At Studio Girin’s, we use the GNU/Linux distribution Mageia. Though I have a Wacom Bamboo obviously supported, Aryeom uses a brand new Wacom Intuos 5. This particular family of graphical tablets has been available since March 2012 without official Linux support. So we helped to bring it in Mageia, and you can get it today: update your Mageia 2, and have your Intuos5 tablet finally working!
That’s the core of the news. Read below for a retrospective of how this support got into Linux, and how Studio Girin has contributed at its modest level to bring it to Mageia users in particular. This gives a small insight on how works Free, Libre and OpenSource Software (FLOSS), if you were wondering.
Note: some parts may be a little technical.
The community often reacts fast, and it starts with the Linux kernel developers. This is how, no more than about a month (03/04) after the model release, the support code appeared in the development branch of the developer Dmitry Torokhov. Reviewed by Ping Cheng (linux-wacom project maintainer and Wacom employee) and Chris Bagwell the next day, a “merge” happened in the main branch on the 24th of may; then we can say that official support really happened the 21st of july 2012, when the Linux kernel 3.5 got released, which is about 5 months after the product commercialization.
See the development activity log to see all development steps.
Up to the home of the graphical user
But this is not over! Now Linux distributions have to step in and include the update in their software repository for it to be available to users! Most distributions (as Mageia) are still using the kernel 3.4 and won’t change for stability reasons (only security updates are fast). At Studio Girin’s, this was obviously not how we were seeing things when we bought the tablet. After testing on Mageia 2, I realized nothing was working. The tablet was not even an overpriced mouse; it was an overpriced brick: I could move the pen as I wanted, nothing would happen on screen.
After a few researches, I installed the kernel 3.5.3 from the repository of software to come in the next Mageia 3. And it worked!
My next step was to open a feature request for Mageia, proposing to backport Intuos5 support from kernel 3.5 and to include it into kernel 3.4. I tested beforehand on a kernel 3.4 “vanilla” that I patched myself then compiled, so that I could provide a patch to Mageia that I knew would work. The feature got accepted by Thomas Backlund, the Mageia kernel maintainer. I could test the version he generated, and finally after some waiting time, the update is officially available on Mageia 2, this Friday 18th of January. Yeah!
Retrospective and Reflexion about FLOSS development
I think most would say it took more time than needed. And yes, 4 months passed between end of development and kernel release! Then 6 more months for the feature to be really available to the finale Mageia user.
Note though that new features are different from bug fixes. Security patches in particular are usually released everywhere in a matter of days. But developers prefer not to hurry new features too much, hence preventing mistakes due to pressure.
Also a single release has much more to propose than one single feature; so in the end the management of a “software monster” like a full operating system ends up taking more time than development itself. Yes it is frustrating. But people do as they can. That’s also what “community” means; and to be honest, you can help too! Everyone can help, as Studio Girin just showed, with its very modest contribution (a feature request, tests and ticket follow-up).
Of course, I am developer. It gave me the opportunity to personally track the right driver in the kernel source trees and to help the Mageia maintainer with the right information. Moreover our graphist, Aryeom, got her own tweeked kernel from the start. Thus as far as she is concerned, she always got Intuos5 support in Linux. And I know that not anyone has this chance. Actually thinking of it, I should have posted earlier about this to explain how to get this support. Sorry for this, next time I will!
Finally note that the community relationship with Wacom is still good as they pay a developer (Ping Cheng) to port their tablets under Linux, although the support is not considered “official”. Of course it could be better, for instance if they were to develop and provide a driver for Linux before releasing their product, rather than after (reviewing a code from a third-party). Hopefully some day they will.
Yet as a finale note, I would say that’s still one more little success, proving that FLOSS works, considering the means we are given. And if you believe as well to a future where users have power back on their tools, don’t hesitate to help us!