The Evolution of Plasma Mobile

Plasma Mobile
Plasma Mobile

Back around 2006, when the Plasma project was started by Aaron Seigo and a group of brave hackers (among which, yours truly) we wanted to create a user interface that is future-proof. We didn’t want to create something that would only run on desktop devices (or laptops), but a code-base that grows with us into whatever the future would bring. Mobile devices were already getting more powerful, but would usually run entirely different software than desktop devices. We wondered why. The Linux kernel served as a wonderful example. Linux runs on a wide range of devices, from super computers to embedded systems, you would set it up for the target system and it would run largely without code changes. Linux architecture is in fact convergent. Could we do something similar at the user interface level?

Plasma Netbook

In 2007, Asus introduced the Eee PC, a small, inexpensive laptop. Netbooks proved to be all the rage at that point, so around 2009, we created Plasma Netbook, proving for the first time that we could actually serve different device user interfaces from the same code-base. There was a decent amount of code-sharing, but Plasma Netbook also helped us identifying areas in which we wanted to do better.

Plasma Mobile (I)

Come 2010, we got our hands on an N900 by Nokia, running Maemo, a mobile version of Linux. Within a week, during a sprint, we worked on a proof-of-concept mobile interface of Plasma:

Well, Nokia-as-we-knew-it is dead now, and Plasma never materialized on Nokia devices.

Plasma Active

Plasma Active was built as a successor to the early prototypes, and our first attempt at creating something for end-users. Conceived in 2011, the idea was not just to produce a simple Plasma user interface for a tablet device, but also deliver on a range of novel ideas for interaction with the device, closely related to the semantic desktop. Interlinked documents, contacts, sharing built right into the core, not just a “dumb” platform to run apps on, but a holistic system that allows users to manage their digital life on the fly. While Plasma Active had great promise and a lot of innovative potential, it never materialized for end-users in part due to lack of interest from both, the KDE community itself, but also from people on the outside. This doesn’t mean that the work put into it was lost, but thanks to a convergent code-base, many improvements made primarily with Plasma Active in mind have improved Plasma for all its users and continue to do so today. In many ways, Active proved valuable as a playground, as a clean slate where we want to take the technology, and how we can improve our developemnt process. It’s not a surprise that Plasma 5 today is developed in a process very similar to how we approached Plasma Active back then.

Plasma Mobile (II)

Learning from the Plasma Active project, in 2015 we regrouped and started to build a rather simple smartphone user interface, along with a reference software stack that would allow us not only to develop Plasma Mobile further, but to allow us to run on a growing number of devices. Plasma Mobile (II)’s goal wasn’t to get the most innovative of interfaces out, but to create a bread-and-butter platform, a base to develop applications on. From a technology point of view, Plasma is actually very small. It shares approximately 95% of the code with its desktop companion, widgets, and increasingly applications are interchangeable between the two.

Plasma Mobile (in any shape or form) has never been this close to actually making it into the hands and pockets of end users. A collaboration project with Purism, a company bringing privacy and software freedom to end-users, we may create the first Plasma phone for end users and have it on the market as soon as januari 2019. If you want to support this project, the crowdfunding campaign has just passed the 40% mark, and you can be part of it — either by joining the development crew, or by pre-ordering a device and thereby funding the development.

7 thoughts on “The Evolution of Plasma Mobile

    1. You’re right, it isn’t far fetched, and Alex Concept X is by no means coincidental. We’re not there yet, but it does describe a possible direction we’re looking at. I’ll write some more about this shortly, stay tuned!

  1. PureOS will use Gnome3 for desktops and Kde for mobile devices.

    Anyhow, fingers crossed :)

    1. That is not entirely clear at this point. What we talked about is that they haven’t decided that yet, it depends on technical merits (I think on that front, Plasma is quite far ahead), and on what the community asks for.

      Be that as it may, we will, in any case, offer a Plasma Mobile for the librem5, whether that ends up being the default UX or not is not entirely in our hands, but we’re quite convinced we can make it an excellent user interface for this device.

  2. Plasma is actually starting to really interest me. I’m a heavy GNOME user and have been for a while. I really like the idea of a shared code-base across platforms. I know GNOME is doing something similar with mobile.

    1. Do you have a link? Last I heard, GNOME had absolutely no plans for anything mobile right now, and they mentioned that it would first need some serious investment into GTK4 for that opportunity to arise from a technical point of view. (See https://mail.gnome.org/archives/desktop-devel-list/2017-September/msg00012.html )

      If that impression is wrong, I’d like to know, perhaps there’s some work we can share across desktops, or areas where we can learn from each other.

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