In this fascinating interview, Eric Laffoon and András Mantia give us a glimpse into the world of the Quanta Plus project. Read on for everything from tantalising references to Kommander, billed by Eric to be part of the foundations for the next generation desktop and user experience, to details of future plans for Quanta VPL (Visual Page Layout). We also launch a call for help from the users, either in the form of Quanta contributions or much-needed donations to help sponsor the work.
This interview was first conducted by the KDE.de team and recently updated for the dot.
1. Please tell us a bit about yourselves.
Eric L. Laffoon:
I'm a 46 year old confirmed tech addict. I began building electronics
projects at 9 years old surprising my dad by implementing a feedback
resister on the output stage of my Heathkit radio. (I got the idea from
his Harmon/Kardon schematic) I first programmed Fortran in Navy schools
in 1975 where I nearly aced the computer section. I have done a number
of things and fell into web work in the late 90s while using OS/2. In
1999 I decided to make the switch to Linux as it seemed to have all the
"mind share". The first thing on my agenda was to find a good web
I'm a little boy compared to Eric with my 26 years. :) I'm of Hungarian
nationality, but I live (and was born) in Romania. I work with computers
since the beginning of the '90s, and I really love it. My first PC was
a ZX Spectrum clone, and I already wrote some programs on it (even a full
game). I finished university in 2000 and that same year I went to
Finland, where I worked for Ericsson (mobile systems). For the rest of the
story see below.
2. How was Quanta born? How did you get involved in the project?
It was early 2000 when I saw an announcement for Quanta on Freshmeat. I had been looking for
something more advanced that the EPM editor I was using on OS/2. I
looked at Coffee Cup shareware, Visual Slick edit and a bunch of
free software. I had quickly come to prefer KDE to GNOME and was
looking for a good KDE app. The only half decent one was Webmaker
and it lacked a lot. Quanta was version 0.97 or so when I first saw
it and it was basically a stripped KDevelop with a KHTML
preview. It had no tag dialogs and few useful features but it was
cute. I wrote Dima and Alex out of frustration that this program
looked so good but didn't satisfy my needs as a web developer. To
my surprise they asked me for input and I specified a number of
things to make it better. In fact my focus was strictly on what
would get the job done the fastest. They had some good ideas too
like programmable actions but much of the interface and efficiency
was my specification.
Early in the development they mentioned
they would not have access to school computers soon and they lived
in a youth hotel in Kiev. I helped them to get into a house with a
phone line and later to get them a second computer. I don't think a
lot of people realize that despite what we imagine with OSS had I
not stepped up at the time Quanta might well have died an early
All I know is that Quanta was
started by Dmitry Poplavsky, Alexander Yakovlev and Eric. Alex and Dmitry
left the GPL'd Quanta project before 2.0 final came out, and they are
working now on the commercial version at theKompany.com. I was invited to join
the project around November 2001 by Eric. He found me as he had downloaded the
application -- my very first application written for KDE. ;-)
At that time GPL'd Quanta was basically abandoned, and I became the only coder,
and the first step was to fix the most annoying bugs and make a stable 2.0 release.
3. Who else is (or was) involved with Quanta?
It's only fair to mention Dmitry and Alex, even though it was not the
most fun when we parted ways, because they began the earliest versions.
Clearly I think András is the number one person to mention and I agree
with his other names listed. Marc Britton and Robert Nickel have been
great as have a
number of other people. Too many to name. While converting Quanta from
KDE 1 to KDE 2, Rich Moore helped out a bit. I miss Rich. He is a wealth
András: First there is
Eric, who is devoted to this project and supports it from his own,
sometimes limited, resources. Alex and Dmitry should be mentioned
as they started the project, and currently some more or less active
developers help us, such as Marc Britton (author of Kommander), Robert Nickel (who wrote a good amount of
documentation for Quanta). Just take a look at the "Thanks
To" list in the About box.
