As a result of some of the discussion that ensued after Gary's e-mail stating his desire to take a break, it was proposed by Ethan Blanton, another Pidgin developer and supporter of the removal of Pidgin Windows support, that #pidgin-win32 be closed and all support take place in #pidgin. In many ways this proposal makes a lot of sense. As Ethan rightly pointed out, we often ended up with Windows users in #pidgin, and we would need to redirect them. Some of these users grew quite frustrated as it was often difficult to receive useful responses in the Windows channel in a timely manner, if at all. As others have pointed out, GTK+ has improved vastly on Windows to the point that there are few Windows-specific bugs to worry about. For some time now, the distinction between #pidgin and #pidgin-win32 has been artificial and unnecessary. There were at least two vocal supporters of the closure of #pidgin-win32 who made their position completely clear. I didn't have an opinion one way or the other but was quite shocked that it was actually being considered.

Now #pidgin-win32 redirects to #pidgin, and we can all bask in the elimination of the IRC segregation that once ran so deeply in the Pidgin camp. Now to complete the goals of making Windows support less of an issue, we simply need a native Windows IM client utilizing libpurple and remaining similar enough in look and feel to Pidgin that people will feel comfortable in switching.

I have wanted to have a project to develop a native Windows frontend for libpurple since before the rename and the tree restructure. When Sadrul Habib Chowdhury began his Google Summer of Code project to implement an ncurses-based UI around the then-nonexistant libgaim, one of the goals of the project was to complete the core-UI split and restructure the tree so that libgaim and Gaim itself were completely separate entities. With the completion of this project, the source tree was restructured. Following the name change, we now have Pidgin, Finch, and libpurple, all separated cleanly in the source package. This means that libpurple now officially exists and is possible (and now much easier) to develop against. When Sadrul started his project, I began to formulate the idea in my mind that I really wanted to have a native Windows UI for libpurple to eliminate the remaining deficiencies
with Windows GTK+.

The problem with my desire for said Windows application is that I don't know how to develop any graphical applications for Windows. Because I'm ignorant in this area of development, but want to be involved, about the only role I could serve is Support, Quality Assurance, and sounding board. Consider this a call to arms for capable developers. Contact me via the e-mail address listed here if you're really serious about doing this.

Best of luck to Pidgin in their new IRC support model!

(Updated 2007-05-23 12:26 to fix a typo)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Idiocy strikes everyone from time to time...

It's just that it strikes some of us a bit more frequently than it does others. Take me, for example. I am a first-class idiot. My idiocy in the case I'm posting about is a direct result of me being a generally nice person in real life. Let's run down my stupidity, shall we?

I agreed to work on a computer for a co-worker. She had just decided, after years of being on dial-up internet service, to switch to a wireless internet service provided by her town. The "tech" finally showed up and installed the equipment. Signal was good and everything. Internet is insanely slow. A couple days and an hour long phone call with me later she brought the computer in for me to look at. I (and here's where the stupidity kicks in) let her use my powerbook while I had her computer.

Over last weekend (May 12-13), I brought the computer home and poked and prodded as much as I could. I could find nothing wrong. Even so, I tweaked a few settings here and there, ran the usual Windows Update crap, etc. I returned the computer on Monday (May 14). My powerbook still hasn't been returned.

Oh, and for laughs, let's explore my other instance of stupidity where this woman is concerned. She bought a Dell back in September. She complained endlessly about the keyboard, so I offered (sometime in October or November) to trade her my Microsoft keyboard for her Dell keyboard, assuming she liked the Microsoft. She wanted to try it first, which seemed a reasonable request. Now, several months later, I have neither keyboard.

I'm beginning to think being nice is a personality flaw...

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The use of arbitrary status icons in Pidgin

Before I go any further with this post, I want to make a couple things abundantly clear.
  1. I have given up on this argument; I am expressing my opinions solely for posterity.
  2. I don't care about right or wrong, because in this debate there is no right or wrong, no matter how strongly I feel my own opinions are right.
  3. I do not want to start another flame war in the Pidgin camp; I inadvertantly caused the last spat on the mailing list by speaking up in the XMPP chat and wish I had kept my mouth shut.
In the text to follow, my recollection of history may be slightly incorrect; the exact history isn't important here. Only the general context matters, which what I present here is intended to illustrate.

