FISL13: Civil Rights and Plasma Quick

After a nice stroll through downtown Porto Alegre with a few fellow Free software activists from Spain, Mexica, Peru and Argentina, today was the first day of FISL13, and it was amazing. My usually screwed up biorythm in this part of the world means that I get up at a reasonable (for a conference visit) time in the morning, enough to have a relaxed shower, a bit of emailing, breakfast and still be on time for a fully packed conference day. FISL’s first day was amazing, it started off by meeting a few well known faces (Sandro, Filipe, Isabel, Knuth, I’m talking to you!), and getting to know a lot of new ones. Especially the Brazilian KDE community is really awesome (I knew that, but doesn’t hurt to mention it nevertheless). I also went by SOLAR, the Argentinian Free software organisation who offered me a nice cup of Mate tea, and an opportunity to share some ideas by means of an interview.

After a bit of booth-crawling, I went to attend two talks, which were both really excellent: The first was by Seth Schoen, who is with the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF). Seth talked about privacy and data security at the United States Border. I’m sure anybody who has travelled to the U.S. in the past 10 years can relate to that. Seth explained how the border control is organised, what your right are (at the border, your normal civil rights are actually limited, so searching your luggage or detaining you for questioning can be done without good reason, unlike “in the streets”, so it’s very good to know what they can and can’t do), and how you can protect yourself in case you *DO* have something to hide (or rather, how you carry private information on digital devices across the border). There are a few methods, one is: wipe your device, do a clean install and download the interesting data only after you crossed the border, more sophisticated tricks involve temporarily encrypting your device with a key you don’t know and only get after you’ve passed through border control. Lots of interesting information there, and it makes me more comfortable when travelling to the U.S. the next time. Also, chapeau to the EFF for their protection of privacy and civil rights in general. The talk was excellently held, really interesting and absolutely worth my time.

Next up was Rick Falkvinge, one of the founders of the first Pirate Party (in Sweden). Rick talked about the history of copyright, how people who gain power all of a sudden “kick away the ladder” to secure their position, and how, in more general the Internet changes society. Another excellent talk that felt like it was really worth the time spent. Interestingly, these days, the Brazilian branch of the Pirate Party is being founded, so it’s very much a historical thing happening here. Excited to witness that.

Later in the afternoon, Daker Fernandes Pinheiro of Plasma Qt Quick Components fame and me did a workshop teaching everything you need to know to get started writing device-adaptive applications using Plasma. The workshop was well-attended, I think well prepared as well and people seemed to like it (even if we flooded everybody with a lot of information). It was quite practical, luckily Daker and me hit the right audience, so I think even if it was quite heavy on information, it’s still manageable. After a good two and a half hours where we taught the basics of Qt Quick, Plasma Quick, and how to write Plasma Components and Apps, it was evident on the faces of our audience (and judging by their questions) that people enjoyed our sharing of knowledge, and who knows, maybe a few of the attendants will join our team and become new KDE hackers. As promised, I’ve put the slides online. They provide a good overview of the technologies involved, so are probably quite useful as reading material. Of course, as sharing is good, let me know if you would like to reuse them in part or as a whole, and I’ll send you the sources (including a bit of example code). I myself enjoyed “teaching” as well. Especially Plasmate, our one-stop-shop workflow-driven Plasma IDE resonated really well with the audience, just in time for the end of this summer’s 1.0 release.

Overall, I’m really exhilerated by FISL so far. People are more than welcoming, so it immediately feels “at home” (at 12.000km away from it!), I’ve had really interesting and inspiring conversations, and everything is really well organised. I’m now at my hotel (one that focuses on sustainability, it’s really nice, well done FISL peeps!), we’ll go for churrasco in a bit and then off to the first night’s party.

My talk on “Freeing the Device Spectrum” will be on Friday, at 11.00 o’clock in the GNU hall (that’s the big auditorium). It’s targeted at a general audience, so a lot less technical than the workshop we did today. Be there, or be square!

Back in Brazil

I got up rather early this morning to catch a flight from Amsterdam across the ocean (and equator) down to Brazil, where on Wednesday FISL (Forum Internacional Software Libre) will start. Right now, I’m temporarily stranded in a bar at Sao Paulo airport, waiting for my connecting flight to Porto Alegre where FISL will take place.

Already a few years back, I heard that FISL is one of the pearls among international Free software events, and this year, fate (impersonated by the FISL organizers) invited me to speak at FISL, a wonderful opportunity. Doing bit of research, FISL is an order of magnitude bigger than European events, which due to geographical proximity are a bit more often on my agenda, so I’m quite excited to celebrate this Planet’s biggest community-driven Free software event, and I’m honoured that I will get the opportunity to present our ideas, work and progress on Freeing the Device spectrum to the audience (mark down “Friday, 27th, 11.00h, auditorium” in your agendas!).

Brazil has a special place in my heart, I’ve been working together for a few years with many awesome Brazilian hackers and contributors, I’ve had the opportunity to visit this huge country earlier (when I keynoted at OpenBossa conference in 2009 in Recife) which I’ve fond memories of. I’m glad I’m back now. (Although it’s not quite so real yet, airports are quite the same everywhere.) I’ll arrive at my hotel in Porto Alegre quite late tonight, will hopefully get a good night of sleep to counter the jetlag, and a day tomorrow to acclimatize and possibly visit the city.