4. How is the project organised? Do you know all developers or
Eric: Largely I manage the project and leave
András to focus on the internals. I have a loose management
style because I believe that people need to work from their
passions. András and I are very close in our vision and
thinking and while I have input on technical issues I trust him
implicitly. I first coded over 25 years ago and have coded in many
languages but I've only done a little C++ and only since I started
on Quanta. When I was left alone with Quanta I was determined to
learn and code if I had to do it all myself. I can read C++ fairly
well and I keep saying I will spend a few weeks playing some
time. I know that I will, however I'm forced to accept that my
project management and business activity must come first and they
take a lot of time. Many times I wish I could switch places with
András as it would probably be more fun. ;-)
I take input
from users and from my own use of Quanta as a starting point for
what I want to do. I read every day about Linux developments, new
programs and what is happening in high tech. I converse with
developers and then I work to put together a plan. I try to get
other volunteer developers to commit to small pieces of code and
have András be the answer man. Because I've owned businesses
and run crews of independent contractors I think I have a bit of an
edge in the mindset to manage this type of project. It is much
different than having employees dependent on you. You have to be
able to inspire and help people develop confidence in what they are
doing. I like that a lot.
I have met everyone involved with
Quanta through Quanta. I happen to think that is very cool. It's
also quite humbling. You really have to have a degree of success
before you can attract more people to help you succeed. Recently
I've seen more interest and people coming in like Adam Treat and
Nicolas Deschildre who are working on WYSIWYG, or as I like to call
it, VPL (Visual Page Layout). ;-)
I know none of them personally. Some coordination is done by Eric, who usually
defines what should we implement, when should we make a release, he writes
the articles, updates the Quanta site and so. He is the project manager. But
if we are talking about coding, then I'm the one who makes the decisions. :-)
The discussions usually are taking place on our development list. Since the
beginning we have had only one IRC discussion, before the 3.0 release. This is also
because I don't have a permanent internet connection. Before I had a very slow
dial-up one, now it's far better, but still dial-up and not so cheap. I have
to thank to Eric who supports me having this internet connection.
5. What are your future plans for Quanta?
Quanta has several key areas I have plans in. For one, having András at
the development helm means that I know he will be constantly looking to
improve the internals and since he has full time exposure he will be
very much on top of it. I have immense trust in him. I know that he is
working on his passion and he always has the right answer so I have a
very collaborative relationship with him.
András and I are focused on having the best markup and script tool anywhere.
My vision for Quanta is to make it the next "killer app" on Linux. Even
though the use of web development tools is currently limited among computer
users I feel there are two key aspects people overlook when they say that
Quanta is not well suited for this mantle. First of all there are a lot of
web developers. These people are generally more technically inclined than
the average user and in marketing terms are called "early adopters". This
is because they each tend to have a number of friends who look up to them
as being knowlegable on computers. Early adopters lead the masses in
coming to any new technology or product. The other reason is that I believe
that web page and document creation in various markups is going to become
more common among users and this means leading here would make Quanta and
KDE a more desirable work environment. I'm very excited and also humbled
be a part of KDE. Whether you look at the desktop, the development
environment or the people you can't help to be impressed.
The key to bringing Quanta to the level of my vision is very simply man
power. Granted KDE is an extremely efficient development platform, but to
reach the heights of application competence in something so diverse as
general markup and scripted web interfaces you need to cover a lot of ground.
The idea I've been working to advance is that we can do this, and this is
very important for people to understand, much better by creating a two
tiered development model. What we are working to do is to make it possible
for users to extend Quanta. Examples of where we are working on this are
templates, scripts (new in 3.2), DTDs (largely just XML), programmable
actions, customizable toolbars and custom Kommander dialogs. We want to
focus our developers on the internals that cannot be done by users like
code optimizations, debugging, universal features, visual page layout and
the like. I believe to date we have not adequately gotten the message out
so I will state it clearly.
We are looking for a few dozen users to step out of "consumption mode"
and into "community mode" and help us flesh out the features we're adding.
