Ubuntu Touch Q&A 69
FOSDEM 2020 & Plasma Mobile Sprint


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News and Update

This time round, the Q&A had a very different format. Dalton and Marius were among those in the UBports community who attended FOSDEM in Brussels and after that they headed to Germany as guests of KDE, to discuss joint working with developers on other projects intended for a mobile platform.

Discussing some of the common areas at rounded table

The Q&A was a round table event, discussing some of the common areas of interest covered in workshop sessions over the previous six days. In broad summary, everyone around the table was united in rejecting the idea - joking aside - that the various projects developing for mobile platforms based around Linux are 'competitors' or 'enemies'. The central point is that all of us have a very large lake to fish in - those who use Android and iOS. We all want to attract users from those platforms, not poach users from each other. Aside from that, we are doing many of the same things, sometimes differently. Each of us has some approaches which work better than others. In the spirit of open source, we all gain when we borrow the best bits from each others' projects. It means that we can improve quality and move forward more quickly than we could if working in isolation.

The different operating systems have a major overlap in programming language and functional modules, so in principle sharing is rather easy. On the UBports side, we have a very well developed operating system, used already by a significant user base as a daily driver. The main lesson of the preceding days of discussion was that the biggest weakness of Ubuntu Touch is that it still uses an outmoded version of Qt. All of the other projects are working with Qt 5.12 and we are still stuck on Qt 5.9. There is an extensive menu of functionality which could be gained from those around the table - and some useful features that they could have from us - if we were only on the same version and benefiting from upstream, as they do. The Q&A discussion was all about those potential crossover points and ensuring that in future we are all working on the same page.

Projects represented around the table, sometimes overlapping those present, included Plasma Mobile, Qt, KDE, Maui, Halium and Kaidan.
Bhushan works on KDE plasma mobile; Mathis works on design for Plasma Mobile (including 16 icons during the preceding days); Nico from KDE develops applications for a range of platforms and would like those to include Ubuntu Touch; Camilo works for Nitrux, which is a Mexican distribution and as part of that he develops a KDE project called Maui which develops convergent apps for Android, Plasma Mobile and desktop - hopefully soon also Ubuntu Touch; Jonah also works on KDE stuff and Plasma Mobile - in addition he works with Debian packaging! Linus is the core developer for Kaidan, a Java Jabber/XMPP client that runs on basically all platforms; Tobi is an app developer.

OTA 12 

First there was an announcement that despite so many lead developers being at FOSDEM, the release of OTA-12 will happen very soon. It is expected to go into rc on Wednesday and there is just one critical item, now being resolved.


At FOSDEM there was a very good turnout and lots of our members were able to meet. KDE were more organized and had their own booth but were gracious enough to allow UBports members to hang around and to show off both software and hardware. During the course of the event, those with devices running Ubuntu Touch (many and varied) piled them together on a table in the cafeteria for a 'group shot'.  This attracted a lot of attention and in no time a huddle of people gathered, to look and ask questions. This became a mini 'booth' which continued for eight hours. Happily, nobody seemed to object..

On the KDE booth they demonstrated Plasma Mobile and desktop.
On the Saturday, UBports attendees met up with Pine 64, Plasma Mobile and Postmarket OS developers, Manjaro developers and others involved in Linux for mobile. There was a 'Birds of a feather' session for that subject, organised by Postmarket OS. There was a discussion of desired or expected functions in the different operating systems and current absences in PinePhone development. Users joined in as well because for all of our platforms, user feedback is a vital ingredient. This FOSDEM stands out in terms of the friendly relations between all those involved in developing for mobile.

There was a public session where Lukasz made a presentation on the hardware aspects of the PinePhone, supported by Bhushan for Plasma Mobile, Luka for postmarketOS and Dalton for Ubuntu Touch. There was standing room only, such was the interest in the new device.

Bart and Merlijn gave a talk later in the day on the main stage, about Postmarket OS mainly but also bringing in Plasma Mobile and Ubuntu Touch. You can watch that on the FOSDEM recorded stream. They spoke in particular about Maemo Leste. Bart discussed the fact that Ubuntu Touch and Plasma Mobile currently both use libhybris to run on former Android phones but that will of course not be necessary with the PinePhone.

Thanks in particular to Alfred and Nikita, who were part of our 'delegation'. And our very warm thanks to everyone who contributed to the organization of FOSDEM.

Plasma Mobile Sprint

The meeting after FOSDEM was the Plasma Mobile Sprint, lasting from the Monday after, through to the Saturday of the Q&A. Needless to say, everyone was exhausted at the end of it but a great deal was achieved. Top of the bill for us was getting KDE apps and Kirigami onto Ubuntu Touch. KDE Itinerary is particularly interesting. There is also Plasma Phonebook and Plasma Camera. During the week, they came close to getting Qt 5.12 working in Click packaging, which would allow for direct install. That still needs some work though. Later on, work was done on trying to upgrade to Qt 5.12 in the UT system, which would allow for sharing of components and frameworks in both directions, so more relevant to all. If we can achieve that goal, it will bring Kirigami apps to Ubuntu Touch but also Maui apps! The group also did a lot of work on Kirigami itself, including moves to bring it to Android. There is already an F-droid based repository for beta versions of Kirigami apps. Volunteers are needed to try them out (with the usual cautions) in order that they can be brought fully into F-droid. The thinking is that there are huge numbers of Android users and it is helpful to demonstrate to them practically what they might gain from apps which started on Linux platforms. That might tempt them to make the transition. KDE Itinerary is a star app, which aims to manage all of your travel arrangements and bookings in a privacy respecting manner, freeing you from intrusive bookings apps. It is intended to link with maps and live traffic information and provide alerts. It needs to learn from practical use, so again volunteers are extremely welcome.ContentHub as used in Ubuntu Touch has some useful features not found in the alternative arrangement currently used by Plasma Mobile, so that is something which we hope to contribute. KDE uses Purpose, which is an abstraction layer. Both mechanisms have some advantages and disadvantages, so could complement each other. Once Dalton arrives home, there will be a blog post allocated to this topic. There were also discussions about the possibility of poking some holes in confinement, to allow maybe Snaps but more likely Flatpaks to operate. A new push server was discussed, in terms of the necessary specifications etc. The existing push server used by UT works well but it is centralized and that it not the way we want to go for the future. Those developers who have created apps for UT which rely on notifications should get in touch with Dalton to discuss the way forward.