On Wednesday, Daker Pinheiro and me will be running a workshop about developing apps for the device spectrum using KDE technologies. For this workshop, no prior knowledge of Qt or KDE technologies will be required, we hope to be able to get you going with the basic steps and concepts during that workshop, so that attendees get a kickstart and can continue this fun adventure when they’re back home, supported by our many online support channels (docs, email, IRC, wiki, read-the-source-luke, etc…)

The weather back home in the Netherlands has been mostly aweful, quite a crap summer indeed. Let’s see if Southern Brazilian winter beats this year’s Dutch summer…

Next Iterations of the KDE Workspaces

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.

Submerged on Koh Tao

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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.

Desktop Summit Thoughts

I’ve been to the Desktop Summit in Berlin for the past few days, we’re now around the middle of the event, after the conference, before the workshop and BoF sessions, so I thought I might share some thoughts I’ve gathered in idle moments in the past few days.

Boredom and Diversity

Last night, the build system BoF was planned, a team session where we look at the way how we develop our software. I have to admit that to me, this is quite a boring (but nevertheless very important topic). As it also affects the way we release software, I’ve put my release team hat on and joined the session. I was a bit afraid that since it’s not the most sexy topic in the world, that little people would show and we end up with incomplete or broken ways to release the KDE SC, and KDE Frameworks in the future. My worries were ungrounded as quite some people showed up and we made good progress on all the topic we talked about. (If you’re interested what we talked about, keep an eye on the kde-core-devel and kde-buildsystem mailinglists.) What struck me is that in KDE, there’s enough people who feel responsible, even for boring topics. When I shared my (ungrounded) concerns with Stephen Kelly, he looked at me with this empty expression on his face and told me “but that’s exciting, it’s the way we build our software!”, and given his enthusiasm, I believe him (even if I don’t exactly personally share his excitement). Diversity makes us strong.

Collaboration and Sustainability

While during the last desktop summit, in Gran Canaria, there were really two co-located conferences, and for my taste we missed some opportunities to sit together with our GNOME peers, this aspect is much better this time around. I’m not sure wether it’s because we all figured out that we have to work more closely together, or if the setup of the conference enables us to work together more closely, I just see it happening. In fact, we sat together with a bunch of GNOME guys until late last night, discussing challenges the Free software ecosystem faces, and possible solutions to these. We focused on these shared challenges instead of the diffferences in our approach, and the differences in our community. We did think much more as one community, than as two.

Active Central

My current focus in KDE is of course Plasma Active, and our team of designers and hackers is fully using opportunities this event gives us to get the word out about Active, and establish it as our answer to the Freedom needs on consumer devices. Just like Matthias set out 15 years ago to conquer the desktop, to provide a Free, coherent, integrated and complete set of applications for users of desktop computers, we are setting sails to also reach this goal for a wider spectrum of consumer devices. We held a bunch of presentations during the conference track already. Martin Grässlin kicked that “Plasma Active track” off, talking about Kwin and Wayland, me doing a more general overview, then Marco and Fania explaining concepts behind Active’s Contour shell, and finally Ivan having us peak into how Nepomuk smartens up our devices by closely listen to what we do. The feedback so far has been fantastic, and I think we’re a step closer to reaching our goal of unifying our efforts regarding consumer devices, such as tablets, smartphones, media centers, and whatever will be invented.

So, on to the next ten billion disruptions! ;-)

Random Randa Rumours

  • David Faure really is a great musician, he’s proven his jazz skills on the piano, some people recorded videos as proof
  • I seem to have brought chocolate with bacon in it, I haven’t seen it, but I’m sure Sune would totally love it
  • The mountains around us are suspectedly piles of gold and money from organized crime all over the world, covered under a thin layer of rocks. Need a shovel.
  • Swisscom has sponsored swiss army knives. I’ve seen some Swiss soldiers carrying automatic rifles. Shouldn’t we get those to be closer in touch with reality?
  • I think the pittoresque houses here in the valley are all fake. The cake is a lie.
  • I seem to be beating people in my sleep. But not every night, and the bruises to proof it are elusive
  • I now know how to properly pronounce steveire’s nickname
  • Kevin are schizophrenic, even if they deny it
  • The vending machine at Randa’s small train station has condoms and pregnancy test right next to each other, the latter probably paying respect to the area being very katholic, props for offering condoms, however.
  • I’m seeing certain KDE hackers more often than my own mother. They should take their responsiblity and breast-feed me.
  • The weather here changes rapidly, one day you get snow, the next day you can go in t-shirt wearing sunglasses.
  • Ryan Lortie is still one of my favourite GNOMies, props to him for attending Platform 11 and giving valuable input.
  • Coffee is not optional.
  • Cornelius still leads the funny t-shirt contest.

