Automotive, what an opportunity for KDE!

During the last year I’ve focused a significant part of my effort on driving the GENIVI Development Platform, together with some Codethink colleagues and other GENIVI professionals and community members.

What is GENIVI Development Platform?

GENIVI Development Platform (GDP) is a project and an outcome.

As a project, it can be defined as the delivery side of the GENIVI Alliance. Today is a fairly standard Open Source project, done in the open following many of the most common practices any FLOSS developer would expect.

As an outcome, GDP is a Linux base distribution (Poky) derivative, built with Yocto, that integrates the software that GENIVI community (automotive professionals) develop as Open Source software.

It still a small project but the quality of the platform and the number of people involved has grown this last year significantly.

GENIVI Alliance is a consortium of +140 companies so obviously most of the overall effort is done by paid developers. Changhyeok Bae (community member) together with Tom Pollard and Robert Marshall (Jonathan Maw before him) from Codethink Ltd, constitute the maintainers team, who are responsible for the integration, testing and release of GDP.

These guys are supported by people like myself, doing coordination, marketing, documentation, IT services, infrastructure, testing and many other key tasks which provides the project a level of robustness and scalability that any serious attempt of this nature requires nowadays.

I am interested, where can I get more?

You can find more general information about the project in the following resources:


GDP-ivi9 is the current stable version although we have moved so fast this last year in terms of the software shipped, that I recommend you to try the following:

  • If you are interested in a solid base system, try GDP 11 RC2
  • If you are interested in checking the latest UI and demo applications, try GDP 11 RC3
  • If you are interested in building from scratch you own images with the latest software, do it directly to GENIVI’s rolling release, called Master for now. You can get the latest software there. It should most ly work since we put stabilization effort on it, following the openSUSE Tumbleweed mindset in this regard.

Currently GDP supports RPi2 & 3, Minnowboard MAX and Turbot, Renesas Porter and Silk and Qualcomm Dragonboard 410c. GDP ships Qt 5.6 at the moment, since it is based in Yocto 2.1…

…which makes GDP a great target for KDE software, specially for Plasma.

 

GDP and KDE

Putting the effort on having KDE well supported in Yocto would provide the project a third life, landing on an industry that is heavily investing in Open Source with a key piece of software, with no clear competitor today in the open.It would revamp the interest of many KDE developers in porting their apps to embedded/mobile environments and would bring attention to the project from Qt professionals all over the world. Currently KDE is significantly better than anything else that is open in automotive. It would just require the effort to include it and maintain it in Yocto, which is not small, and adapting Plasma a little initially, not much.GENIVI launched a Challenge Grant Program that might help to put some funding in the equation 😉

Whatever effort done to put Plasma on Yocto (so GDP) would also be picked up by GDP’s competitor, AGL UCB (Auto Grade linux Unified Code Base), the Linux Foundation automotive group Linux (again, Yocto) based distribution. So there would be at least two players for the cost of one.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Qt companies would jump in on this effort too. In order to play in the open filed today, they need to Open Source their products, which is a big risk for most of them. Playing with KDE, which is based in the technologies they are familiar with, would be simpler for them. I bet the Qt company would be heavily interested in promoting this effort. It would help to dissipate all the pushing back from the automotive industry to the current Qt license model, GPLv3 based. And it would do it in the best possible way, by providing great ready-to-use software with no competitor. I have been one year preaching about how big the opportunity currently is for KDE, but this is not the kind of challenge that can be sustained on volunteer basis, sadly, since keeping KDE up to date in the Yocto project would require a high level of commitment from KDE as a whole.

The community probably needs first a small success story and some company/corporate push before really jumping on it, I think. The support of a couple of KDE or Qt companies would catalyze the effort.GENIVI and AGL make a significant promotion effort around the world within the automotive industry, participating in forums where KDE is unknown. Many companies that currently develop close source Qt applications for automotive would be interested in KDE which would increase our potential targets for our Corporate program.

