Application-hosted and compositor-hosted Maliit

The standard way of deploying Maliit is to have a single maliit-server instance (per user session), hosting the actual input method (virtual keyboard, handwriting). Applications then communicate with the server (and by extension, the IM) through an IPC.

This allows for a single instance of Maliit to serve all applications, which is memory efficient and robust. A crash in a Maliit IM plugin cannot take down the application and risk loss of significant user data. The disadvantage is the increased system complexity (a separate server process needs to be running at all times*) and requiring compositing of the application and input method windows. The latter can be quite challenging to do in a well-performing way on low-powered mobile/embedded devices. See Jans blogpost for how we handled that on the Nokia N9.

* By default we make use of DBus autostarting, of course.

Application-hosted Maliit

To make Maliit more suitable for systems where only a single application runs (embedded) or compositing performance is not good enough, we now also allow Maliit to be “application-hosted”: the Maliit server and input method plugins lives in the application process, not a separate server process. Enabling this feature has been a long running task of mine: All the code in input-context and server was made transport independent, a direct transport (no IPC) was introduced, and setting up the server for a given configuration (X11, QPA, app-hosted) was simplified. Other motivations for this work include being able to run the server and IM plugin easily for automated end-to-end system or acceptance testing, or just to easily start the server with a given IM plugin loaded for quick manual testing during development (see Michaels merge request).

An example application exists as part of the Maliit SDK that demonstrates the feature: maliit-exampleapp-embedded

Maliit running in application-hosted mode: The Maliit Server and input method plugin is embedded in the application instead of running in a standalone server process.

This works by having a special input-context “MaliitDirect” which instead of connecting to the server over DBus, creates the server and a direct connection. As when running standalone the server will instantiate and manage the necessary input method plug-ins.

Because the IM does not have its own window in this configuration, the application is responsible for retrieving the IM widget from the server, and re-parenting it into the appropriate place in the widget hierarchy. For all other purposes the application uses the same interface as if the IM was hosted remotely, making sure the abstraction is not broken and that one can easily use the application with Maliit deployed in different configuration.

This feature currently works with Qt4 applications, and is in Maliit since the latest release (0.90.0). One issue is that with the current input method API, the plugin assumes a fullscreen window; overlays extending the base area of the IM will be clipped and size needs to be overridden. This is something we are fixing in the new improved API.

Compositor-hosted Maliit

Another approach to make rendering perform better is to host the input method in the process responsible for the compositing. This also reduces the number or processes involved in rendering/compositing, and the associated overhead. This could be a X11 compositing window manager (like KWin or mcompositor), but a more realistic use-case is a Wayland compositor (for instance based on QtCompositor).

The API allows the consumer to inject an class instance for the configuration dependent logic, allowing to integrate the Maliit server with the logic in the rest of the compositor. Applications will use the normal “Maliit” inputcontext and communicate to the server through an IPC like DBus.

After the work with application-hosted Maliit, this feature was completed by making the server and connection libraries available as public API. The API is available in the latest  Maliit release (0.90.0), but is considered unstable until Maliit hits the 1.0 mark.





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Maliit on Windows: Basic build working

Enabling third-party developers of input methods is one of the primary goals in the Maliit project. In an attempt to improve this story I spent some time on getting Maliit to work on Windows.

Since we use Qt there were few changes needed to the code, but since we use qmake, quite many to the build system. One of the bigger changes was making glib-dbus and qdbus  optional, which is also useful for Maliit on embedded systems.

With the Windows build fixes merge requests for maliit-framework and for maliit-plugins, one can now build Maliit on Windows and run the provided example applications. This feature is currently being reviewed and should be in the next Maliit release.

Thanks to the standalone viewer application for Maliit Keyboard this allows one to develop new features, theming and language layouts for it on Windows.

Sadly loading an input method plugin in the maliit server crashes for an unknown reason. With my limited Windows software development experience I was not able to solve this within the couple of days I had available. This is necessary for application-hosted Maliit to work and to enable general development of Maliit input method plugins (not just maliit-keyboard). Help would be much appreciated, even just someone checking  if it is reproducible on another Windows system.

Also left on the todo-list due to lack of time is to set up a Windows build slave for the Maliit buildbot, to test that the build continues to work on Windows and to produce executables.