Kollaboration in at Platform 11

(What? We’re back to tacky K-Names? Don’t worry, just using the K to reminisce us of our roots. :-)) The Platform 11 sprint in Randa is now in full swing, while relatively little code is being written by the 24-ish people here (and the occasional visitors from one of the other 3.5 sprints happening in the same building, at the same time), we’re very, very busy. It’s basically work until collapse, sleep and start again. Kevin is applying his kanban magic to manage the sprint and get everybody focused and synched. Kanban Magic means that we’re using a wall and a lot of post-it notes with tasks and topics on them, and we move those post its through different stages indicated by swimming lanes on the wall, froom waiting through design, review to done. The first note has just passed the review stage and is now in done state: our first accomplishment. :-)

Northbound view from our house in Randa -- even a crappy cellphone camera cannot ruin the stunning viewAs we’re working on issues central to how we all (KDE and Qt hackers) develop, I’m sure you’re impatiently waiting for results to pour onto the Internet. While our first focus is on personal interaction and using the facetime and “high personal bandwidth” to solve hard problems, you can get at least an overall impression of the direction of our work, as we’re tracking our results on the wiki.

What is really good and healthy to see is the number of different stakeholders (sometimes represented by the same person wearing multiple hats). This way we can make ‘reasonably sure’ that we take different point of views into account, and find solutions that work for us all. One might expect that this results in endless discussions, but in practise, most of us are on the same page, and where we’re not, we’re taking the time to sync up and see how much common ground we have, and how we can take advantage of that. There are people from up and downstream, from subcommmunities and companies, and people that all have different stakes in the KDE platforms and frameworks.

A big thanks goes to those who made this sprint possible: first of course to all the participants who are focused, motivated and working hard to produce good results. Then of course to Mario and his excellent team of volunteers who make sure we’re fed, warm, safe and taken care of. There is a number of sponsors without which this sprint would not have been possible, those are the Raiffeisen bank, Swisscom and openSUSE who generously chipped in to get us all together for a focused meeting to improve our foundations. Thanks to you all! We are certainly justifying the energy, passion and resources made available to us by working very hard to produce good results!

Platform11 et al kicking off

Plasma Mobile Becomes Plasma Snowmobile

As has been clear from the past days’ blogposts on Planet KDE, the 2011 Randa sprints are kicking off here in the Wallis in southern Switzerland. Surprisingly, it snowed last night, and as we’re at an altitude of 1400m, it’s sticking around for a while. Those that arrive during the afternoon will be in for a snowballfight, I guess. I’ve also made sure the Free beer (new label!) is still tasty, and that the Suisse version of croissants (Kipferl) doesn’t bear any surprises. My train-ride here was calm, I could get a good couple of hours of sleep on the train that got me here during the past night, and enjoyed the massive mountains (which hide in the cloud) already. It’s slightly weird to see snow at the beginning of June, and I’m sure we’re in for a bunch of “WTF?!?” as more people arrive over the course of today. Mario has already posted some photos, just as quick impression.

I’m going to Randa

Tonight I’ll board a sleeper train which will get me to Randa, Switzerland by tomorrow morning. I’m travelling to that small village in the Swiss Alps to participate in the Platform11 sprint.

What is this platform11 sprint about? (Randa’s trainstation only has 2 platforms, one towards Zermatt, one towards Visp. That’s probably not it.) The wiki page about the sprint makes it more clear, however:

To examine the current state and near future of the KDE Platform (kdelibs and kdebase-runtime), particularly as it relates to the growing usage of it in new contexts such as mobile or on Windows and MacOS and its traditional usage as a set of conveniences and consistency creators for KDE application development.
The sprint will aim to create an actionable, multi-year roadmap for kdelibs and kdebase-runtime and will examine issues of modularity, topicality and the inherent dichotomy between the KDE Platform as an application development framework (similar to Qt) and as a stand-alone platform to target (similar to, e.g. Windows, MacOS, etc.)

To me, this sprint marks an interesting point in the lifecycle of KDE 4, as we are now rethinking the structure of our platform.

Platform or Frameworks?

Last week, we had an interesting discussion wether the development libraries KDE software bases upon are called a platform or frameworks. I personally prefer to think of it in terms of frameworks, because that has a less exclusive nature to it. A platform sounds very much monolithic, while frameworks give a modular impression — and indeed, one of the goals of the Platform 11 sprint is modularity of our "platform".

Plasma Active and Platform11

One of the goals for me for participating in Platform 11 is to make our development frameworks more suitable for building non-desktop systems. There have already been efforts that work into this direction for quite some time (the platform build-time profiles come to mind, or recent work on libplasma2), but we haven’t yet had a focused meeting where we sat together to discuss our platform as a whole. That will likely mean a bit of restructuring in our libraries, deprecating some overly old stuff, and examining where we’re lacking a consistent API for modern needs. Geolocation comes to mind here, and rumours are that there’s an exile-kiwi coming with plans to Randa.

Last night, during dinner Kim asked me what I’m looking forward to in Randa other than technical and community bits. My answer was “watching the mountains”. As I’m living in the Netherlands, mountains are not a normal thing in sight, and the magnitude of those Swiss Alps keeps astonishing me. I’m also looking forward to those idle moments staring at the mountains.