My goal is that by the release of 3.2 Quanta will be considered to be a
viable candidate for best in class web development tool on any platform
and not just among free software! I believe it's going to take some of
our userbase stepping up to help us take on new DTDs, add templates
(though we will add some soon) and more to make this a certainty.
I would be remiss not to mention Nicolas Deschildre and Adam Treat helping
us to bring WYSIWYG, or as I prefer to call it Visual Page Layout (VPL), to
Quanta. We have a positive expectation of delivering a fairly complete
implementation for KDE 3.2.
To make Quanta the best SGML/XML/Script tool. ;-) Seriously, my plans are to make Quanta
even more usable, more customizable. The basics are there since the 3.0
version, but there is a lot of things that must be done before I say, that
yes, this is what I wanted. One of the weakest points of Quanta is its
slowness while editing certain kind of documents. 3.1 is a step forward, but now
I'm working on an even faster and better parsing algorithm. Otherwise I don't
want to talk about new features. We have a todo list on our web page, and you
can check out the wishes on the KDE and Sourceforge bug site.
I know, most users would like to see a WYSIWYG editor. This is not a
priority for me, but we have recently had contributions in the area, as Eric mentioned.
Short and middle term plans are bugfixing (as usual), off-page parsing,
improved autocompletion, integrating some new, cool plugins, adding new
DTDs and toolbars to the Quanta tree, so it can be used by another group
of people, not just by those who write HTML/XHTML/WML pages.
6. Why did you choose the GPL for the Quanta project and what
are your thoughts on Open Source in general?
Originally I confess I was not too sure about the GPL. We were debating
on license early on and Dmitry and Alex wanted GPL. It looked to me like
with the code we were using from kwrite and other programs we pretty
much were locked in. Most of the original Quanta was just reuse. When we
were presented with the opportunity to produce a commercial application
I was surprised that the idea was that the GPL'd version was to be left
to wither and die. That caused some soul searching for me. Aside from
the fact that I did not believe there was much money to be made in small
retail software I began to feel very strongly about programs being
available via the GPL. I have received a number emails from people
around the world thanking me for making it possible for them to find
work developing web sites and bettering their lives. I could not put a
value on that but I would not part with it for any price.
To me software has been a lottery for many people. Bill Gates was in the
right place at the right time to leverage a shoddy operating system into
a fortune. I don't like lotteries. I don't really want to receive money
unless it is for something I did to add value to someone's life. I don't
believe the lesson of "getting lucky" and raking in money for years to
come for an idea at the expense of all others is a good one, or
realistic. Everyone has the power to bring about positive changes in
their lives, but sometimes they need a little help. Open source software
levels the playing field and allows someone who can barely afford a
computer to learn the skills to compete with those who have all the breaks.
To me tools should always be secondary to products in costs. I
think software that is charged for should be contracted or have some
explicit merit for its cost. Commodity software should be free or cheap.
I am a strong advocate of GPL'd software and I don't really understand
why more businesses haven't recognized the tremendous advantage in
leveraging this development model for superior and inexpensive tools.
Businesses will always compete on factors other than tools as most tools
will be available to all competitors. The GPL offers coop-etition advantages
for all parties except software retailers and fits better with vertical
market uses. The arguments against it offer stagnation, and the inevitable
eventual inaccessibility of too much good work.
I always liked the idea of free software, and never thought that I will
publish my code which was written in my free time under a proprietary
license. If you work for a company, then it's OK to do non-free software, but
if you do it for your own fun, let's share freely with the world. And GPL is
a nice free software license. Right now I don't work on Quanta in my free
time, but I do it full time, and it is even more fun.
7. If publishing free software doesn't make one rich, how do
you earn your living? Is Quanta sponsored in any way?