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Gitorious Merge Request Monitor

In Maliit, all changes have to be reviewed by two people in order to be merged to mainline. This helps us catch issues early and keep code quality high. Since the code is hosted on Gitorious, we use their merge requests feature for that purpose. Up until now we have periodically checked the website for changes (potentially going through each and every one of the repositories), and manually mentioned updates in the IRC channel. This is both tedious and inefficient, so I wrote a simple tool to help the issue: Gitorious Merge Request Monitor

It provides an IRC Bot which gives status updates on merge requests in an IRC channel:

16:01 < mrqbot-AfFa1> desertconsulting requested merge of ~desertconsulting/maliit/desertconsultings-maliit-framework with maliit-framework in
16:01 < mrqbot-AfFa1> mikhas updated  State changed from Go ahead and merge to Merged

One can also query the current status from it:

15:02 < jonnor> mrqbot-7ACeB: list
15:02 < mrqbot-7ACeB> maliit-framework/127: - New - Allow QML plugins to add custom import paths for QML files and QML modules
15:02 < mrqbot-7ACeB> maliit-framework/126: - Need info - configurable importPath for qml
15:02 < mrqbot-7ACeB> maliit-plugins/26: - New - Add PluginClose from main view and add key repetition support
15:02 < mrqbot-7ACeB> maliit-plugins/25: - New - Clear active keys and magnifier on keyboard change
15:02 < mrqbot-7ACeB> maliit-plugins/24: - New - Remove QtGui dependency from libmaliit-keyboard
15:02 < mrqbot-7ACeB> maliit-plugins/23: - New - Get rid of Qt keywords
15:02 < mrqbot-7ACeB> maliit-plugins/22: - New - Add phone number and number layout getters.

Status changes are retrieved by periodically checking the Gitorious project activity feed (Atom)*, and the status itself is scraped from the website. There is no other API right now, unfortunately. Implemented in Python with Twisted, feedparser and BeautifulSoup doing all of the heavy lifting.

Get it from PyPi, using easy_install or pip:
pip install gitorious-mrq-monitor
gitorious-mrq-monitor --help # For usage information

For now this solves the immediate need for the development work-flow we have in the Maliit project. Several ideas for extending the tool are mentioned in the TODO. Contributions welcomed!

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The Maliit buildbot

After having set up the typical things open source projects needs like a website/wiki, mailing-list and bug-tracker, Maliit now also has something not so common: a build-bot.

As Maliit consists of several components that can be built in several different ways (and for several different platforms), we wanted to automate the build and tests of the different variations to ensure that we do not break any of them. This is especially important for variations which are not easy to test for the individual developers, like for instance Maliit on Qt 5.

The software chosen to help with this task was Buildbot. Getting an initial instance it up and running was very quick and pain-free, especially thanks to packages being easily available and the excellent documentation. The current setup now builds, tests and installs the two major components we have: Maliit Framework and Maliit (Reference) Plugins, in the most important build/config variations we have. A total of 12 individual build jobs, plus 2 meta-builds. The configuration for the instance can be found in the maliit-buildbot-configuration repository.

For security reasons the build-bot is not directly exposed to the Internet. Instead a script runs every 5 minutes to generate a static HTML website and publish on the public web-server: Maliit build-bot

Buildbot says: All green!

This gives us a minimal continuous integration system for Maliit, which for now will hopefully helps us avoid breakage. In the future, the usage of the build-bot might extend to include:

  • Automating the release process
  • Testing of merge-requests/patches before merging to master
  • Automated integration/system testing, complementing the unit-tests
  • Triggering external builders for packaging. OpenSUSE OBS, Maemo 5 Garage, etc.
  • Automating certain aspects of bug-lifetime. Resolving when fix is committed, closing on release if pre-verified, etc


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GTK+ application support integrated into Maliit mainline

GTK+ application support for Maliit input methods has existed for a long time, but up until now it has lived in separate repositories. This has been inconvenient for users and for developers, and was the major cause for it to not be on the same level as the Qt support. This has changed as the GTK+ support has now been merged into the maliit-framework repository, and along side the Qt support. Maliit 0.80.8, which was released yesterday, contains these changes.

