OSDL's Portland Project Helps ISVs Port Products to Linux

Lora Bentley

Lora Bentley spoke with John Cherry, Desktop Linux initiative manager at Open Source Development Lab (OSDL). The Desktop Linux group recently released the first set of tools from the Portland Project.


Bentley: What prompted OSDL to launch the Portland project?
Cherry: First, there was an obvious need. Until Portland, some independent software vendors (ISVs) viewed the differences in desktop environment installation and runtime capabilities as hurdles in moving applications to the Linux platform. In some cases, they would have to deliver their applications separately for each desktop Linux environment. When the desktop architects met in Portland at OSDL last December (2005), they agreed this was a barrier that could be removed through community collaboration. We got to work right away. And, only 10 months later, we have tangible tools for ISVs.


Bentley: What does the release announced on Oct. 11 include, and how are those tools different from the installation and integration tools available from other open source projects?
Cherry: The Portland tools fill a gap that has not been addressed by other open source projects.
For tasks best handled at installation time, command-line tools are the most suitable. The typical installation use case is an RPM-based archive that gets installed systemwide by the root user. Such installation may be part of an automated install process and should not require any user interaction. A secondary use case is the case where an RPM-based archive gets installed by an end user in the home directory of the user for that particular user only. For example:

xdg-desktop-menu: (un)installing desktop menu items
xdg-desktop-icon: (un)installing icons to the desktop
xdg-mime: queries information about file type handling and adding descriptions for new file types
xdg-icon-resource: (un)installing icon resources


For tasks that are relatively straightforward and that do not require complex interaction with the application, a command-line tool is a suitable solution. The advantages of a command-line tool are that it can be used from all kinds of applications, regardless of programming language and toolkit used; it can be used from shell scripts; and the presence of a command-line tool is easy to detect. These include:

xdg-open: opens a file or URL in the user's preferred application
xdg-email: command-line tool for sending mail using the user's preferred e-mail composer
xdg-screensaver: command-line tool for controlling the screensaver


Bentley: How will Portland affect the drive to move desktop Linux to the mainstream? How significant will it be?
Cherry: The Portland Project is one step toward increasing adoption of Linux on the desktop. Many factors will contribute to the use of desktop Linux over time; Portland helps increase the variety of applications available to users by making it easier for software application vendors to port their wares to Linux. Portland can also serve as a best practice for how the community can successfully work together to remove barriers to the forward movement for the Linux desktop. We hope it will set a precedent for organized collaboration and contribute to the increasing adoption of Linux.

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