Plasma Active Updates

During the past weeks, we’ve been kind of silent around Plasma Active. This doesn’t mean we’ve just been sitting on our lazy bums, but that we’ve poured a lot of work into various aspects of the Plasma Active user experience. Let me details these changes to give you some idea of where we are. But first off, …

What is Plasma Active?

Plasma Active shell with widgetsPlasma Active is a KDE project building a touch-friendly user experience for the device spectrum. You can compare it to the KDE Software Compilation, Plasma Active provides a workspace and applications. The first focused target devices are tablets, such as the ExoPC, also known as WeTab. Plasma Active builds on top of KDE frameworks such as the Plasma libraries and the Nepomuk Semantic Desktop, offering a touch-friendly interface taylored to use-cases of the specific device. Components of Plasma Active are re-usable across different devices, bringing many well-known apps to new devices. The user interface used on a specific device can differ across devices, making sure it fits the devices characteristics and use-cases.

How is Plasma Active developed?

Plasma Active is fully community-developed and builds on existing KDE frameworks. Re-using technologies such as Plasma, we already have quite some usefl apps to run on Plasma Active, more apps are relatively easy to write or to port to Plasma Active. (I’ll explain more about this in a later blog.) One very nice thing is that Plasma Active by design is “ultimately hackable”, it uses components that many people know already, many aspects of the system can even be directly changed on the device by opening it’s QML files with the description of the user interfaces.
Plasma Active’s development happens in KDE’s Git infrastructure, communication can be followed on the active@kde.org mailinglist, our IRC channel (#active on irc.freenode.net) is welcoming and open for everyone. This doesn’t mean that there’s no commercial investment in Plasma Active, or that it’s impossible to participate in Plasma Active as a commercially interested partner, it’s just that the foundation is in the hands of a Free software project — KDE — leveling the playing field for everybody else. Two good examples for commercial partners in Plasma Active are basysKom and open-slx. BasysKom contributes design and development effort into the Contour shell, which forms the basic workspace for Plasma Active. open-slx (my employer :)) invests into development of Plasma Active core components, system integration, packaging, testing and deployment. As such, we continously work on turning Plasma Active from Git Repo into something end-user ready — which is also our mission, we want to bring Plasma Active to the masses. For this, we’re releasing regularly updated Live Images of Balsam Professional running Plasma Active, and we’re working hard on making these images also installable. You can test those images in a virtual machine (you’ll want one that supports composited graphics, such as Virtual Box), or directly on the device. The Balsam Professional Live Image boots out of the box on the ExoPC / WeTab, and we’re working on support for more diverse hardware.

To keep track of our different focus points, we’ve created a map of the different “tracks” we follow with our development.

Where is Plasma Active Today?

System-wise, the current status is that we have a bootable live image (Balsam Professional) with a touch-friendly shell, a bunch of apps that can be used. Boot performance is a bit on the slow side right now (but improving, there are some changes to the boot process planned), runtime performance is pretty good already, as you can see in the videos that we’ve posted already. At open-slx we are working on refining the image in terms of preconfiguration, performance and so on. We’re also quite close to making the image installable, so you can easily install it once (as dualboot on your device, if you wish) and then keep tracking Plasma Active development just by updating your packages regularly.

During the Meego conference in San Francisco, basysKom demoed parts of Plasma Active and the Contour shell. A video has been recorded which gives a good idea of which direction we’re going:

On the software side, we’re working on a bunch of different things

  • Resource visualization: As we’re using Nepomuk as the underlying data structure, we’ve implemented data-driven widgets that represent “Things” in the Nepomuk store. These can be local files, online resources, but also abstract things like tags, for example. These “Resource delegates” as we call them form basic building blocks of your assets in Plasma Active.
  • Web-browser and web-integration: As “The Web” is one of the most important use-cases for Plasma Active, we’re spending quite some time now on making this work really well. After shopping around, we decided that our best bet on the web-browser would be a touch-friendly version of Rekonq, using QML. We’ve already made some progress towards that direction, but we’re not there yet.
  • Share-Like-Connect: Share-Like-Connect will bring ubiquitous (just *had* to use this word once ;)) social networking and sharing to Plasma Active. I’ll not go into details here since this topic is way too awesome, so we’ll dedicate a separate post to it.

From my personal point of view as a user, I must say that Plasma Active is becoming a rock star. It’s already quite usable for surfing the web, reading news or email. It is not stable software yet, more comparable to an Alpha state (there are quite some bugs left to be squished, and it’s not feature complete). Our progress is very noticeable, however, which is promising for our first targeted released end of September.

More info…

If you’d like to know more about Plasma Active, or follow its development, the following resources are interesting:

21 Responses to “Plasma Active Updates”

  1. Tuukka says:

    When you say Plasma Active is designed to adapt to the device spectrum, do you mean the whole spectrum from a smartphone to the desktop? In other words, could Plasma Active one day replace all the other workspaces, including the desktop?