Maliit running on WeTab with Fedora 15, showing QML reference plugin and GTK+ application

Two implementations existed for Maliit GTK+ support. One was written by Javis Pedro as part of a Google Summer of Code project for MeeGo in 2010. His blog has several posts on the topic. The other implementation was maintained by Raymond Liu (Intel). This is the implementation shipped in Meego Netbook, and the one improved by Claudio Saavedra (Igalia) as part of the GTK+ on MeeGo project. It was also the only one that was updated to work with the DBus connection changes that was done quite some time ago, and supporting both GTK 2 and 3. For these reasons this was the implementation integrated into mainline Maliit.

Once the code was integrated, improvements soon followed. The application now correctly reconnects to server, and make install will automatically update the GTK+ input module cache on Ubuntu, thanks to Łukasz Zemczak (Canonical), and on Fedora. This means GTK+ application support will work out of the box, no twiddling needed.

While this is a huge step in the right direction, the GTK+ support is not as good as for Qt yet. Javis Pedros implementation has features that does not exist in mainline, so code/principles can hopefully be reused from there to implement these. This includes custom toolbars and attribute extensions, and content type hints for text entries. Other features looks hard to implement due to limitations/differences in the input context plugin architecture found in GTK+, and will probably need work in GTK+ itself to solve.

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Example plugins for Maliit available

In Maliit input methods are implemented as plugins. This flexibility is important because it allows the same framework to provide very different text input methods, without us having to implement them all. Different virtual keyboards, hardware keyboard input, handwriting, speech-to-text, input methods for accessibility, et.c. are all possible with the Maliit framework. This makes the input method plugin API the most important extension point.

To make it simple to start developing an input method for Maliit, we have written a set of example plugins that can be used as a skeleton* for a new input method. There is one “Hello World” example showing the C++ interface, and one showing the newly added QML interface. The latest documentation for the framework in HTML format is also included, along with a simple test application. How to get started is documented on our wiki page: Go!

A very conventional example: An input method that allows you to input "Hello World"

A nice thing is that these examples are in our framework repository: built as part of the standard build, with simple tests run as part of our test-suite. This ensures that the examples stay up-to-date and working, something I find that step-by-step, code-and-talk tutorials in some documentation repository/directory typically do not.

If you want to look at real-life examples of plugins, check out the Meego Keyboard code (C++), the Meego Keyboard Quick code (QML), or foolegg from’s cute-input-method code (QML with Pinjyin support!). Also make sure to check out Michael Hasselmanns talk at the Meego Spring 2011 Conference: Developing custom input methods for Meego.

If you hit any issues, contact us through one of our communication channels.

* Note that currently the license of the examples is LGPLv2 like the rest of the framework.

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Introducing; Maliit on-screen keyboard in Gnome 3

Maliit (also known as Meego Input Methods) has the following overall goal: “to be the input method project for MeeGo and other GNU/Linux-based embedded/mobile platforms”.

This initial video shows Maliit running in Gnome 3, and demonstrates some of the very basic features provided by Maliit and the standard keyboard shipped with it. The demo is done on a WeTab tablet running a standard Fedora 15 Beta, with the latest Maliit software installed. Jan Arne Petersen is working a bit on  Fedora packages, so hopefully it will soon be easy to install for those who are interested.

Some more info about the features shown in above video:

0. Theming. Using the theming support in the standard Maliit keyboard, it is easy to go from a mockup to ready implemented theming. This theme was based on the mockup from (by Jakub Steiner I believe?) and done by Michael Hasselmann in a couple of hours. He also has a blogpost on how the theming system works.

1. Typing text.This is of course the number one feature of an on-screen keyboard. There are some essential best-practice and some tricks used in Maliit to be able to get really good reponse time and typing speeds. I hope we will have some blogposts about that soon.

Typing speed can be further enchanced by enabling multitouch support (not working out-of-the-box in Fedora due to missing support further down the stack), or by installing a prediction/correction engine. User feedback can be enchanced with audatory and tactile feedback (requires hardware and driver support obviously).

2. Different languages/layouts, and switching between them. Maliit comes with layouts for over 20 languages, tested and tweaked by usability experts. Latin, Cyrillic, Arabic and Chinese based scripts are covered. The layouts are defined by XML files, so one can easily change them if wanted.

Chinese ZhuyinRussian


For more of the features offered by Maliit framework and standard keyboard, see the wiki page. If you are interested in improving Maliit, or its integration in Gnome 3 or other GNU/Linux environment, join the irc channel or mailing list.

Next up; the importance and difficulties of input method integration on touch enabled devices.

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