Archive for the ‘English’ Category

Next Iterations of the KDE Workspaces

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

In this post, I’ll try to provide an overview of the results of the work we’ve done during the Workspace sprint in Pineda de Mar, Catalunya, Spain. The sprint is still going on, unfortunately I had to leave early to attend a friend’s wedding. Before going into any details, a few thank yous and credits are in place: Aleix Pol and Alex Fiestas for being excellent hosts organising this sprint (including picking this terrific location which allowed us to concentrate 100% on our processes and 0% on the beach), KDE Spain for sponsoring our food, the KDE e.V. (and its donators!) for sponsoring travel expenses and providing organisational backing, Kevin Ottens who took a sizable slice of time out of his vacation account in order to facilitate meetings, enabling group dynamical processes and generally being a good moderator, Björn Balasz for chipping in time and providing his background in psychology and usability and of course open-slx, my awesome employer.

Activities central: One focus that we have been working on in Plasma quite extensively is organising your documents, contacts, applications, files and other digital assets into Activities. Activities provide a contextual way of organising your devices. Activities usually enclose these resources into personal context which might include locations, contacts, documents and any other resource we’re able to express in terms of semantics. (So pretty much all. :))
We’ve identified areas where we can improve the activities workflow. Switching between Activities and getting an overview can surely be improved. There have already been some ideas floating around, and some smaller and larger improvements are in the pipeline to see the light of day in one of our future releases. In some parts, we’re transplanting features we have matured in the Plasma Active user experience into the desktop. The Plasma Way: Share code across devices, investigate workflows across apps and device borders. (So a workflow which we want to enable may actually involve using more than one device — we want to make especially these patterns a lot easier, intuitive and fun to use. There’s a few real challenges in there, although many parts involve someone “just sitting down and doing it”.

Personas: I’ve dedicated a separate blog entry to Carla and Raj, our brand new personas, so I’ll kindly refer you to that.

Social networks and messaging: Carla’s and Raj’s lives involve talking to people across different channels. We want to enable these patterns by providing deep integration of messaging and social networks into the desktop. While we likely will not ever support every single feature of all social networks, we definitely want things like native notifications for messages, and being able to keep tabs on the going ons around you. Technologies we’ve been working on in the part years and which are coming to mature now will be a great help in creating a nice user experience here: Akonadi, Telepathy being at the forefront of double-plus-useful frameworks here.

Along with the integration of more social services into the workspace, we also want to enable cross-device workflows using online services. Examples for getting your data across devices are ownCloud, but also commercial services like FlickR. I think we are in the position to put Free software solutions first, but not excluding proprietary services, but enabling Carla and Raj to mix and mesh whatever they uses. In this, we need to pick up the user where he or she is now. We’re not going to switch users to Free software users if we require social disruption in their lives. :)

Something I found particularly exciting was the call by a few participants to reinvigorate Project Silk. The idea is to make the web, web apps, -applications and -services first class citizens in the desktop. This can range from the introduction of a site-specific browser to deeper integration of online content and services: think of FlickR integration in Gwenview, caching data from online sources, providing native UIs for services that are otherwise a bit cumbersome to use, and much, much more. I’m surely hoping we’ll see a surge of improvements in this area. I’m also happy that Richard and I documented our ideas quite well when we came up with them in 2009 at the Desktop Summit in Gran Canaria (coincidentally also Spain, at least technically ;-)).

There’s almost too much exciting new ideas that it’s hard to report about all of it without choking your feedreaders or webbrowsers, so I’ll just mention a few more telegramme-style. Feel free to ask in the comments if you have specific questions, or just head over to the plasma-devel@kde.org mailinglist where you can discuss with the whole team involved.

