The KDE e.V. Board, May 2010

As we’re having a board meeting in the KDE e.V. office in Berlin, we thought we’d take a photo for posterity.

Left to Right: Cornelius Schumacher (President), Frank Karlitschek Celeste Lyn Paul, Sebastian K├╝gler, Adriaan de Groot

Claudia Rauch, KDE e.V.’s business manager took the photo. Normally, I’m not the overdressed one (but I do wear my KDE 4.0 Release Event t-shirt underneath. On the photo, it’s not very well visible, but Celeste does have part of her hair blue.

Trinity and the Challenges of Continuing KDE 3

This morning, while having my usual Cafe Latte (albeit this time in Berlin instead of at home sweet home in Nijmegen), I read about the Trinity project, which is an effort to revive KDE 3. I think this project nicely shows the advantages of Free Software. While the vast majority of KDE contributors agrees that KDE 3 is a dead end, technologically, these two guys (according to the somewhat sparse information on the website) are trying to continue to support and feature development on KDE3. Now I see a couple of real challenges for this project:

  • Maintainance – KDE 3 is a large codebase. You need a good amount of people with domain knowledge of many different areas to effectively maintain a project like KDE. I see some of the first roadmap tasks for Trinity are updating the build system to deal with all the updated developer tools (e.g. newer autotools versions).
  • Upstream Support – Official support for Qt3 ended on July, 1st 2007. nearly three years ago. Now this is not necessarily a problem (as Qt, too is Free Software), but it puts additional stress on the maintainance team — you have to provide support for Qt as well, not only KDE. This is also true for many other upstream components
  • Community Support – KDE has many applications, and their developers take conscious decisions wether or not to support a specific version. Moreover, developers take great pride in their creations. Patches made to those components (even if it’s just maintainance) should be reviewed by their developers (who also happen to know the codebase best, have domain knowledge, and so on). Now the resources of these subprojects are also limited, and many decided to effectively end of life the support for their KDE 3 versions and fully concentrate on the KDE 4 version.
  • Interoperability – In KDE 4, we introduced a couple of new technologies, D-Bus as our inter-process-communication mechanism, and the FreeDesktop icon naming scheme for Oxygen, KDE4’s artwork pillar. This was (and is) not possible with KDE3, and is actually only the tip of the iceberg of many improvements that have gone into KDE4, and which cannot be taken advantage of by programs based on KDE 3.
  • Testing & QA – While the whole KDE project switched to KDE 4, we realised that releasing KDE 3 would be a lot harder in the future, since we heavily rely on the community testing the code before releases. This assures that the code is of sufficient quality and actually works. This process is not quite trivial, it needs testing, but also reviewing of changes that go into the codebase. For reviewing code you need familiarity with the APIs used by it, the actual codebase that’s being changed, and on top of that domain knowledge of the area your program is used in (for example if you’re writing a mail client, you should know mail protocols, and so on.) Again, you need a larger team to assure sufficient quality of the code you release.

For the above reasons, the KDE community has decided to not do releases of KDE 3 anymore. Technologically, it’s a dead end since many architectural, structural and environmental aspects of KDE 3 couldn’t be solved in KDE 3. If we just kept releasing KDE 3, we wouldn’t be able to assure sufficient quality and enough support so people wouldn’t be left out in the rain. Or put in other words, it would give KDE a bad name. The KDE3 branch in our SVN source code repository remains frozen for new features, bugfix patches are allowed but make very little sense, since there’s no plan to release new versions of KDE 3.x. That’s why the Trinity developers are using a work branch.

Those are challenges the Trinity team is facing now. Some of them can be solved by pouring enough manpower, tender love and care into it. Others aren’t easily solvable (think IPC) within KDE 3. Whether or not the Trinity team will succeed in maintaining and developing KDE 3 remains to be seen, but it’s certainly not an easy task. Then again, easy tasks are boring, and the Trinity team is validating the Free Software development and licensing model. In any event, the KDE community supports the efforts (for example by offering infrastructure in the form of source code repositories), and would like to see Trinity as another blooming subproject inside the KDE community.

New challenges.

I’ve resigned my job at KDAB last month in a swift move towards more KDE-time. This all came pretty suddenly, but it felt like The Right Thing to do for me personally and for KDE, which I care a lot about. Since May, I’ve been working for Open-SLX, a German company that makes and supports the openSUSE boxed version. My focus in that work is the user experience of the product. The idea is to work upstream (in openSUSE and KDE / Plasma) as much as possible. While Open-SLX benefits directly from my work done in KDE, this is also a nice way to give back to the community, by making sure I get to spend enough time on things that are not directly related to the product. So now I’ve settled into my new job, and up until now, it’s been great. I’ve been able to catch up with a couple of areas in KDE, I didn’t get to spend as much time as I wanted in the past, and I have started working on some ideas I was dragging around in the back of my brain for a while). One of those things is Project Silk, which is a Project to boost and deeply integrate the web into KDE Plasma and applications. Its motto is no less ambitions than "Freeing the Web From the Browser", so there’s lots of work to do. ;-) Others have already shown off their cool creations, so I’ve got some catching up to do. I’ll share more detailed information about Silk in the next weeks, so if you’re interested in that, hang on just a little bit longer.

