Frequent LWN readers will be well aware that your editor has had some real
fun playing with Rockbox
, a set of
GPL-licensed firmware for digital music players. So the Rockbox 3.0
release, originally scheduled for March 15, is of more than passing
interest. This release will offer a number of new features:
- The addition of the iRiver H1xx and H3xx players as fully-supported
targets. Rockbox works on a number of other players as well (notably
iPods and the iAudio X5), but those platforms are not quite ready for
a stable release yet.
- Several new games, including Jewels,
and others. Players with suitable displays can even run Doom.
- Support for Unicode and translations to 28 languages.
- New codecs, including WAV playback on Archos models and AIFF.
- The Tag
Cache music database, allowing the user to browse through the
collection based on several attributes.
- A built-in five-band parametric equalizer.
- High-quality, lossless recording on platforms which support it.
There are, of course, many other improvements to the code which help to
make it more robust and maintainable, but which tend not to show up on
feature lists. Your editor has been running the occasional daily build
with good results. This looks to be a release which exposes Rockbox to a
wider user base and, in general, draws more attention to the project.
Only one problem remains: it doesn't all work yet. There are a number of
codec issues, such as confusion when the user skips around too much. A
number of trouble reports with the H1xx models have been posted. Battery
life on the H3xx is still far less than with the iRiver firmware. In
general, the list
of open bugs is on the long side for a project on the verge of a stable
The Rockbox developers thus find themselves in a place familiar to many
projects: trying to decide when to make a major release. Putting out a
buggy system would not endear Rockbox to many of its users, and could set
the project back severely. Meanwhile, however, the ongoing feature freeze
has brought development to a stop and is creating a fair amount of patch
pressure. The developers would very much like to get this release out of
the way and move on to working on the new, fun stuff.
Getting releases out is one of the biggest challenges faced by many free
software projects. There is a natural tension between the creation of
truly stable releases and going on to develop the Next Cool Thing. A
number of techniques have evolved as a way of resolving this conflict:
The Rockbox developers do not appear to welcome the idea of creating
a separate development branch. So some sort of compromise between a timely
release and a bug-free release will have to be found. There is some
sentiment for putting out 3.0 on Monday the 22nd, with known bugs if need
be. The worst of those bugs might subsequently be fixed in an update
release shortly thereafter. So, while Rockbox 3.0 will doubtless make
many users entirely happy, it may well be a true "dot-zero" release for
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