Having KDE on GDP and AGL UCB would increase the incentive of developing new applications for many of our young developers who currently do not have automotive as a “professional target“. 

Companies like LG, Renesas, Bosch, Hartman, Intel, Jaguar Land Rover, Toyota, Visteon, Fujitsu, Mitsubishi, Volvo, among many others…. are key stakeholders of GENIVI and AGL. Isn’t it this attractive enough?A success story like the one I am proposing would be yet another example of how KDE can play a key role for the Qt ecosystem. Sadly not everybody in this ecosystem understand what a great “tool” KDE can be for them. After a hit like this one, it would be undeniable.Think about the exposure, think about where we are today… Something like this would place KDE where Unity, Android (AOSP) or GNOME are not… yet. I believe this is the kind of strategic decision that would change KDE future. But also the business perspective of those companies (specially Qt ones) who would get involved.

Let’s do it now… or somebody else will.

Update(29/10/16): to find out about the state of KDE in Yocto please read the comment to this article from Samuel Stirtzel. Thanks Samuel.

Moving from a traditional product/release focused delivery model to a rolling model

The past few weeks the GDP delivery team together with some key contributors, has been working on a not very visible but still important change. The GDP project has put the basis to turn GDP release based delivery model to a “rolling” one. My colleagues will provide in a coming post the technical details behind this change. I want to provide a higher level view of what is happening and why.

Some background

GDP was born as a “demo” project. The main goal was to provide a platform to show the software components for automotive that the different GENIVI Expert Groups were developing. This was done through a delivery model focused on publishing a stable and easy to consume version of the project every few months, a major release.

Strictly speaking, GDP is a derivative. It is based on poky and uses Yocto tools to “create” the Linux based platform, adding the different components developed by the GENIVI Alliance together with upstream software. For the defined purpose, the release centric model works fine, especially if you concentrate your effort is very specific areas of the software stack with a small number of dependencies on the other areas, and a limited number of contributions and environments where the system should work.

During this 2016, the GDP has grown significantly. We have more software, more contributors, more components and more target boards to take care of. Although the above model has not been not challenged yet, it was just a matter of time.

As I explained in two previous posts [1][2], the GDP is moving from a being a Demo to a Development Platform. Changing the mission means changing the goals and the target group, which implies the need to adjust the deliverable to meet the new expectations.

So, right after the 14th AMM, the Delivery Team decided to change the delivery model to better meet the new mission, providing developers the newest possible software with the an increasing quality threshold. At the same time, in order to increase the number of contributors, the GDP needs to provide a new solid platform every once in a while. That should be done trough a solid release.

What is a rolling delivery model?

The key idea behind a modern delivery release model is to ensure that the transition from one stable release to the next one takes an affordable effort. I will put an example to picture the idea.

Problem statement

Imagine an organization that publishes one release per year. Let’s assume that a particular release included 100 patches developed by employees and, during the lifetime of the release (1 year too), another 100 patches were added to the product as bug fixes and updates. At the end of the release lifetime, the product includes 200 patches that define the value the product provides to customers and users.

Either for technical or business reasons, a year later it is time to upgrade. Our organization has to create a new Linux based system with newer upstream code and they have to integrate the patches from the previous release plus the updates and bug fixes developed for the coming release.

After a simplification process done by engineers, the number of patches needed to be integrated in this newer base system is reduced to 150. The organization also wants to add to this new release another 100 patches that represent the new features they have been developing during the last year for this new version.

The delivery team now has to integrate 250 patches in the new base system, 150 of them coming from the previous release. One might think that the effort required to do this is 2.5 times the effort invested in the previous release. Maybe you think that the effort is not so high since some of the patches have been developed thinking about the new base system. There are many other considerations like this one that might affect the initial estimation. This example is obviously a simplification.