With this new job, I’m also able to spend a bit more time on KDE e.V. things. I’m a Board Member for some time already. Being able to sneak in a bit more of that structured desk time for things that need doing in the near future is surely a good thing. Regarding the e.V., I’ll travel with Ade to Berlin on Friday to meet Celeste, Cornelius and Frank there for an extended weekend of board work (and fun).

Blog moved.

I’ve moved my blog (and the rest of my personal website, vizZzion.org to a new host. Since we were having problems lately with the stability (in fact the disks’ stability) of the machine running api.kde.org, our online source code documentation, I’ve decided to move my blog to a virtual machine on slicehost.com, so we’d get rid of another detail in the setup of the disks on the machine running api.kde.org. Setting up the server at slicehost was painless, within 10 minutes after registering, I had a clean-slate virtual machine running Linux, and a bit later, after making myself comfortable — mostly setting up zsh and my usual set of aliases and bells and whistles in place, I installed and configured apache, mysql, migrated my data and was good to go. The DNS change has now trickled down into the DNS caches of the world.

More Plasma Network Management Updates.

Since there were quite some changes in the Network Management machinery in KDE Plasma over the last days, I thought I’d sum them up here, as to update the brave that already use the as of now unreleased Plasmoid.

  • Plugin name changed – We’ve changed the name of the networkmanagement plasmoid plugin to from "networkmanagement" to "org.kde.networkmanagement" in order to avoid possible future naming conflicts. This means that you might need to re-add the NM widget to your notification area (do that using the config dialog and checking the Network Management plasmoid)
  • SVN switched from KNM to the Plasma Widget – I’ve just committed a set of changes that enable the NM Plasma widget by default, this means no more pesky manual loading of the kded service module. It also means that the autostart file for knetworkmanager is not installed anymore, since we’re using the Plasmoid now. If you’re compiling from SVN trunk, you can use cmake -DINSTALL_KNM_AUTOSTART=ON to get it back. Make sure you prevent the kded module from autoloading (or just unload it), if you want to go with knm (Alternatively, tell us why you prefer knm above the Plasmoid and we’ll try to fix it).
  • New artwork – As you can see, we have been working hard on improving the visuals of the NM widget. While it’s not perfect yet, it’s definitely getting better in terms of consistency, layout and overall visual appearance. With a bit of help from notmart, the Plasma NM widget in trunk now uses artwork from the Air theme, which is installed by kdebase. For backwards compatibility (I like all those people testing on 4.4!), we’ve chosen to install the artwork for "older" versions (last week and before), but we might be lax updating it (as it happens with copies of files in source trees).
  • New souls – Over the past days, two new hackers have started sending patches for our network management machinery. One is Lamarque Vieira Souza, who has been working on modemmanager integration, that stuff that gets you on the Internet when relying on 3G, HDSPA and the like. The other one is Andreas Demmer, who has been continously testing the Plasmoid over the last months, already contributed some artwork, and today finally got his SVN account and started committing fixes. Welcome, guys!
  • Many others – There were also many other changes, some fixing bugs, others small layout improvments, those will keep coming.

As you can see, we’re on the home stretch for a first release, fixing up all kinds of small issues, testing, reviewing things. After that, we’ll move the NM Plasmoid to KDE Extragear and release it from there. Before or with 4.5. Promise.

Blog back online.

Thanks to my unrestful ex-colleague and current coffee-buddy Ade, my blog is back online, as you can see. Now I have to figure out why Blogilo works fine on one machine, but has problems getting my blog’s metadata on another one (my laptop). Blogilo is another one of those applications from the category Internet I’d rather not live without. Writing blogs offline (on trains, for example), adding media (screenshots for example, those seem to be quite popular) to blogs is just so much easier if you don’t have to deal with the uploading yourself but get it done in the background. And now I’ve mentioned screenshots, I should probably also show one (since it’s that easy). I’ll pick the new interface details in the Network Management plasmoid. In the screenshot, you can see what you get when you click on a network interface, it’ll show you additional information about the interface, and if connected some basic traffic stats. For this, I’ve used the systemmonitor dataengine and the Plasma::SignalPlotter widget, so the patch to add this nice little feature weighed in at only about 50 lines of code. The widget only updates when the details are shown to save power cycles when it’s not in use, but you can switch to the details and then dismiss the popup (which happens automatically with our focus policy), and it will keep collecting data. If you switch back to the normal view (using the back button), it’ll stop updating. I’m also happy to have received Andreas Demmer’s first patch today, which looked good right away and has been merged already. He changed the back button in the details widget to be more consistent with other buttons, so that’s a nice addition. Andreas has been keeping an eye on the development of the networkmanagement plasmoid, and has been providing useful feedback in the process. So there’s another step on the ladder towards hacker-heaven. (Yes, Plasma development is *that* cool. :-))

Another thing that plays a rather important role in my daily workflow is the Quassel IRC Client, which is an IRC client that allows you to easily use different machines for your IRC needs, without the need of logging in and out all the time and losing the history of your conversations. So if you found my IRC presence to be wonky during the last days, it should be better now.

I hear you asking "The real relevance of this post is…?" Well, api.kde.org is also back online, so your Konqueror shortcut "kde:<classname>" works again — although I’d expect that by now, every sensible hacker has loaded this file into Qt Assistant (Edit | Preferences | Documentation | Add…) and have both Qt and KDE docs available in one place.