At one time I intended to make my living directly from Quanta, though
now I do indirectly. I own and operate
Kitty Hooch Catnip and before you say anything I have been really busy so
I hope to finish making my site impressive soon. ;-) We sell a super
premium product, the only one guaranteed cats will love it, to pet
stores, online and at open markets, holiday bazaars and pet shows. In
2001 it was a side business, In 2002 we made a difficult transition and
in 2003 we expect to begin earning what it will take for a major
Since the beginning I have sponsored Quanta development out of my
pocket. We have had some donations which we appreciate very much.
I'd like to note that coming into 2003 we had some slow months and now
we are looking at considerable expense to expand. Expansion is not
optional. Demand is through the roof! We need to further expand in 2004
to a new location where we can finally produce on the level we need
to realize our long term goals. This will enable me to look at the
possibility of helping other related projects too. I want KDE to have
everything I need application wise at a level that is second to none.
At this time I would like to be giving András more as he deserves it.
However until I cover our expansion expenses everything spent elsewhere
is costing me many times that down the road.
It should be made clear. Quanta is sponsored, mostly by me, and by
miscellaneous small donations. Making
a small donation to the project is the best way to keep me in a
good mood instead of thinking about what I could buy with all the
money I'm spending. ;-)
Right now I depend on Eric. He sponsored Quanta in the beginning, and starting
from the middle of year 2002 he was able to sponsor me. There are no big
figures here, all I can afford from this sponsorship is the (dial up)
internet connection, paying my bills, buying some food for us (I have a
wife...) and such. If there are unexpected expenses, then it is not enough,
but I've decided to work full time for Quanta, even for less money than I
could get from a company where I would develop proprietary software under
Windows using MFC...
I would therefore like to mention again that we have a donation
page which is even accessible from within Quanta itself
(Help->Make a donation). It's easy to donate for those who use
PayPal but we are certainly open to other means and types of
donations. Every small amount helps ease my and Eric's job.
Of course, if there is a company that would like to sponsor Quanta
development, do contact us. I would really like to focus on Quanta
development in the future, but this would mean some secure income
and what is considered a small amount for a company can make the
difference for one man. The other reason why I accepted to work
full time on Quanta is that I've made some savings in the past
(from my former job in Finland at Ericsson) and can therefore
survive one or two months without a job, but I think it's
completely understandable that I would like to use those savings as
little as possible.
8. What are your favourite tools under KDE?
Quanta comes to mind. ;-) Beyond that Gideon
is very cool. I really like Cervisia. It's
great for CVS and I like to do web work from a CVS repository.
KFileReplace is very nice for multi directory find and replace with
wildcards. Kompare is very nice too. I suppose I better mention Kallery
so András doesn't get mad. ;-) I'm also a big fan of KSpread and I'd
like to see some improvements there. Actually Kommander is becoming my
favorite tool along with Quanta. I'd really like a great database tool
but knoda looks promising.
I love KDevelop, and I'm really wish to see Gideon becoming more
stable and usable. I'm already using it now, but it still has some annoying
bugs, but they are less and less. I'm proud that I was the one who fixed some
of them. :-) All what I can say is that KDevelop made me forget about Delphi,
which I think was the best IDE under Windows. And of course the Qt/KDE
libraries also helped me in this case. These are the best libraries in the
area so far!
I like also some other tools, some of them appear in Eric's list.
What do I use on daily basis? Gideon, Cervisia, KMail,
Konqueror, Konsole, KwikDisk and Kate. K3b is also nice for burning CDs.
9. What are your dreams for the desktop of the future? How far are we from the ideal desktop?
I don't know how much looks matter for me. To me KDE 3.1 Keramik is
already beautiful. In the looks and use department
is somewhat impressive.
However my desktop of the future would revolve around Kommander. I'll
Most people think of software as shrink wrap or commodity software.
however most software is actually in house or vertical market packages.