However any experienced release manager will tell you that moving patches integrated in an older system base onto a newer one (forward-porting) requires additional effort, beyond a linear relation with the number of patches. Forward-porting is the “road of hell“. Iterate this example a few times and you will understand why there are so many organizations out there that have as many people focusing on delivery as they have in development. They migrated to Linux base system keeping the traditional delivery model they had while working with closed source software.

Release based delivery model

Possible solutions

One of the paths to improve the situation is upstreamming those changes that affect generic components. Some companies also upstream their new features early in their development process, generally looking for wider testing, or after they have been released to customers, to increase adoption and reduce future maintenance effort. This is definetly a must do.

From the delivery perspective, the most popular way to tackle the problem though is reducing the release cycle, so the number of patches to forward-port in each release is smaller. The development time and the maintenance cycles are also smaller. The same applies to the complexity of the forward-porting activities. “Jumping” from one release to the next one is easier to do. Add automation of repetitive tasks to this recipe and you feel you have a win…. for some time.

The journey through the “road to hell” becomes more comfortable, but our organization is still getting burned, even in the case that our customers and ourselves can digest releasing frequently. We all know how expensive and stressful a release might become.

The most suitable option to achieve sustainability while scaling up the amount of software an organization can manage without releasing more often than your market can digest is to change your delivery model.

Rolling delivery models are a serious attempt to solve this problem, putting integration as the central element instead of the software itself.
This model is not new. Gentoo has been doing it forever, but it was Arch Linux who implemented it in a way that immediately attracted the attention of thousands of developers. Still it was a model with no hope beyond hardcore Linux developers. openSUSE brought this model to a new level by implementing a process which output was stable enough for a much wider audience, and compatible with the release of a more stable and a commercial releases. Nowadays there are other interesting examples out there that commercial organizations can learn from.

What is a rolling model?

It is still hard to define but essentially it is a process in which ideally you have one continuous integration pipeline as the one an only entry point for the software you plan to ship. Releases then become snapshots of all or part of the software already integrated after going through a specific stabilization, deployment and release process.
So ideally, if you release a portfolio, you integrate only once, reducing significantly the costs of having different engineers working on different versions of the same software and forward-porting, among other benefits.

Rolling delivery model

So a rolling delivery model is a lot more than a continuous integration chain, although that is the key point.

Please have in mind that this is an oversimplification. This description doesn’t go into detail on other key aspects like maintenance cycles, how upstreamming affects the process, strategies towards updating the released products, etc.

A transformation process that takes an organization from a release centric model to a rolling one is about doing less and doing it faster, so less people can handle more software with less pain, allowing more people to concentrate in creating value, developing new and better software instead of just shipping it.

Back to GENIVI

Moving from a release centric to a rolling model is hard work. Frequently it is easier to start all over again. Since the GDP is still a relatively small project, we can afford going through the transformation process step by step.
The first stage has been creating that single integration chain and treating GDP-ivi9, our latest release, and those that follow it, as a deliverable of what we call today Master. Ideally, no single patch will be added directly to the release branches. They should come from Master. That way, we reduce (ideally to zero) the effort of forward-porting of patches while putting in the hands of our contributors the latest software on a regular basis.
To do so, we are in the process of adapting our simple processes and CI system to the new model, GDP repository structure, the wiki contents, the task management structures, several key policies, our communication around the project…

The GDP will face a very interesting challenge since this model needs to be proven successful for a derivative. If we are able to move fast enough, it will come the time in which we will need to decide if GDP keeps being a derivative or it becomes upstream, that is, either GDP limits the delivery speed based on the Poky release cycle, or we work upstream with the Yocto project to increase our delivery speed.

That is a good problem to have, isn’t it?

If (almost) everything goes right, after adding a few needed services in GENIVI’s infrastructure and ensuring the updated software is in compliance with selected verification criteria, the same number of people will be able to manage and deliver more software. And once the new processes become more stable, automation will not just increase efficiency, it will boost the project by allowing GENIVI to achieve goals that only big organizations with large delivery teams can do. This is the kind of transformation that takes time to consolidate, but has a huge impact.

