is a pile of bits

Meanwhile Again
IBM buys Red Hat, Potential Meanwhile Comeback

In 1999 I was working for IBM. Instant messaging was “in” and there were new clients appearing regularly. AOL’s was dominant, but there was also a strong ICQ user base, Yahoo was putting forth an effort, and Jabber had a lot of promise. At IBM, there was an internal effort to use this otherwise unknown service named “VP Buddy.”

VP Buddy looked like any typical IM client would. It had a buddy list with presence and status messages, one-on-one chat, and group chats in their own windows. But VP buddy was only one part of a larger online experience called Virtual Places. With the help of a Virtual Places server and a Java applet, web sites would stop being collections of documents and suddenly become communal locations. Imagine going to a news site and being able to chat in realtime with avatars of everyone else viewing that particular news story. That was the dream of Virtual Places, but in the end all that ended up getting used regularly was simple chat and presence services. It was purchased by Lotus as part of an aquisition, and hence its use inside of IBM. Interestingly Oscar, the original protocol that AOL’s instant messenger used, was also written by Ubique prior to its acquisition.

In 2004 I was one of the growing number of Linux desktop users within IBM. VP Buddy had evolved and rebranded into Lotus Sametime. I had been working hard to implement an Open Source version, based on network dumps and a subtly incorrect IETF draft published by Lotus and Ubique which documents portions of the Virtual Places protocol. I named the project Meanwhile. It began accumulating users as I developed a plugin for the popular cross-platform and cross-protocol messaging client named Gaim (currently known as Pidgin). Bugs were discovered and fixed, features grew. All in all, I considered the project a success. It was stable, integrated well, behaved as expected, and Linux users had something better than an awful and dated Java app to use with their Sametime servers.

Then in 2007 I left IBM to come to Red Hat. Red Hat didn’t use Sametime, and so I no longer had a need for Meanwhile. Meanwhile worked just fine, so I was able to slowly stop paying much attention to it.

Eleven years went by.

October 29th, 2018. The announcements were all over the financial sites, buzz and rumors everywhere. IBM was acquiring Red Hat. After 11 years working with Red Hat they had grown immensely, and now we were looking at becoming a part of IBM.

So I looked over at the old, outdated, ad-ridden sourceforge page for Meanwhile. I thought to myself, “hey. This might be important again.”

I’ve now migrated the project from sourceforge over to a new git repository under my github account. I’m going to dig up some of the patches that were applied by fedora and suse in the years since I stopped actively working on the project, merge them in. I’m going to see if I can’t get this project rolling and modernized a bit.

There’s some oddities that definitely need fixing, like the embedded MPI code which should be replaced by a dependency on GMP. I’ll wager there’s a bunch of ugly nonsense I’ll cringe at. I could complete the version 2.0.0 which was based on GObject, perhaps. I could flesh out the python bindings and write some simple command-line pieces. There’s a lot of opportunity!

I’ve started hanging out in #meanwhile on freenode again. If you find yourself having to use Sametime and would like to try out an Open Source client, maybe Pidgin with Meanwhile is for you?