The new emerging NLE for GNU/Linux

We review the status of the project here. Traditionally, we present our view of the project. However, for opinions from another perspective outside the Lumiera team, some statistics about Lumiera, Openhub might be interesting:

  • 115,094 lines of code; 88% written in C++

  • Using the Basic COCOMO Model, this translates into a programming effort of about 30 years; in a commercial setup such effort would relate to a code base value of ~$1.6 million.

  • Very well-commented source code, placing “Lumiera among the top 10% of all C++ projects on Open Hub”.

  • Rated with five stars by 4 people. Two people even clicked “I use this”
    Who did this? confess! ;-)

  • 31% less activity in 2019

So why then less activity over the previous year? Ichthyo devoted a number of months pursuing other activities, most notably some music composition projects and his contribution to the Yoshimi soft synthesiser, which emerged after his Workshop »Inbuilt Musicality« at LAC 2018 Berlin.

Project Activity

Appropriate Nomenclature

“What’s in a name?” Juliet says to Romeo in the famous balcony scene by Shakespeare. Indeed Robert Cecil Martin (aka Uncle Bob) has considerably more to say about the importance of selecting words to name things in our code. Modern practice of programming has embraced these ideas and the importance of this is now widespread.

We’ve spent considerable time in selecting appropriate vocabulary throughout the project and we were increasingly unhappy with two terms: “proc” and “backend”, which over time became misaligned with the actual purpose of these layers. So we’ve decided to rename these. The “proc layer” is now known as the steam layer, and the “backend” has been renamed to be the vault layer. While the former namespace gui became the stage.

The Timeline View

The Timeline View has received some developer attention.

Recall that the Timeline is a time axis with one or more outputs. Each output can have its own configuration. For editing, a Sequence is attached to the Timeline, and within this Sequence, clips can placed and arranged onto a fork of tracks.

The Timeline obviously features on the stage and is without a hard wired structure. Fixing the layout of the Timeline would not be a good idea as the structure of the Timeline is personal and a matter of individual taste. The layout tends to follow the way the editor prefers to arrange material. The session model down in the steam layer is very flexible in this respect. We thus find ourselves in a dilemma: how can we transfer the current structure onto the stage without the perils of creating tight coupling between the session and the internals of the stage? The solution, however it might turn out to be, will be time consuming and complex. Moreover time must be invested in how this might be done at an early stage of the project. The penalties resulting in tackling this problem later in the project are simply too high.

Currently, we are able to trigger a (dummy) structure message from the steam layer, which is translated into an corresponding arrangement of timeline and track widgets on the stage.

Custom Drawing and CSS

Building a user interface for media applications often pushes the underlying toolkit to its limits. While a typical modern UI toolkit tends to be fairly complete and well suited for your typical “business application”, the challenges of working with media inevitably requires building some select widgets from scratch. This, in turn, gives rise to a specific twist, since contemporary users also expect more beyond just some functional drop-down boxes to click on. A lot of design slickness has been added to most UI toolkits, and this is dangerous and risky for our custom-made widgets which will interfere in various ways, be it simply a visual interference or impede ergonomy.

Instead of just drawing some boxes using Cairo, a lot of effort has been put into assembling as much as possible from existing code and layout building blocks already present in GTK. Most notably, we have developed a way for our custom drawing code to pick up theming and styling from the user’s CSS stylesheet. This solution also provides the necessary extension hooks to allow users to style even our custom made arrangement of components to their heart’s desire. Lumiera will ship with a dedicated Application Style Sheet in the subdued grey look typically to be found in professional media work applications.
[ In fact, the actual graphics work for this Application Style Sheet still needs to be completed. We will build on the stylesheet our former GUI developer, Joel Holdsworth extracted from Ardour DAW years ago.]
Alternatively, we also provide a light theme / dark theme “complement stylesheet” to fill-in just that bare minimum of additional layout and styling required to run Lumiera on top of the typical desktop light or dark themes.

Support for upcoming C++ Standards

So the language is too baroque for my taste.

— Donald Knuth

[the C++ language] does a lot of things half well and it’s just a garbage heap of ideas that are mutually exclusive. Everybody I know […] selects a subset and these subsets are different.

— Ken Thompson

Within C++, there is a much smaller and cleaner language
struggling to get out.

»Design and Evolution of C++«
— Bjarne Stroustrup

Including the first “C with classes” from 1979, today’s C++ embodies the result of 40 years of language evolution. And while this long history saw quite some turning points, a prevailing theme was to incorporate advanced academic approaches to solve gritty, everyday practical problems. The gain in such undertakings is the ability to build abstractions without overhead. However — each abstraction also represents an element of a private language; and while the formation of dialects certainly strengthens a language, it might exclude people not familiar with the new idiom.

In C++, you’ll inevitably build your own language as you use the language to build your own structures. This incurs a responsibility, one in which it is necessary to keep your language roughly aligned to the common trend of language evolution happening in the outside world. As an example, Lumiera benefited from use of function objects instead of classical callback pointers right from the very beginning of the project. Yet with the introduction of Lambdas (anonymous function entities) introduced by the C++11 language standard,
[As many commenters noted, the C++11 standard was a turning point. In comparison to the language we all used to hate in the 90ies, what we got now feels like an entirely different language in reading and writing.]
we were facing the challenge to sort out several flavours of functors and especially several styles of argument binding in order to reach a common denominator — which is still an ongoing effort. And in a similar vein, over the years, our itertools have evolved into a pipeline building facility, incorporating even some elements from functional programming’s “monad pattern”. However, with the upcoming C++20 standard, we are now confronted with a roughly similar yet partially incompatible “official” system for pipeline building (known as »the Range TS«), which, while deeply integrated into the standard library of algorithms, will certainly not so easily support our more functional-style monadic structures with backtracking, which we use to build search evaluations on not yet existing data structures. To bridge this gap will certainly require some effort then — however, the immediately next step will be the upgrade to C++17 language level. This transition can be expected to proceed smoothly and will be implemented once we raise our “reference platform” from Debian/Stretch to the recently released Debian/Buster.