Based on my experience, I believe that if GENIVI is able to sustain this effort and keep a clear direction the next couple of years, the benefits of moving towards a rolling model will be noticeable even outside the industry.

This blog post was originally published in the GENIVI blog site on 2016/07/04. I have adapted the formatting to adapt it to Blogger. The content should be the same.

Say Hi! to the new GENIVI Development Platform

On Wednesday February 17th, the GENIVI Alliance released a QEMU image of the GENIVI Demo Platform ivi9 Beta version, together with everything needed (instructions, source code, recepies, etc.) to build GDP-ivi9 with Yocto. A few weeks later, on March 8th, the first release candidate was published.
Finally, last April 19th GDP-ivi9 was published targeting QEMU, Renesas Porter and RPi2. Check the release announcement and download the different images and source code from the GDP download page.
I joined the GDP project in November 2015, leading a small team of developers from Codethink with the idea of moving GDP from a demo platform towards a collaboration platform. In summary, going from +r– to +rwx. 

What was GDP?

GENIVI Demo Platform was the compilation of middleware components developed by GENIVI integrated with Yocto or Baserock, based on poky, designed to showcase and test the work done by GENIVI’s Expert Groups.

What is GENIVI Development Platform?

At GENIVI’s 14th All Members Meeting (AMM) is was announced that GDP would change his name, from Demo Platform to Development Platform, reflecting the new spirit that has arisen during the delivery of the  GDP-ivi9 version.
The general idea will be to mature those GENIVI’s modules that were developed as proof of concepts (PoC) and provide up to date software together with a SDK, to attract developers to participate as contributors, having GDP as their number one Open Source platform for automotive.
Find further information about GENIVI Development Platform at GENIVI’s public wiki, in the GDP project pages. The name change, recently announced will be reflected in the wiki in the coming weeks. 

Coming actions

During the coming weeks, the GDP delivery team will focus on the following topics:
  • Migration from the current infrastructure to Github.
    • Confluence will remain as the project wiki and JIRA as the ticketing system. The same applies for the rest of GENIVI.
  • Add to our current targets another board: Intel Minnowboard
  • Define together with the GDP community the roadmap for the next GDP version.
  • Create a first alpha of the new version including the latest GENIVI software.
Feel free to propose enhancements or new features to GDP. The only thing you have to do is create a subtask under the ticket GDP-154, describe it and explain the benefits and potential risks/challenges. We will discuss them through the mailing list. I am looking forward of seeing Plasma 5 as part of GDP.

GENIVI 14th AMM and other events to promote GDP.

After te release of the new version, GDP maintainers and myself have been concentrated in making sure GDP was ready for  GENIVI’s 14th All Members Meeting (AMM), that took place in Paris from April 25th to 29th.
I participated as speaker in 3 sessions and my colleagues at Codethink delivered a couple of Hands on Sessions about GDE-ivi9. It has been a lot of work but a good finish line for this release cycle. We will publish the slides the coming days.
A few weeks earlier I presented the GDP project at the Embedded Linux Conference (ELC), that took place in San Diego from April 4th to 6th. It was my first time at this conference and I enjoyed it. I also participated at the Collaboration Summit, invited by AGL and the Linux Foundation. I will provide some more details about these events in a later post.
I plan to attend to QtCon to promote GDP among Qt/KDE developers and to the Automotive Linux Summit, that will take place in Japan, to spread the word about this open project for automotive. I have also confirmed my presence in June 2nd at the OpenExpo, in Madrid. It will be my first event in Spain in quite some time.

Summary

It has been a very busy 6 months but very productive. Leading a small but promising Open Source project, that might have a big influence within automotive in the future, working together with my colleagues at Codethink and GDP community members, has been very interesting. I am learning a lot about this industry…by doing.