Today, I’d like to announce to a wider audience a project we have been working on in and beyond the Plasma team. Its goal is to “Create a desirable user experience encompassing a spectrum of devices“, and it is called Plasma Active. A couple of things make Plasma Active special. First, the driver is the desirable user experience. That means that we want to create something, people want, and people want to use. It means we are less technology-focused, but are taken a user-centered approach. Second, we are not targeting a single device, or a narrowly-defined class of devices. Plasma Active is made to run on a spectrum of devices that make up the user experience together. Devices change, and so does the way the user interacts with them. By strongly separating data and visualisation / interaction, we do not re-invent the wheel but adapt to the requirements and expectations of a device, and about how devices work together for the user.
Running Plasma Active
We have a basic, Plasma-based shell right now, which runs on three target devices — and probably some more, but that’s what we’ve tested so far. It performs well, runs stable and is usable with a touch-screen. While Plasma Tablet is quite fun already, do not expect release quality yet, as it is a snapshot of our efforts. Find the download location for the Balsam Professional live image on the wiki.
open-slx has created a Balsam Professional live image based on openSUSE 11.4 running Plasma Active. open-slx (my employer) are developing Plasma Active for openSUSE in the openSUSE Build Service. We’ve also created packages which can be installed online on top of openSUSE 11.4. You can find installation instructions in our Wiki, also for Meego.
Of course you want to run Plasma Active on a ‘real’ device, we currently recommend either the ExoPC (WeTab), the Lenovo Ideapad, or a Viewsonic Viewpad 10. You can find instructions for devices in the Wiki
The demo video shows Plasma Active in action on a Viewsonic Viewpad 10.
There is still a long way to go. We’re missing key functionality, default applications, optimizations all over the place, and more. There is nothing fundamental that holds us back to bringing the full experience users expect to tablet devices, based on our well-known, beloved, proven software stack. We are focusing our first release, which is planned for September already, on tablet computers.
Since fixing a bunch of showstoppers over the past two weeks, I’ve actually started using Plasma Active for some light reading tasks (mostly web and RSS), and I’ve got to say: It rocks your socks. Being able to use a tablet computer which is based on Free software that you created yourself, is real fun. I’ve also handed it to friends who came by, and while they understood it’s an early prototype, I had a really hard time getting my gadget back. And that is only just the beginning. We have an excellent base to build a complete experience upon. In other words, it’s the perfect time to jump in and become part of something great and to help it also making it something really big.
Different goals need different processes
When we put the pieces for Active together, it quickly became clear that if we want to succeed, we also have to rethink some of our collaboration processes. One of my pet peeves has always been that different essential parts of what the user gets in her hands come from different teams. If we want to put something desirable into the hands of our users we need to pull in the same direction. While we needed different skills, these skills have to align in how they’re applied. This makes communication more natural, leads to a more focused process, and ultimately a better result. It’s clear that such an endeavour will only work if enough people in our communities, and the communities around it think that this is a worthwhile thing to spend their time on, and that we can get the people that do to pull in the same direction. The good news, however is that we’ve been able to create a stable platform to do this, in terms of tools, processes, collaboration models and not at least software. That platform is Plasma Active.
If you want to help us shape Plasma Active, and bring its vision to reality, we would like to invite you. Start with having a look at our list of tasks, and if you find something you can help with, tell us, subscribe to the Plasma Active mailing list, or join #active on Freenode’s IRC network. We have documented our ideas, concepts and processes in the wiki.
In the coming weeks, we will keep you updated about Plasma Active’s progress, and we will be able to reveal more of our vision as we give Plasma Active shape by making it become reality.