  • As base for identifying needed improvements, we will concentrate our thinking on which workflows we can enable for users. This first line of identification will be thought about without a specific device in mind. Much more so, workflow can and often do include different devices. We want this to be at the heart of our designs.
  • Virtual desktop will remain what they are, orthogonal to the principle of Activities, We do not plan any sweeping changes here, in order not to break engrained workflows. Nepomuk synchronisation across devices is still a very challenging problem. It needs more design and research work to define an achievable scope.
  • We’ve proposed a few changes to KDE’s release rythms, basically decoupling the releases of workspaces, applications and (in the future) KDE Frameworks. This is basically a continuation of KDE’s effort to implement branding closer aligned to how we work and what we produce; currently under discussion.
  • Notifications will likely receive a rework in order to make them more activity aware, and to display insensitive information on a lock screen, just to name two examples.
  • Everybody agreed that stability and quality are key for users. We will avoid disruptive changes, but concentrate on making existing tools better, and new features not get in the way of existing workflows. A few changes in our processes have also been planned,
  • Clemens of Blue Systems attends the sprint as well, it’s good to see new faces participating and supporting KDE. We’ve had very interesting conversations about all kinds of topics.
  • Maybe the most important thing was the sharing of the Plasma vision with a wider team of contributors. It strikes that Plasma lately has been moving so incredibly fast that we built up a backlog of communication, some of which we managed to knock down in the past days, but it surely will take some time until all ideas, concepts and processes are ingrained into everybody’s brains. The first steps for this have been taken, however.

As you can see, that’s a lot of stuff we have carved in sand in the past days. It will need refinement, and consolidation, more design, ungodly amounts of hacking and surely won’t all be implemented in a whim. It does however give everyone a good idea where we’re going, and what the steps into that direction are. Exciting times ahead. If you’re looking for more sprint results, I’d also read Marco’s blog about it.

Saying good bye was relatively easy this time around, as most people attending the sprint will also be at Akademy, which starts in two weeks in Talinn, Estland. The next Plasma sprint is planned in September in Switzerland. The plan is to mostly work on libplasma2, QtQuick2 and Frameworks 5 in order to technically pave the way into the future of the Linux workspaces.

Plasma Personas: Carla and Raj

Friday, June 15th, 2012

Let me introduce two new virtual members of the KDE community: Carla and Raj.

Carla and Raj have seen the light of day at the Plasma sprint in Pineda de Mar in the past days. They are two personas we’re basing our UI work on in order to create software that matches expectations of our users better. Carla and Raj have specifically been designed to represent groups outside of our usual comfort zone. You might also notice that the two are as different as it could possibly get — very much on purpose.

Carla is the administrative assistant of a CEO at a large-ish corporation. She’s a 32 year old university graduate living in London with a monthly income of 5000€. Carla is single, bordering workoholic. During the week, she usually doesn’t have much time for hobbies, in the weekends she enjoys meeting her friends for drinks and fine dining. Carla like convenience of technology but is mostly interested in how it improves her life, not for the sake of technology. She’s smart and interested, but not a techie. Carla’s primary electronic devices are her smartphone, her tablet and her laptop. She uses all of these devices for both work and leisure, the laptop at work docked into a docking station). Her work involves efficient communication, and she always needs to be on top of things. In her freetime, you’ll often find her relaxing listening to music or watching movies and tv shows.

Raj is a 21 year old engineering student living in the West of India, separate from his family. As many Indian students, he shares a dorm with fellow students. Raj has roughly 300€ to spend every month, this covers his costs but doesn’t leave a lot of room for luxurious expenditures. Raj is not too ambitious, in his free time, he regularly gets wasted in one or the other way. Once or twice a year, he visits his family in New Delhi. Although Raj is studying a technology subject, his interest in computers and software is limited. Raj owns a (slightly dated) laptop and a low-end smartphone. Like most of his friends, he hangs out a lot of social networks.

Raj and Carla form the basis of our work. In our design process, which is based on user-centered design techniques, we want to make sure we create software for the right target groups. Having these personas means that we can ask ourselves specific questions when we plan user visible changes. I hope we will see these two fellows deeply integrated in our creation process.

More WACkiness

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

An example WAC app running in Plasma

After Marco had added initial support for WAC apps to Plasma, at open-slx, we spent a few cycles on taking this to a next level. WAC apps are apps written in HTML5 which are shipped as packaged websites with everything needed included in the package. On top of the normal webbrowser APIs, WAC apps can access a set of API calls that allow access to various aspects of the underlying system, device and network information, contacts, hardware such as camera, accelerometer, location sensors, etc.).

