Side tabs in Empathy

Going quickly to the interesting part.

If you happen to use Ubuntu Saucy 13.10 and would like to have side tabs in Empathy, just write the following commands:

$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:tanty/ppa

If, in addition to be using Ubuntu Saucy 13.10 you are using also GNOME3 Team’s PPA, you will need to run the following command:

$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:tanty/gnome3

Finally, update your repositories, upgrade empathy and set the proper configuration:

$ sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install empathy
$ gsettings set org.gnome.Empathy.conversation tab-position 'left'

After this, you can just open the chat window in a new Empathy running instance and you should see something like this:

Side tabs in Empathy by ::Tanty::
Side tabs in Empathy, a screenshot by ::Tanty:: on Flickr.


I’m a long time user of Jabber and Empathy. I use it for every day’s communications and, in Igalia, we have several internal rooms in which we coordinate ourselves. Because of the amount of rooms in which I am as a regular basis, Empathy’s chat window is unable to display the tabs of each of them in the top bar of the conversations.

This forces me either to split in different windows or just to navigate among them every now and then to check if there is any interesting update. Quite annoying šŸ™‚ .

Some time ago, #586145 was filed requesting the possibility of having the chat room tabs not only displayed on top but also in other positions, specially in the side.

Hence, I decided to take the existing patch and perform some small changes to the work done by Neil Roberts in order to be able to have these side tabs.

With this new feature, you can change the position of the tabs just by changing a setting, as the position property is bond to it. If you want to set the tabs at ‘top’, ‘left’, ‘bottom’ or ‘right’, you should run, respectively:

$ gsettings set org.gnome.Empathy.conversation tab-position 'top'
$ gsettings set org.gnome.Empathy.conversation tab-position 'left'
$ gsettings set org.gnome.Empathy.conversation tab-position 'bottom'
$ gsettings set org.gnome.Empathy.conversation tab-position 'right'

Now, I’ve uploaded a new version of the patch and I’m waiting to pass the review process and land it.

This is a tiny enhancement on top of the great work that several GNOME developers have done in Empathy over the years. However, it is really making a difference to me so I’ve decided to share it quickly in case someone else would find it useful since it will take a while to come into the main distributions. Hence, I’ve ported it to the Empathy version I’m using in the Ubuntu Saucy 13.10 running on my desktop.

If you want to give it a try, just follow the instructions I’ve written at the beginning of this post.

Final notes

In addition to Empathy, you will be able to find in my PPAs:

  • A working (and custom) version of the faulty official icecc package with patches fixing LP#1182491.
  • A custom version of webkitgtk with patches fixing WK#115650 which will speed up opening new tabs in Web.


Update: I’ve added recently empathy patched versions also for Ubuntu Trusty 14.04.

Update 2: I’ve added recently empathy patched versions also for Ubuntu Utopic 14.10.

Quickly publishing in your Ubuntu PPA

This is more a note pad for myself with quick instructions about how to upload a (usually patched) package to my own PPAs.

Patching an existing package

First thing is downloading the sources of the package from the repository that is providing the buggy binary package installed in my system.

For example, when patching webkitgtk, if my installed package is from a vanilla Ubuntu release, I only have to check that I have the source from the official Ubuntu repositories. However, if my installed package is from another PPA, I will have to check that I have the source from it or, if not, I would have to download the needed packages manually. Let’s assume my installed package is coming from the GNOME3 Team Ubuntu PPA:

Just in case, something I like to do is to add the code from the downloaded package to a local git:

Then, it is time to apply the needed changes to the source code. This is the reason why git comes handy, in case these changes are not trivial and they need actually some more work. When we are done with the changes, we have to add them to the debian package as an additional patch to the original source. We use dpkg-source for this:

We enter the patch name and the description of the changes:

Finally, we modify the release information adding or increasing the non-maintainer digit. For example, in this case the downloaded source version was 2.3.2-1ubuntu6~saucy1, so I’m setting 2.3.2-1ubuntu6~saucy1.1. Also, remember to provide the proper distribution name or to modify it when writing down the log of the changes. In this case, we are using saucy. Check also that you are using the proper email for the log. In my PPAs I use my personal one:

With this, we are done modifying the source of the package.

Importing patch alternative

Maybe this is a cleaner and quicker way of patching the downloaded sources. Instead of modifying the sources and running dpkg-source –commit, we can just import an existent patch that would apply on the source code.

To do this, we just have to run:

This will also work in Debian packages for which version dpkg-source –commit won’t work. In addition, is the quickest way to reuse a patch from a package in a previous Ubuntu distribution into a newer one, for example.

From here we will retake the same steps than above to add the release information.

Building the source package

We just have to take into account that, when you have more than one GPG key available, the signature of the package will fail during the process, as in:

Hence, you have to provide the key id to use in the -k parameter.

In addition, if the sources used for the package are not coming from one of the official Ubuntu repositories you will need to provide also the sources when uploading to the PPA. For this, you have to pass the -sa parameter. For the used example, as we are taking the source from the GNOME3 Team Ubuntu PPA, we will pass this parameter as in:

While for other packages which we modify directly from the sources of the official packages provided by Ubuntu, we just use:

Optional local build

A local build is not really necessary but it will tell you if your applied changes are breaking or not the compilation of the package.

The best way of doing a trustful local build is using pbuilder.

When using pbuilder we have to be sure that we are using the proper packages not only from Ubuntu’s official repositories but also from the PPAs our target PPA depends on and also our own PPA itself.

I’ve already created the tarballs with the chroot distributions for my own PPAs. However, in order to show an example, we would be using a line like the following one for creating a new tarball for my gnome3 PPA which depends in my ppa PPA and also in GNOME3 Team’s gnome3 PPA:

I make use of the <path_to_base_pbuilder> because by default it is all done at /var and I do not always have enough space there.

Once created, and following our example, we would be building our package for the target gnome3 PPA as follows:

Now, it is just a matter of waiting and checking the results.

Uploading to your PPA

The final step is uploading the package with the new changes to your PPA.

I actually have one sandbox PPA per each stable PPA. These PPAs are not intended for the general users but for being able to play with the changes until I feel they are stable enough to be published in the stable PPAs. Hence, I have 4 PPAs:

  • ppa: Where I keep changes from official Ubuntu packages that are useful to me.
  • ppa-next: Not intended for general users. Where I keep unstable packages with the changes that I will move to the ppa one once I feel they are stable enough.
  • gnome3: Where I keep changes on packages which source has been obtained from the GNOME3 Team PPA.
  • gnome3-next: Not intended for general users. Where I keep unstable packages with the changes that I will move to the gnome3 one once I feel they are stable enough.

With this, during the first cycles of development I will be uploading the changes to my unstable PPAs before uploading them to the stables. For this example, I would be uploading first to the gnome3-next one:

Once I’m happy enough I would be uploading the changes to the stable PPA:

The -f flag is avoid the error that is triggered when there is already a “log” file from a previous upload with dput of a certain “.changes” package.

With this, you only have to wait for the package to be built on the PPA bots, upload your repositories and upgrade:

Enjoy your newly patched package!