Continuing the series of articles previewing KDE's World Summit,
aKademy (running from August 21st to 29th), Tom
Chance interviewed Matthias Ettrich, the founder of the KDE project, the creator of the LyX
document-processor, and an employee of Trolltech. At aKademy he will be talking about
to design intelligent, Qt-style APIs. I asked him for his thoughts about the status of the
KDE project, its achievements, and what he is looking forward to in aKademy. You can read the
previous interview with Nils Magnus of LinuxTag here.
Q: We all know you as the founder of KDE, but what is your current role in the project?
Matthias Ettrich: Today I am very much focused on KDE's underlying technology, the Qt
toolkit. This pretty much is a full-time job, so I'm no longer feeling
bad about not actively contributing code to other parts of KDE
anymore. When you take a step back and recognize how much the KDE team
achieves in relation to its financial backup and the number of
developers, you'll clearly see how important a solid foundation is. We
are an insanely productive development community, and we achieve that
by layering our software stack and investing into the foundation,
instead of constantly reinventing the wheel.
It's all about developers
and what developers need to be efficient. Every hour spent on Qt and
the KDE libraries is an hour spent wisely, because an every growing
number of applications benefits from it. So that's what I do.
In addition my Trolltech position allows me to contribute indirectly to
KDE's success: Some of our engineers can do part-time work on KDE, we
sponsor David Faure, and of course we are an aKademy gold sponsor. On
a more personal level I do my share of giving talks and interviews, I
make an effort to bring people together, and I try to actively help
with community events like last year's conference in Nove Hrady and
this year's aKademy.
Q: What is your favorite development in the project since you started it?
ME: The greatest thing for me is that we managed to grow the project while
keeping its initial culture and soul intact. We started out with a
relatively small group of equals that cooperated purely based on
mutual respect and technical merits. This is pretty standard for small
engineering groups. What makes KDE special, though, is that we managed
to scale this to the overwhelming size the project has today. With KDE
e.V. and its statutes we have found and established a mechanism that
makes sure KDE stays this way: a project owned and controlled by its
active community of individual contributors. Establishing KDE e.V. and
seeing it gaining acceptance within the KDE community was probably the
most important non-technical development that happened, and this
process is far from being over.
Q: Almost four years ago  you said that in 2005 you'll be a manager due
to the success of KDE (which "will be a leading desktop platform by then").
Given that you only have one year left, what are your thoughts on this
ME: Well, I have been working as a Director of Software Development for
some time now, so for me it became true already. Luckily my concerns
about being a manager turned out to be exaggerated, managing people is
not as bad as I anticipated it to be. Lesson to be learned: one should
not rely on Dilbert as the only source of information. The obvious
downside is less time for coding, but it comes with a strong upside:
by working through a team you can achieve far more than what you could
do on your own. Just imagine somebody offered you 50 extra hands. And
not only that: each pair of hands came with a brain of its own, each
with extra skills and talents that complete your own. Now, how good
does that sound?
With regards to KDE becoming a leading desktop platform: we are
already, in many areas. We are a leader in terms of active community,
in terms of network integration, in terms of providing freedom and
choice to desktop users, and in terms of providing a sophisticated
development framework for application developers.
Q: What do you think the "next big thing" in KDE will be?
ME: There is one thing that will become increasingly important in the
future, not just for KDE, but for all of Linux: a convincing answer to
Microsoft's .Net. I'm not concerned about the server, I'm concerned
about the client, and about the belief that some people in the
community share, that you can successfully clone Microsoft's APIs and
then keep up with them. Free software should not be about cloning, but
about creating. If we want to be successful, we need to have our own
APIs. And guess what, we are really good at that. There is no reason
to throw everything away and start all over again from scratch.
Instead we must built upon what we already have, and that is native
Native code is and will be the solid basis of every successful
computing platform, simply for its flexibility, its performance, and
its low memory consumption. With KDE and Qt, it's easy to develop
native code. Once you get the hang on it, it is easier than
e.g. developing complex applications with Java/Swing.
Still it would be nice to take advantage of JIT-compiled bytecode where it makes
sense, and have the two worlds interoperate. Currently there are two
technical options: integrating Mono and the CLR, or going for a Java
Virtual Machine. Mono at present has several advantages: First, there
is no free JIT-compiling JVM that is equally actively developed and it
doesn't look like there will be one. Second, cooperating with Miguel
and the Ximian group at Novell is probably a lot easier than
cooperating with Sun. And third, it is easier to integrate native
C++ code with the CLR than going through the JNI.
Q: What are you looking forward to in aKademy?
ME: Meeting people, having fun, and watching KDE improve! Every KDE
conference so far has been a big happy gathering of friends that
kick-started an insane commit rate to the CVS. And there's no reason
why aKademy 2004 should be any different.
Q: What do you think people should make a special effort to attend at
ME: There's so many interesting things going on at aKademy, it's hard to
pick just one. But if you are a developer and haven't thought much
about accessibility yet, I suggest you listen to Aaron Leventhal's
opening speech of the Unix Accessibility Forum on Sunday. Assistive
technologies are not only an interesting technical challenge, but an
area where we as a free software project can make a real difference in
many peoples' lifes. For the User and Administrators conference I
suggest you give the groupware and collaboration track some special
attention. Kolab and Kontakt are exciting projects that have not yet
gotten the attention they deserve. And nobody should miss the social
event on Saturday when we celebrate the Freedom Software Day.
Q: Thank you for your answers and your time.
ME: My pleasure :)