IM applications use arbitrary icons for pretty much everything. This started ages ago with whatever IM client happened to be the first to use icons. I got my start on IM back in 1999 with ICQ. I believe I used ICQ 98b at first, then 99a and 99b, but can't recall at the moment. Whatever versions I used, they all shared a common feature--a fixed set of icons that meant something. For example, a green flower (the ICQ logo) meant said contact was online. Several other icons existed that I don't care to do research on to verify. The point is that these icons were chosen arbitrarily for whatever reason.

I next ventured into the world of AIM. When I started, AIM was still at some ridiculously primitive version compared to what we see now. I believe the version was 3.0.something. AIM used no logo on available buddies--they showed up as normal text. Idle buddies were dimmed--grey. Away buddies used a notepad icon. I can only assume the notepad was a reference to the sticky note left on the office door by some when they step out. As an aside, note that my introduction to AIM came before server-side buddy lists were actually used. I don't know if the capability actually existed at that point or not, but it certainly wasn't used.

Next I moved into Yahoo! Messenger. This application used their logo, a bright yellow smiley face (coincidentally only resembling the Wal-Mart smiley face in shape), to indicate available. Idle contacts were again dimmed (greyed). At this time Yahoo had no real sense of what Away truly meant. There were a ton of statuses, probably 10 or so; but while their names indicated that they meant away, they shared their icon indicator with the "busy" status--the yellow logo with a red sign in the lower right corner. You could set your own custom status messages, but the only thing you could do to even come close to visibly showing away status was to set the "busy" flag on the message you typed.

By this time, we're into early 2001. I had just been introduced to Linux via a classmate who ran SuSE 6.4 on a Sony VAIO. I started experimenting at home and finally got online with Linux (at this time I used Linux-Mandrake 7.2--those were interesting times!). I used official linux clients for a while for AIM and Yahoo. I found licq for ICQ. I disliked all of these applications for various reasons.

I had been experimenting with GAIM at the time (yes, in this case that capitalization was correct). Version 0.43 was installed on my machine. I don't recall how, as Mandrake 7.2 shipped with 0.48. I was a clueless newbie at the time and couldn't really figure much out but was eventually able to get online. I then stepped up to GAIM 0.48, then 0.53. From there I continued the upgrade path. All through these versions of GAIM, the available indicator seemed unimportant. What matters in the scope of this post is the away icon--it was the same notepad icon AIM used. It seemed natural, as this was primarily an AIM client.

I happily contiuned along the upgrade path--0.54, 0.55 ... 0.59 ... 0.59.9, 0.60cvs from Sourceforge's nightly CVS tarballs, 0.60 ... 1.2.o, and finally onto CVS HEAD once it became functional. Somewhere along the line there GAIM became Gaim. It was somewhere after I started using CVS HEAD that I started contributing to Gaim. At any rate, Gaim continued to follow the paper == away concept, and had gone to prpl icons to indicate available and dimmed prpl icons to indicate idle.

Now, during this time, I just took for granted that paper meant away because it's what i'd seen for so long. Now that Gaim has become Pidgin and changed its artwork, I find myself displeased with the icons for both Away and Extended Away. I have grown accustomed to the clock == away metaphor established here, even though I disagree with it. Now, this is not to say that I find the paper an adequate away icon, but more on that later. Also changed is the sticky note icon is now a sheet of paper (no complaints there). That icon, however, was moved to represent the Extended Away status. I don't agree with this assessment either.

At minimum, I would prefer to see the icons' positions switched. A clock indicates time, of course. A compelling argument is made in favor of using the clock for away, as most definitions of away do deal with time. The same arguments can be said for extended away. All these arguments are perfectly valid. I can't disprove them or rebut them with anything but my own feelings.

I feel that the clock would be a more adequate representation of the "idle" status, by indicating that it has been some time since the remote user sent a message or touched his/her keyboard or mouse. I also feel that the paper fits neither away nor extended away. I would propose a sign, similar to Adium's away sign, for extended away. I justify this proposal with an argument Sean Egan himself made in favor of the paper--if a shop owner closes shop for the winter, he puts a sign on the door saying "closed till spring" or somesuch.