So if you have an out of the box install you have lots of great tools
but what you don't have is "your" application. You have word processors
and spreadsheets and calendars and email... but until you work with them
they are not configured to do what you want. If you have a system
engineer sit down with you they could take the various programs and
customize them as well as work on basic templates for files, etc... When
the programs are integrated by common dialogs and scripts then it
becomes a far more productive desktop. It becames your application, not
just a bunch of general applications. This integration could be far more
easily managed by the average person if they had a tool that allowed
them to exchange all relevant information, settings and data between
applications using dialogs and scripts to complete the integration. That
is what will be possible with Kommander and fully DCOP enabled
The desktop of the future allows for all applications to interact
seamlessly, automates regular tasks and enables you to structure your
work flow efficiently to avoid duplication of effort and utilizing the
best tools at hand. I would say that this is becoming available now but
if we take the right direction in the next 1-2 years we could see
dramatic improvements. To my mind, once you "get it" there is nothing
else close. The current desktop star is a monolithic "one size fits all
" approach which is not the best but works because it handles some small
degree of personalization and customization for users. Imagine if we
took these concepts and tied them all together. Kommander should be a
big part of the new seamless desktop.
I usually don't dream about desktops (maybe sometimes about coding...) ;-) The
current desktops fulfill my requirements, what I would like to see are more
good applications. Sometimes the core of an application may be good, but the application itself is not very usable.
10. What kind of hardware do you have and what OS do you use?
I just run Linux. I do have several old copies of Windows but I can't
remember the last time I booted one. I have a local network with
currently three systems and a firewall from an older system. I've been
running Mandrake exclusively after trying all the mainstream distros but
I'm switching my system over to Gentoo before January. My system is
loaded with an Athlon XP 1700 overclocked to 1900+, 512 MB RAM, 90 GB disk
space and a 19
inch monitor. I also have an Athlon 700 in my wife's office with a 17
inch monitor and mom's old K6-500 with a 15 inch monitor that will be
moving into our production area or as an entertainment unit. I'm going
to upgrade to an Athlon 2000 soon because I do a fair amount of
compiling... and I can't get over András having a system that much
faster than mine. ;-)
I will probably get a notebook in 2003 and my whole business is being
run off my local net along with a remote server. I intend to work on
enhancing that to be a model of efficiency.
I mostly work on an Athlon XP2000+ with 256MB RAM, 40GB HDD and a
Hansol 17" monitor. I built it from parts, as I don't trust pre-made
systems. And of course, I use Linux (SuSE 8.0, but quite modified, as I
compiled lot of things from source). I have an older Compaq laptop, which has
SuSE 8.0 and Win98 on it, but I almost never boot Windows. KDE is self
compiled on both of them. For developing I use KDE HEAD, as my
current internet connection makes it possible to update from time to time.
11. What do you do in your spare time, apart from working on
Is there such a thing as spare time? I've been checking and I only seem
to get 24 hours a day which is hardly enough. It seems like forever
since I took a day off. Work
for me is diagonally across the hall from my bedroom. I have put in as
much as 20-30 hours a week on Quanta while working seven days a week the
rest of the time from when I get up until I go to bed. So if you want
to push my buttons write and say you'd like to help but you don't have
time... just be sure you can show me 100 hour weeks. ;-)
I do have some things l like to do. I find movies relaxing and I have
been a musician since I was 14. I have set aside my instruments for the
last several years but I plan to set up a new recording studio in 2003
and begin playing again. I have been working on the lyrics for an album
to honor my dear mother who I lost unexpectedly while driving her back
to Oregon on August 31st, 2001. I also enjoy going to the gym and
bodybuilding. Actually for a guy my age (46) it is my primary defense
against getting old and how I keep my energy up. My
goal is to drop to 10% or less body fat this summer and finally
show off great abs at 46. After 20 years you
realize the odds are decreasing if you don't get with it. ;-)
Aside from that I have developed a passion for hand rolled cigars over
the years. They force me to relax for an hour and ponder. I've come to
appreciate that a lot, as well as the fact that they have been made the
same for over 150 years, touched by 100 craftsmen each and aged for
years. You can't even say that about wine. I know András says he
wouldn't smoke and he likes chocolate. I like chocolate too but it
gathers around my waist... and I can't smoke it. ;-)
I hope in 2003 to get my pilot's license and by 2004 to begin assembling
kit aircraft. I am a history buff and would love to have replica
warbirds with laser tag systems because dogfighting with your friends
has to be a blast!