Most of the hard work is already done by the excellent webkit. The parts needed in Plasma and KDE are support for loading the package format, and allowing access to certain system APIs. Marco has written an AppletScript Plugin, which basically wraps the WAC format into a Plasmoid so it can be loaded into any Plasma Shell (Plasma Desktop, Netbook, Active, MediaCenter, etc).

Implementing the WAC-specified APIs turns out to be quite a bit of work. I have started on the DeviceStatus API, and on my laptop, HTML5/WAC apps are now able to access system information such as software versions and battery status. The complete WAC API is quite big, so right now we only support a small subset. The basics are done, and with growing support in this API, we’re able to run more and more apps on Plasma devices.

Plasma asking the user for permission to run a certain app

In the screencast, you see how WAC apps are running inside Plasma Desktop. One interesting thing I’m explaining is the permission model, so I’d like to go a bit more into details about this. WAC apps have the concept of so-called features. The app can check which features are available on a given platform, and then provide or remove features. Plasma’s equivalent to this concept are extensions, which maps a bit, but not too differently. I’ve added a translation mechanism between those two, so what the app is now asking for is access to specific Plasma extensions, very much like our JavaScript Plasmoids.

Everything is running inside a sandbox (in our case a webkit container inside Plasma), so it is quite easy to restrict everything beyond the browser’s DOM API. When working on the permission model, I reflectd about how the user actually handles these permissions. Many people seem to complain that even if the app announces which APIs it wants to access, the user still does not really have a choice beyond all-or-nothing, so most people end up blindly OK’ing whatever the app wants. The code for WAC in Plasma is set up in a way that we can allow access only to certain bits of the API, disallow access or — and that’s the catch — fake access. Fake access means that we tell the app that we support certain APIs, but we will only deliver empty or bogus data, so the app still works, but our address book is not in jeopardy of being sent to some blackhat in a far away country.

Watch on YouTube

Plasma Active Balsam Updates Available

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

I’ve compiled an update to the Balsam Professional Plasma Active packages in the last weeks, they are now are available for your upgrading pleasure. While the packages work very well in my testing, they are still only development snapshots, so if you’re happy with your current Plasma Active, and you need to be absolutely sure everything keeps working, I’d advise not to upgrade. In all other cases, you’re in for a good performance kick, a lot of bugfixes and a few new, but important features.Instead of boring you, my dear audience, with a long piece of text, I got out my webcam and recorded a screencast of these packages running on my viewtab (an Atom-based 10 inch tablet). Lay back and watch.

Watch on YouTube

In the screencast, I’m showing the general workspace UI, as well as a few new apps and features, file browsing, microblogging, news reading workflows, which we’ve been improving lately.

The packages work fine on wetab and exopc tablets, and most likely also on other Intel-based tablets. Builds for various ARM flavours are available throught the Mer project. As Balsam Professional 12.1 is compatible to openSUSE, they will also work there. If you want to install the packages in your desktop, be advised that this might mess with your desktop sessions, so that’s essentially at your own risk.

The Balsam Packages are made available by open-slx and built and served from our Open Build Service.

new Plasma Quick module: PlasmaExtras

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Plasma Quick is KDE Plasma’s user interface toolkit which brings system and data integration, theming and artwork and tools to build workspace and mobile applications to the world of QtQuick. Plasma Quick provides everything needed to build high-quality apps. PlasmaExtras provides an extended set of Plasma QtQuick components.Active Microblog using Plasma Components and Plasma Extras

In Plasma 4.8, we released a set of QtQuick (QML) components that are providing an implementation of Qt Quick’s standard component API. While QtQuick itself only provides very basic components for texts, for example, Plasma Component’s Text Input adds an integrated look & feel to them. Often, you will find that in your app, you’ll also need a few higher level widgets, ui elements with a higher degree of intgration. PlasmaExtras has now been added to our git master tree, so it will be released with KDE SC 4.9 in July.