As for the away icon, I've been thinking about that for quite a while now. Initially I thought a red circle with an X in it might be good, but that's a better representation of "busy" or "do not disturb." A yellow circle with some sort of symbol or something inside might work, but would be hard to distinguish from a white background and impossible to distinguish from a yellow background. In a fit of smart-alleck tendencies, I sarcastically suggested a big red A in the XMPP chat. Dumb idea. Finally I came to a blue icon of some sort. Not necessarily a circle, but not necessarily any specific shape, either. It would of course need to be unique and identifiable. I would do some mockups of this myself, but I royally suck at doing anything with graphics.

In conclusion, I will say I'm dropping this issue from this moment forward. I've vented about it, so it's out of my system. I'll live with whatever icon decisions remain.

I hope that if anyone on the Pidgin development team reads this they are not offended by anything I have said here, particularly Sean himself. I don't intend any of the comments above to be inflammatory, insulting, etc.; instead, I intend them merely to be a final expression of my opinion as my way of accepting the current state of affairs with respect to the icons before moving on to bigger and more important issues.

The true purpose of blogs?

As anyone reading this post may or may not know, I am a huge Stargate fan. As such, I've been slowly getting into the blogs (thank you, Gateworld, for linking them so I could be lazy!) of those who are involved with Stargate. One of those blogs belongs to Kate Hewlett. For those who don't know, she played the sister of Dr. Rodney Mckay, who happens to be portrayed by David Hewlett, Kate's brother.

All this is pointless drivel meant to provide a bit of backstory and beef this post up a bit. The real point I'm trying to make here, alluded to by the title, is that in reading Kate's blog, I discovered a comment attached to the post stating that the commenter had come to the understanding that "blog" was actually short for "bitch log." (Sorry for the language, everyone. I do try to keep my posts clean.) After re-reading my previous posts here, I think I have to agree. I complain/whine/whatever a lot, and that shows in my posts. I promise I'll eventually post something meaningful :)

So, let the true purpose of blogging begin! :)

Pidgin and the status and protocol icons

Ok, so by now everyone knows that Gaim has become Pidgin. Well, the name isn't the only thing that changed. Pidgin has decided to demote the protocol icons to second-class citizens. I love it. Being one who uses IM for communication, I find the protocol information almost completely useless.

Many users have complained about the lack of protocol icons. Ticket #414 is a prime example. There are others that have been opened and subsequently closed as duplicates, including at least one that I personally slammed shut within 45 seconds of its opening. I'll share my personal views on a few issues brought up as arguments to have the protocol icons back:

File transfer, you say? What's that? No, seriously! I don't use file transfer. No one on my buddy list ever sends me files. They use web servers, e-mail, or even sftp. Granted, for the most part I have much more technically inclined friends than most IM users. I will admit that I have occasionally taken the lazy road and attempted to send a file over IM; these attempts are futile as the only people I would send files to use XMPP or Yahoo! Messenger. Pidgin's file transfer support in these areas is somewhat lacking, and that's fine for me. I have a virtual private server from Steadfast Networks that I can host whatever legal content I desire on. I also have access to a dedicated server, also from Steadfast, and can place files I wish to share there as well.

Work vs. Personal. Doesn't apply to me currently but has in the past, so I do have an opinion. Pidgin has supported the notion of buddies and contacts for a very long time. Sean Egan, the lead Pidgin developer, prefers to call contacts "Person"s now. Adium and Trillian call them contacts and metacontacts, respectively. The simple answer to this is to use two contacts (or metacontacts if you prefer) for each person. One of these contacts would be for the personal accounts and the other for the work accounts.

But I want to see it! Wah. I want to get rid of the clock for away, but we don't all get what we want. Suck it up. I was initially against this change myself, but after using Adium on my powerbook and macbook for a while, I had gotten used to the lack of protocol icons. After a couple days I adjusted to it in Pidgin as well and learned to really like it.

Were it not for wanting to avoid being the root cause of trouble, any time someone comes into #pidgin whining about the protocol icons I would point out that each and every user has the freedom to do one of the following: a) suck it up and live with it; b) fork Pidgin and take it back to the old Gaim look; or c) find another IM client--there are many clients available to choose from.

I think this ends my rant on this subject for now. I would like to state for the record that the views and opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views of Pidgin, Finch, libpurple, Adium, Instant Messaging Freedom Incorporated, their developers, members, and board of directors, or any other software package or entity mentioned herein or related to this issue in any way.