    • sebas says:

      Theoretically it could, but it is not planned. The desktop and netbook interfaces are mature, and there’s really no good reason to break it.

  2. Venky says:

    Hello , can I install it in regular laptops, or is it exclusively for tablets?

    • sebas says:

      It will also run on normal laptops, but keep in mind that the interface is really optimized for touch interaction. You’re probably better off with Plasma Desktop or Netbook.

      • Venky says:

        is there a list of compatible tablets which run this out of the box with no issues?

    • Alejandro Nova says:

      I have a Pavilion tx1000 laptop, that is, a laptop with a touchscreen. 2 questions.

      1. Do you support rotating your interface? How is that support working?
      2. Do you require multitouch capabilities? The tx1000 has a single touch, resistive screen.

  3. Martin says:

    Looks cool, but:

    Do you feel by putting a development focus on tablets, we’re abandoning the desktop where we already have a strong user base, platform and a committed audience?

    • sebas says:

      Not at all. As we’re building on the same stack and reuse parts of applications, we’re making sure that our ecosystem does not get fragmented. Also, development on non-desktop devices also benefits the desktop, since, with Plasma (and the rest of the KDE frameworks), shares large parts of its stack across devices.

      And then, there’s the point of cross-device integration. Running a similar software stack on your tablet or other device as you do on your desktop will make it easier to have those two working well together. This is becoming increasingly important as the spectrum of devices user use is expanding. KDE is adapting to this trend with Plasma Active.

      Thijs also mentions a number of good points.

  4. Thijs says:

    @Martin: I personally (as a KDE Desktop user) really applaud the push toward the tablet. I see it resulting in:
    a) The first OS around that is really usable from tablet through netbook to desktop.
    b) A technical push towards better separation between interface and backbone
    c) More use cases for the same software – more eyes – more bugfixes
    d) A push forward for exactly the applications that are in danger of being left behind a bit right now: PIM, a good browser, a good office suite (if only for viewing), the social stuff…. all of them can use some manpower (compared to what’s in the KDE 4.6 SC).

  5. SM says:

    With which software did you create the track map?

  6. Allix Davis says:

    Hello ,

    Plasma Active is definitely a step in a good direction, especially for anyone considering buying a tablet and want to use real applications opposed to extremely limited mobile “apps” on various platforms.

    I did try http://download.open-slx.com/iso/11.4/plasma-active.current.iso on a acer iconia w500 tablet and was unsuccessful, perhaps the liveCD is compiled for a Intel video card, the acer runs amd fusion cpu /ATI Radeon integrated video card.

    As Desktop Kde runs fine on this tablet, the first public release in September should be fine.

    • damian says:

      Maybe you could try opensuse 11.4 with plasma active on it (http://community.kde.org/Plasma/Active/Installation, opensuse section)

    • sebas says:

      What does “unsuccessful” mean exactly?

      Maybe you could hop over with this information to the active@kde.org mailinglist, and we can sort it out.

      • Allix Davis says:

        I take what I said back, I made the usb live environment again and plasma active boots up :)

        Here is a very quick opinion .

        I am impressed with what is essentially a alpha release :)
        The onscreen virtual keyboard is great, do you have plans of adding text prediction?

        I could not get right click working, i think its because there are no multi-touch drivers for the touchscreen I am using yet, I submitted some information to enac who deal with coding the drivers, so hopefully in the future multi-touch will be supported.Interestingly I could drag the menus and different desktop mode about, I was not expecting that to work without multi-touch support.

        The task switcher in the top left-hand corner is really good :)

        Will the lockscreen become more sophisticated in the future? perhaps using swipe or key combinations?
        Do you plan to support auto-rotation ? and pinch to zoom?

        I am looking forward to future releases :)

  7. That boot part made me remember an old article[0] on LWN about some very strong boot optimizations in kernel etc resulting in 5 sec boot on Asus EEE netbook, from cold start to desktop. Maybe it could be worth following this path? ;) Of course this is probably not generally possible because of the different hardware/needed drivers, but maybe it could be done at least for WeTab (or the first planned devices)?

    [0] – http://lwn.net/Articles/299483/

    • sebas says:

      Yeah … I guess there’s much to be won if we started profiling the boot and then cleaning out everything that’s not needed and optimizing the rest. This task is open at this point, but surely, we’ll need to do it. :)

      • Will Stephenson says:

        And openSUSE is currently making the switch to systemd, which will make the derived Balsam images boot faster too.

  8. uetsah says:

    To keep track of our different focus points, we’ve created a map of the different “tracks” we follow with our development.

    The map would be much more meaningful if it would show which milestones have already been completed, as well as captions for (at least the) already completed milestones.

  9. alvanx says:

    This activity switcher has got to come to Plasma Desktop! I might actually start using them if it were so nice!

  10. Sascha Manns says:

    Updates von Plasma Active…

    This is a translation of a english article  by Sebastian Kügler. http://vizzzion.org/blog/2011/06/plasma-active-updates…