I like to travel in the nature, and I like to climb mountains. The mountains
are one of the reasons why I moved back to Romania.
And another thing is listening to music. It's great that I can do that even
while working. ;-) The first thing I bought in Finland from my first salary
was a Technics receiver and two 100W speakers. Unfortunately the CD prices
are high, and I'm lucky if I can buy one in two months. The selection in Romania
is also very limited.
12. Any final thoughts and comments?
Eric:I'd like to make a special mention of
a DCOP-enabled dialog builder and executor.
and I were working with Kaptain 0.7 and decided
to build Kommander instead. In simple terms it uses "text
associations" with widgets. So you can create strings by
manipulating widgets and output them. You can create custom
strings to input into an editor like Quanta for PHP functions or
classes or you can launch programs. You can even use internal shell
scripting for logic as well as DCOP communications and running
scripts or programs with the dialog. Kommander dialogs are
Designer UI files using standard widgets that have been
modified to work with Kommander. The dialog designer is actually a
stripped and modified Qt Designer run as a KDE application. It is
even possible to create the XML for the dialog on the fly with
Kommander is what I call "application glue"
because it can stitch KDE applications together into one seamless
desktop application. In my mind that is the next killer
app... being able to make any app interact via user created
dialogs. This little program gives any KDE application its own user
dialog engine, especially useful if it has a solid DCOP
implementation. Look for docs and demos on the Quanta site.
Thanks to everyone who has been so kind in their praise of Quanta. I
would never imagine I would have the priviledge to manage a project like
this. It is a total accident that I arrived here but now I would not
give it up for anything. Most of all I wish I could share with everyone
just how wonderful it feels to be part of something like this. What
we're doing matters to people. Knowing that I am making a positive
impact in so many lives exceeds any financial rewards. I wish everyone
reading this could experience this. In fact you can. I encourage
everyone to realize that being a community requires much more than just
consuming. Someone has to produce, and that is where the real reward is.
It is so obvious and cliche to say "send in your donations" but in fact
for many of us it is so easy it doesn't really cost us anything.
Right now each and every donation I've received has been meaningful and
helpful. Thanks to all who have contributed. Help us
make Quanta a good tool for Zope, Java and XML. Help us with templates. Find some
small but worthwhile thing you can give back... because what I've
learned in this experience is that the old saying really is true... it
is better to give than to receive. What you do that we don't can become your
own little subproject in Quanta... Your own little world.
Thank you everyone for taking the time to read this interview and my
ramblings. ;-) Most of all thank you for helping to make Quanta perhaps
the most popular Open source web development tool and certainly on
Linux and KDE.
See you on the net...
Yes, help is wanted. First we need financial help, as I wrote above. But of
course developers are also welcome -- be sure that we will find a job for you!
And the thank you's: first of all I would like to thank Eric, as he
"discovered" me, and showed me that it's possible to fulfill my dream of making my living doing something I enjoy. I trust him and I think he is a great man for sponsoring GPL software development. More should follow his example -- I would certainly do the same if I could.
There are others to thank, most importantly my wife
and my parents. They have accepted that I've choosen this not so secure way to earn my living, as it's more important to feel good and enjoy life than to grow rich and depressed. Of course, this doesn't mean that I don't want to earn more money.
To the users: Please try out the latest version of Quanta from KDE CVS, contribute and
report bugs. If you haven't noticed yet, we now have a user mailing list
Thanks for inviting me to this interview.
Special thanks to Andreas C. Diekmann and Klaus Staerk for sending us the English version of this interview.