GSoC 2016: Getting Oriented

Today is the first day of the “coding period” for Google Summer of Code 2016 and I’m excited to be working on the “Event in a Tab” project for Mozilla Calendar. The past month of the “community bonding period” has flown by as I made various preparations for the summer ahead. This post covers what I’ve been up to and my experience so far.

After the exciting news of my acceptance for GSoC I knew it was time to retire my venerable 2008 Apple laptop which had gotten somewhat slow and “long in the tooth.” Soon, with a newly refurbished 2014 laptop via Ebay in hand, I made the switch to GNU/Linux, dual-booting the latest Ubuntu 16.04. Having contributed to LilyPond before it felt familiar to fire up a terminal, follow the instructions for setting up my development environment, and build Thunderbird/Lightning. (I was even able to make a few improvements to the documentation – removed some obsolete info, fixed a typo, etc.) One difference from what I’m used to is using mercurial instead of git, although the two seem fairly similar. When I was preparing my application for GSoC my build succeeded but I only got a blank white window when opening Thunderbird. This time, thanks to some guidance from my mentor Philipp about selecting the revision to build, everything worked without any problems.

One of the highlights of the bonding period was meeting my mentors Philipp Kewisch (primary mentor) and MakeMyDay (secondary mentor). We had a video chat meeting to discuss the project and get me up to speed. They have been really supportive and helpful and I feel confident about the months ahead knowing that they “have my back.” That same day I also listened in on the Thunderbird meeting with Simon Phipps answering questions about his report on potential future legal homes for Thunderbird, which was an interesting discussion.

At this point I am feeling pretty well integrated into the Mozilla infrastructure after setting up a number of accounts – for Bugzilla, MDN, the Mozilla wiki, an LDAP account for making blog posts and later for commit access, etc. I got my feet wet with IRC (nick: pmorris), introduced myself on the Calendar dev team’s mailing list, and created a tracker bug and a wiki page for the project.

Following the Mozilla way of working in the open, the wiki page provides a public place to document the high-level details related to design, implementation, and the overall project plan. If you want to learn more about this “Event in a Tab” project, check out the wiki page.  It contains the mockup design that I made when applying for GSoC and my notes on the thinking behind it. I shared these with Richard Marti who is the resident expert on UI/UX for Thunderbird/Calendar and he gave me some good feedback and suggestions. I made a number of additional mockups for another round of feedback as we iterate towards the final design. One thing I have learned is that this kind of UI/UX design work is harder than it looks!

Additionally, I have been getting oriented with the code base and figuring out the first steps for the coding period, reading through XUL documentation and learning about Web Components and React, which are two options for an HTML implementation. It turns out there is a student team working on a new version of Thunderbird’s address book and they are also interested in using React, so there will be a larger conversation with the Thunderbird and Calendar dev teams about this. (Apparently React is already being used by the Developer Tools team and the Firefox Hello team.)

I think that about covers it for now. I’m excited for the coding period to get underway and grateful for the opportunity to work on this project. I’ll be posting updates to this blog under the “gsoc” tag, so you can follow my progress here.

— Paul Morris

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