So, what does PlasmaExtras contain right now? One very important thing is that it adds an image loader, which allows the runtime to resolve theme-internal URLs, such as image://appbackgrounds/contextarea, giving you themed application backgrounds.

ResourceInstance adds support for Share Like Connect. Basically, ResourceInstance exports the currently viewed or active document (or “Thing” really), identified by a url and a name. Share Like Connect provides a standardised mechanism to share and “like” information. It also gives you the tools to connect a document to an Activity, which makes collecting information on a certain topic easy. Adding share like connect support to your application becomes as easy as:

// Example in an imaginary webbrowser
import org.kde.plasma.extras 0.1 as PlasmaExtras
[...]
    PlasmaExtras.ResourceInstance {
        uri: webbrowser.currentUrl
        name: webbrowser.pageTitle
    }

A default set of animations allows the developer to streamline app-internal animations with the rest of the ui. It also allows us to provide a set of high-quality and fast animations, app developers can just reuse them in their ui:

Button {
    [...]
    onClicked: PlasmaExtras.AppearAnimation { targetItem: infoPopup }
}

If you want to do some work in the background while the animation is playing, you can do it like this:

onClicked: ParallelAnimation {
    ScriptAction { script: thisFunctionMayTakeAWhile() }
    AppearAnimation { targetItem: infoPopup }
} 

The ParallelAnimation, which we compose when our button is clicked will start all its children at once. A ScriptAction is not an animation per se, but runs a bit of inlined javascript (usually, you can just call another function here which does the real work). Both are run in parallel, so this pattern can be used to hide computational tasks in an elegant way. This way, you can of course also combine animations, or run them in sequence (using SequentialAnimation { … }).

We’ve also added a few Label subclasses, Title, Heading and Paragraph, which theme the standard Plasma Components Label to provide more consistent layout of static texts.

import org.kde.plasma.extras 0.1 as PlasmaExtras
[...]
Column{
    PlasmaExtras.Title { text: "Fruit sweetness on the rise" }
    PlasmaExtras.Heading { text: "Apples in the sunlight"; level: 2 }
    PlasmaExtras.Paragraph { text: "Long text about fruit and apples [...]" }
    [...]
}

PlasmaExtras QtQuick components

There is also an experimental App class in PlasmaExtras. The goal of this component is a container for apps that is adaptive to the device. It provides a basic workflow pattern around different parts of your app and navigation between them. This is achieved by providing separate areas, such as toolbars, navigation and content. Since we’re still experimenting a bit with this stuff, this one needs a bit more work.

More examples can be found in the gallery app, which is also shown in the screenshot, it’s in the kde-runtime git module under kde-runtime/plasma/declarativeimports/test/. The API documentation gives you an overview about available classes, properties and signals, and also contains code examples. Over time, I expect PlasmaExtras to grow a bit and provide more useful things for developers.

Most of these components have already been in use for some time in Plasma Active. they’ve now “moved up” in the hierarchy being made available on more systems. They are a nice example how work is shared across formfactors in Plasma, and how the Desktop UI benefits from development on mobile systems.

Happy hacking!

Plasma Active 3 Sprint Ongoing

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

These days, the Plasma Active team (and a few people new to it) is meeting in Darmstadt, kindly hosted by basysKom to work on Plasma Active. Our topics range from closer integration of social networks and instant messaging to more hardcore topics such as our developer story (Plasma SDK, OBS workflows) and getting to run the thing on more devices, especially working on the system integration for the Spark tablet, that will become available to users in May. The meeting room is still buzzing with people fixing bugs, sharing knowledge, packaging, testing and (in my case, writing a blog).

Two topics that have been pretty important have been integration of social networks into the Plasma Active user experience, our plan here is to use Akonadi for collecting and caching stream from various social network sources, for example Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and others, and using Nepomuk for connecting this data from different sources to people we know. The problem of “Metacontact” (people you actually know, interact with in contrast to addressbook entries / email or IM addresses) seems to be “mostly solved” and in the process of implementation on various sides — KDE PIM, Telepathy, so we can use that as departure point to create a more natural view on your social surroundings. Now, a cunning plan that is well aligned with other components such as PIM (via Kontact Touch) exists, and we can move to the fun part: implementing it. This part will be spearheaded by Martin Klapetek, who has spent a lot of thinking on this topic.