There was discussion of KDE Discover and how we might implement that for UT. Brian Douglass had a lot of input to that and our thanks go to him.
There was a separate discussion of Halium and the root file system. The existing porting workflow presents ten or so simultaneous puzzles which all have to be solved before any progress can be registered, so there was discussion of rebuilding the process to be more sequential, which should be much easier to follow.

This week has seen work designed to bring more from upstream Kirigami into Maui. Marius was blown away by the quality of the Maui apps and is very keen to see them brought to Ubuntu Touch. There is a Maui channel on Telegram, where new builds of the apps for Android and Windows are uploaded. As always, testers are very much appreciated. They can also be obtained from the KDE app repository.
Sponsors were thanked, and all around the table.


The News section of the Forum is the best place to pose questions for the Q&A. YouTube live chat, Telegram and Matrix are other places to post a question.

The first question was a common one, about progress with Android 8.1. There was a brief discussion of that during the week and the thinking now is that it might be better to jump straight to a Halium for 9.1, doing some back-porting where necessary for 8.1 devices.

The first question

A question was asked again about the status of Anbox.The situation was essentially the same for all those round the table. Nobody was doing anything to impede the development or use of Anbox but it is not in a state which is really suitable for use and it needs its own project team if it is to go forward. It was joked that one way of running the KDE apps on Ubuntu Touch would be to use their apk versions in Anbox :)

Improved performance on PinePhone 

Gizmochicken asked about reported improved performance on PinePhone, courtesy of Unity 8. What were those changes? At the time, our developers had no idea because they didn't think they had done anything. Then it became clear that there was a service improvement with a blank wallpaper! Yes, it is one of the weirdest bugs of all time. Wallpaper slows the system...

3arn0wl asked how big of a job it is to get existing UT apps running on ARM64 architecture? The answer actually is that it is pretty simple. You can just adjust the entry in Clickable and it will compile. We should be able to do the same with kirigami apps soon. cmake should make these tasks a lot easier.

The position regarding Qt 6 was raised. We are still in the early days of that and all of the projects are taking their time and assessing what an upgrade will mean.

Alan Griffiths asked what the packaging for Unity 8 in Debian might mean for the various projects? A recent blog post from Sunweaver discussed how elements such as Mir and Unity 8 are being factored into Debian and their repositories. During that process there will be a lot of filtering of items which are no longer needed, to make the whole process more efficient and to meet the needs of UT and KDE simultaneously. Those additions to the Debian repositories will also be made available to Ubuntu, expanding 'our' apps to Ubuntu Desktop. KDE Neon will follow after an upgrade. Where components are better in one of the projects we will be able to base on them and where our solutions are about equal, we can discard one, to simplify and unify our builds. Marius commented that we started at different ends. KDE with the desktop and UBports with mobile. We have now reached the point where we have converged in the middle and we can begin to share and cooperate in earnest.

Raspberry Pi Mark commented that one of the great side effects of the work that has been done for the PinePhone is that corresponding builds for the Raspberry Pi [note - 3 and to some extent 4] have made big advances. He asked what can be done to make this more widely known? Dalton answered that Mark has been a great advocate for this since joining the UBports Pi group on Telegram and suggested that continuing that good work would be a great way forward! Following the podcasts, engaging with the forum and participating in the Telegram groups is the best way to learn and share. KDE have a list called 'Junior Jobs' which are chosen as a good bite-sized challenge for new joiners. There are also wiki pages for Plasma Mobile, along the lines of How to Get Started. They also use Matrix and Telegram but are more active on irc and they have mailing lists.

Dalton noted that Mathis was wearing a UBports shirt, suggesting that he had made a contribution as a beginner. The answer is visible if you pull down the aeroplane icon in Ubuntu Touch. He designed it. Hopefully the first of many. His simple starting point was to be asked along to the Sprint by his brother. Dalton made it clear again that every practical contribution to our projects, no matter how small, is vital and hugely appreciated. 

A Russian contributor in live chat expressed the hope that KDE Plasma Mobile will soon be available in the Russian language. Plasma mobile will be available soon in test builds but it is important to emphasize that it is not yet ready for daily use. It will be for testing - just that. The arrival of PinePhone and Librem 5 will expand the pool of testers and that will speed up the pace of software development as the flow of feedback increases. There is a Telegram group in Russian for KDE/Plasma mobile. There is no mechanism for making donations to Plasma Mobile directly but it is of course possible to fund KDE, in order to assist that work. There are people already translating KDE stuff into Russian but they always welcome more helpers. In whatever country, setting up groups and spreading the word through Linux themed meetings is always beneficial.

See you next time :-)

Ubuntu Touch Q&A 78
Third stable PinePhone update