Developer Spotlight: Jason Robitaille | webOS Nation

Developer Spotlight: Jason Robitaille

by Derek Kessler Wed, 22 Jun 2011 8:22 am EDT

Join us as we talk to developers large and small in the webOS community. This week: homebrew developer extraordinaire Jason Robitaille. Are you a developer interested in getting spotlighted? Hit us up!

Name: Jason Robitaille

Company: Canuck Coding

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Official Apps: Internalz, ComicShelf, BUSgadget Mobile, Timmy Tracker

Homebrew webOS Apps: Internalz Pro, FileMgr, SysToolsMgr, LED Torch, PresetReset, Generic Service Frontend, Simple Service Tester

Homebrew webOS Patches: Over 60 patches; I’d rather not list them all, heh.

Homebrew Desktop Apps: WebOS Quick Install, Unified Diff Creator, Ipk Packager, Universal Novacom Installer, WebOS Repair Utility, WebOS Theme Builder, WebOS Clock Theme Builder, Ipkg Feed Generator

Current device: Pre 2 on Rogers

Tell us about yourself. Really, we want to know.

Well, I’m 23 and a student at the University of Manitoba,studying computer science. I love mobile tech and have been fixated on webOS ever since CES 2009. I’m at geek heart of and love it; a big fan of sci-fi and comic books, which incidentally what lead up to the creation of my ComicShelf app.

Positivity is a big asset of mine, which comes in handy given I don’t mind a challenge. Most people don’t know this, but prior to developing for webOS, I had virtually no Linux experience and never done any non-command line Java programs. HP webOS has been a great place to experiment and learn new things.

I welcome people to follow me on Twitter and get to know me better. It’s my personal account, so while I will tweet about my webOS app development, there will be things outside that realm too. I find Twitter a great place to interact with the community and a great platform to get feedback and requests on software releases.

What in your background led you to develop for webOS?

It all began when I got a Palm Zire 71 in my first year of high school. I absolutely loved it and used it constantly for organization. Unfortunately, it suffered the fate of a faulty slider and died after a year and a half with it, at which point I upgraded to a Zire 72. Again, I was enamored with Palm OS. It was at this point I wanted to experiment with programming. With each new personal coding project I got better, learned from my mistakes, and wanted to code more. Programming became a way to focus my creative energies in a productive way. Only a handful of my Palm OS programs were released and none of them were very popular, but I didn’t care. It was a fun hobby and most of the stuff I made, I made for my own usage.

Fast forward to 2009 CES. I was on an aging Palm TX and contemplating a jump to the iPhone. Then Palm made their big webOS presentation. I was floored. It was exactly what I was looking for. A beautifully multitasking smartphone with synergy PIM and great-looking apps. Ever since that announcement I’ve been hooked on webOS and my first contribution to the platform debuted on July 25th 2009 in the form of WebOS Quick Install v1.0.

So, WebOS Quick Install. It’s your creation, and without it the homebrew revolution wouldn’t have been possible. How do you get through the day with that kind of weight on your shoulders?

I don’t consider it a weight, so much as it’s a responsibility. WebOS Quick Install, to this day, is still usually the first step new users take into the world of homebrew. As such, I have a responsibility to not only keep WOSQI working stable and usable on all available devices, but also to keep it updated as the homebrew movement progresses. For instance, back when source code modification was first becoming popular, I expanded WOSQI v2.0 to include a Tweaks sections (which later evolved into modern patches). And when theming became the next popular thing, WOSQI v2.5 added its themer. As time went by, new features were added and old features were updated, as standards evolved and were refined.

WebOS Quick Install 4.x (especially v4.1.1) represents the next-generation homebrew desktop software for webOS. Not only does it sport a full-featured repository viewer and follows all current homebrew standards, but it is also the easiest release for new users to try. Gone are the days of needing a webOSDoctor and buggy usage. In fact, it now requires less maintenance, which is good for me, as it lets me work on other projects.

By popular request and in an effort to make things easier for new users, I’ve now got plans in-the-works to make an official WOSQI manual/guide in the form of an App Catalog app. Kinda like what Preware Homebrew Documentation is for Preware. Such a tool could help people enter the world of homebrew with less difficulty and I could even add a form of interactive troubleshooting for common issues.

Why do you continue to develop for webOS?

A combination of factors, really. The webOS community has been so very supportive since the beginning and I’ve gained a sense of developer loyalty to them. And it definitely helps Palm and HP have been so supportive, both to homebrew developers and App Catalog app developers. HP webOS has proven itself to me as a platform with a lot of potential and I want to be along for the ride.