Another important topic is our “Developer Story”. We identified three levels of target “users” for this: App developers of “simple” apps (meaning apps that can be done in pure QML / Plasma Quick and which don’t need C++ parts (we’re extending the possibilities here all the time), more complex apps that use C++ (Kontact Touch, Calligra Active, but also other apps that are being ported to Active UI guidelines and being made touch-friendly). This group will be served by a well-defined process involving ready-made cross-compilation environments in the form of virtual machine images. A third group (and likely the smallest) is the group of system developers. This topic needs a bit of work still, so in the areas where the tools provided by the fantastic Mer project do not suffice, we rely on passing on our knowledge in the traditional way: i.e. catch us on the mailing list or IRC, and we’ll try to help.

A special guest who arrived today is Mer’s Martin Brook, who has been very active in the Active team in the past months already, and who brought Plasma Active to a whole array of devices. It’s wonderful to welcome new people to the community, and it really rocks to see how effortlessly people who never met each other in person, and who come from quite different angle sit down and do great things together.

KDAB Signs FLA en masse

Monday, March 5th, 2012

At KDE, we take licensing of our software very seriously. In order to make licensing code more straight-forward for developers, and easier to evaluate for third parties, we’ve created the licensing policy which can be found on Techbase. With this tool, we provide guidelines for developers which licenses to choose for their code, so that it matches pieces of software that it is shipped alongside with. It also provides insight for those who would like to distribute KDE software to get an idea how our software is structured, license-wise.

There’s another, not too widely known tool we created a few years ago: The Fiduciary License Agreement, or in short FLA. The FLA is a tool that reduces the headache and work for us in case in the future a license used by us need a change. The FLA is a tool to make this process easier, especially in cases where it would otherwise be impossible (imagine the death of a developer, as an example).

The FLA is simply a mechanism that allows the KDE e.V., as steward of the KDE community, to relicense a piece of code in case the original developer cannot do that anymore. Within this process, the KDE e.V. is bound by strict rules. First of all, it has to act within its mission, which is (paraphrased) to do good for KDE and Free software. If you’re interested in a more complete explanation of this, I’d suggest to read Carlo Piana’s article about it.

Signing the FLA is not mandatory for contributing to KDE, but it does make it easier to deal with unforeseen problems, and thus it can save someone in the future a lot of headaches. (Hopefully, for different reasons, we’ll never run into this case, but you never know.) Even if it’s not mandatory, it’s is, as I explained still a very good idea to sign the FLA. If you care about KDE’s future, please consider doing this. You can download the FLA document on ev.kde.org, and send it to our office in Berlin (address is one the same website). You might recall that I’ve written about this topic earlier — so if those guys sign it, you should, too! :-)

Two weeks ago, we had an exciting parcel arrive in the KDE e.V. office, originating from KDAB. KDAB is a software consultancy, which employs many talented KDE hackers, who still contribute to KDE, either in their Free time, or in time alotted by KDAB. The parcel contained FLAs from many KDE contributors who work for KDAB, and KDAB has organised a batch-signing of those FLAs. Obviously, we’re very happy to see this happen, as it future-proofs KDE’s licensing significantly.

Submerged on Koh Tao

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

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Dived Japanese Garden and White Rock yesterday, after refreshing my Scuba diving skills. I’m doing that at New Heaven Diving on Koh Tao, Thailand, a smallness diving operation who do a lot of work in marine life conservancy. I really dig their regular reef cleanup efforts, and their mission to turn more diving schools into marine life conservancy agents. In the process of experiencing the fantastic underwater world, it gives a lot of background to environmental (and underlying socio-economical) problems.

Among yesterday’s highlights were a blue-spotted stingray, porcupine fish, trigger fish, various scorpionfish and thousands of other cute and sometimes curious sea creatures.

I’ve also started using my underwater camera with so far very promising results. I need to work a bit on handling of the cam, but over the course of today’s photos, I am quite thrilled of the results after about just one hour of diving with it. As I didn’t bring my laptop or tablet, uploading those will have to wait until I’m back home in early March — until then some impressions from my phone camera will have to suffice.

4.8.0 is out :)

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Simply the most polished, fast, flexible, beautiful and elegant desktop, ever.

KDE Plasma Workspaces, Applications and Platform 4.8 Improve User Experience

Active Settings: Modular, embeddable configuration

Friday, January 6th, 2012

Plasma Active‘s goal is develop an elegant, Free user experience for the device spectrum, for example touch-based tablets. Active Settings is a modular application hosting configuration user interfaces for apps and the system.

With Plasma Active Two, we released a first version of Active Settings, an app that lets you configure a few key parts of your system, such as time settings, and options for web browsing. Plasma Active Two contains a first stable, but still fairly bare-bones release, with only two modules.

Plasma Active's Time and Date settings

Active Settings provides a one-stop shop for app and system settings, and an interface for developer to ship settings user interfaces with their applications, or extend Active Settings with custom, or vendor-specific modules. Active Settings is a shell that loads, and displays a number of modules, in order to add a module, the app doesn’t need any code changes. This is done using KDE’s plugin system and Plasma packages.

Embeddings settings modules

In order to achieve a higher degree of consistency, settings modules can be loaded both from the settings app, and directly inside applications. This is done using a new set of QML bindings, which provide a settings loader item. This item is designed to lazy-load the settings plugin, so you can avoid touching config files, or loading a complex UI on startup and rather do it when the UI is needed, keeping startup times of your app low.

Plasma Active's Time and Date settings

In the screenshots, you can see the web browser module running in the settings app. I’ve also integrated the settings dialog into the dashboard of the web browser, so you can easily change things while browsing. Settings are synchronized across applications.

Workflow and design

Active Settings modules get loaded into the settings app. Often you will find that embedding these pieces of UI into your app makes the workflow more natural, as it puts things into context, which means you don’t have to switch to another app to change settings, both is possible. One of the reasons we want to share this code between apps and the general settings app is to present a more consistent UI. Along with the work on the guts of Active Settings, Thomas Pfeiffer has started to work on a HIG, human interface guidelines for designing settings dialogs. These guidelines complement the implementation nicely, and will make it easier for developers to write apps that feel naturally integrated into the system.
One thing we’re implementing in Active is instant apply of settings, so you’ll only find those “apply” buttons very rarely (we’re still discussing a few corner cases).
Plasma Active's Time and Date settings Active Settings uses the new Plasma QML Components, providing a standard implementation of the Qt Components API. Plasma Components can appear in different variations, in Active we default to the touch-friendly components. This of course makes it easier to share settings dialogs across devices, as we can provide standard widgets optimized for a given input method, screen form factor, etc..

Writing a settings module

We have now made it very easy to write settings plugins. A new set of QML bindings allow loading and embedding dialogs by providing components for the shell and loading of the modules, and a few pre-made bindings for domain-specific settings (time for example). These bindings allow you to ship a Plasma package containing your QML code, data files, images, etc. with your application, and have it available both in the settings app, and also in your own application. You can write pure QML settings modules, and it is very easy to extend your module with C++ code, which is automatically loaded and can export additional functionality to your QML runtime. These plugins are in principle really light-weight with minimal build dependencies (basically QObject, KPluginFactory and kdelibs’ macros for plugins), so deployment is made rather easy. Even if you’re doing a QML-only app, you can still provide a compiled plugin for the settings with it.

The API is designed to be minimal, the plugins can be very light-weight, as they’re basically exporting QObject-deriven classes to the QML runtime. Of course you can go completely wild here. Plasma packages provide a loading mechanisms for “pieces of UI” written in QML. This mechanism makes it very easy to share parts of the UI across different applications. As these packages do not contain compiled code, they’re architecture independent, small and easy to share and deploy. I’ve described the whole process of writing your own Active Settings module on TechBase, so hop over there if you’re interested in more details.

Those familiar with kdelibs’ classes and frameworks such as KControl, System settings, KCModule will not be surprised that much of this architecture has been inspired by these fine shoulders of giants. :)