Do you do any development for other platforms?

I’ve looked into other platforms (and many of my friends have non-webOS devices that I’ve played with), but currently I’m still exclusively webOS-focused. Chances are I’ll expand to other platforms in the next year, but for now, I’ve got a number of webOS apps I still wanna release first.

What’s your take on the current state of webOS development?

To me, webOS looks like it’s experiencing some growing pains. Acquisition by HP, a missed product cycle, transitioning from Mojo to Enyo, and overall integration into HP has really caused some big ripples. With the TouchPad and Pre3’s upcoming releases, it looks like things will be smoothing out and moving forward with a more powerful HP-backed momentum. Now is a great time for new developers to come to webOS and old developers to return.

Where do you see webOS development going in the future? In particular, how do you see Enyo and devices like the TouchPad running webOS 3.0 affecting your development?

The biggest thing needed for webOS development is the developers themselves. Unfortunately, we’re in a difficult spot right now, but as we’ve seen recently, HP’s power and scale is starting to show its effects. It won’t be all at once, and it certainly won’t be as fast as some would like, but assuming HP continues to release new devices (preferably with solid release dates), then developer adoption of webOS will slowly gain traction.

My own development roadmap has taken a few changes since Enyo rose up as the future of webOS. Internalz Pro 1.5 (and the App Catalog equivalent, Internalz 1.1) will be my last Mojo release. All future Mojo app releases and updates have been scrapped in favour of Enyo-focused development. I want Internalz, ComicShelf, and all my other future apps (such as ArchiveXtractor) to fully work and be highly functional on the TouchPad and smartphone devices with Enyo.

Given the chance, what’s the one thing you would change about the webOS development process?

Honestly, I think webOS is on the right track, but a lot of its potential is not being used by the majority of developers. Hybrid apps and Node.js services are extremely powerful, but apps that harness such technologies are few and far between. Obviously the webOS 2.x software requirement is a setback, as such apps will only officially be available for the Pre2 and Veer (as well as the O2 Pre Plus and eventually the Pre3). I would love to see HP highlightthe capabilities of hybrid apps and Node.js services now that the TouchPad and Pre3 are nearing.

Apart from that, there’s a few minor things I’d love to see for developers. CSS3 @font-face support would be great and would allow easy custom fonts within webOS apps, which itself could have give apps a new and improved style. As well, it could be an interesting web-development twist if webOS would integrate WebGL support. It just seems like a natural fit given webOS’s web-based nature and it’s pre-existing support for OpenGL. The Webkit team has even added it to recent builds, so it’s not beyond the realm of possibility, though there are serious security risks that would need to be addressed.

What are you working on right now?

Right now I’m working on Internalz Pro 1.5 (and Internalz 1.1), which will be my last Mojo update, and sadly the last release of Internalz Pro for webOS 1.4.5. Moving forward, I’m also working on an Enyo rewrite of Internalz and ComicShelf, though I’m not sure if they’ll make it out before the TouchPad’s release. I’ve also got some coding started on my ArchiveXtractor app, which is planned to support zip, unzip, and unrar.

On the homebrew side of things, I’ve recently released two big projects. First was my WebOS Clock Theme Builder and the associated software built around it. To date it’s the only OTA update-safe form of theming and is a very easy and quick way for theme developers to customize the Clock app. The second big recent release as mentioned earlier, was WebOS Quick Install 4.1.1, which greatly improved its stability and easy-of-use. Plus there’s that earlier-mentioned WOSQI manual app

I don’t have too much in-the-works for homebrew at the moments, as I’m putting all my focus in getting out my App Catalog releases, but I can say that I do expect to update many of my patches for webOS 3.x once a suitable webOSDoctor surfaces. Might even have an update to my outdated WebOS Repair Utility in the near future.

Thank you so much for your time. Any parting thoughts for the webOS community?

You guys are an awesome force. Seriously. You’ve been there for developers like myself since the beginning and have helped us more that you think. And while, yes, I’d love it if people would donate to support my software development or even purchase a copy of Internalz on the App Catalog, the simple fact is only the minority of users will do so.

But that’s not the only way you guys have helped my development. Over the past two years I’ve seen the community give back in many creative, helpful, and kind ways. How-to forum threads to help out new users and YouTube guide videos are amazing, but even smaller things like being helpful on the forums or a kind message of gratitude can be enough to make developing so much easier and brighten my day. That’s the spirit of the webOS community that I wish every developer could experience.