At aKademy I had the chance to talk to Chris Schlaeger about SUSE, its relationship with the KDE community, his view of the Linux enterprise desktop and the speed of development of several key features in KDE (a Dutch translation can be found at Bart&David).
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Please introduce yourself and explain your role within the KDE project.
My name is Chris Schlaeger and I'm the Vice President of Research and Development SUSE Linux at Novell. I'm a long time KDE developer and I used to be the maintainer of KSysguard and before that I worked on the previous version called KTop and I hacked on kdelibs.
Not long ago Novell acquired two companies that deal with Linux: Ximian and SUSE. While Ximian is a derivative from the GNOME project, SUSE is well known for its support of KDE. How does this all come together?
Better than most people seem to believe. Novell is committed to supporting both GNOME and KDE desktop environments in its Linux desktop. We are fortunate to have acquired a robust set of desktop technologies through our acquisitions of Ximian and SUSE LINUX, giving our customers a considerable amount of choice.
We are working on our next generation Enterprise Desktop currently called Novell Linux Desktop which will feature a KDE desktop as well as a GNOME desktop. In the enterprise market the situation is still very open regarding which desktop will have the greater following. For a Linux provider like Novell it is a great opportunity to offer both desktops to our customers and see where the market is going.
During your presentation at aKademy you mentioned that SUSE offers two product lines now:
Novell Linux Desktop and Novell SUSE Linux Personal/Professional. What are the differences between these product lines?
Novell's Linux desktop is currently still under development. We are still offering the SUSE Linux desktop, however this is based on the SUSE LINUX Enterprise Server 8 code base, which has now been superseded by version 9 (released in August of this year). This represents our business offering as opposed to our consumer product offering.
They both target very different user groups which have different requirements. We have the old traditional SUSE products which really target the private user who is using Linux at home.
The Personal/Professional versions are consumer products targeted at home users. Users who either want to do very little or very specific work with their PC like writing email, surfing the web, word processing, spreadsheets, printing and the like. For those people we have the Personal version. The Professional version is basically the swiss army knife of Linux. You've got everything in there that we feel is of some interest and benefit to our customers. Both products have a comparatively low purchase price and are therefore very cost effective.
We provide security updates for a period of 2 years for these products which is something customers tend to forget. There is a lot of work that needs to be done to keep the products secure during their lifetime. A new version is released roughly every six months.
However, in the enterprise arena 2 years doesn't cut it as people want 3 or 5 years support at minimum. So for the enterprise customers we created a new product which was called SUSE Linux Desktop. The next version will be a Novell Linux Desktop which will be based on the SUSE LINUX Enterprise Server 9 code base and combines the best of SUSE LINUX Desktop and Ximian Desktop. It will have a lifetime of around 18months and we guarantee to provide support and maintenance for the product for up to five years. Also the quality assurance is much higher. In an enterprise arena you need to do integration tests to a much higher degree and we test extensively so that we don't inject any side effects when we provide fixes. That's the main reason why the enterprise versions are more expensive and also the software collection is more targeted to the needs of the customers we try to address.
What do you think are the strong points of KDE as an enterprise desktop?
KDE is a very good enterprise desktop environment and it offers all the functionality you would expect nowadays from an enterprise desktop. So from a desktop perspective it is ready. But there are still missing features on the application side. People expect more and there are some areas like the OpenOffice.org integration and the browser question that needs to be resolved.
Also accessibility is one of the hot topics where more work is necessary. But when there is a good foundation we can build on and a lot of work is being done in all areas to improve KDE. Also I'm very glad that the KDE team recognizes the enterprise market as a very important target audience they have in mind when they write software.
Could you tell me any typical enterprise features of KDE you are using?
One of the features for example is the Kiosk lock down mode. That's clearly something you normally wouldn't use in a home setup. Well maybe you want to restrict the ability of your kids to do certain things ton your PC. That is also a way to use the Kiosk mode. But primarily the Kiosk functionality is meant for use as an information terminal or on the corporate desktop where the system administrator just wants to expose the necessary functionality to the users.
Novell also has its own ZENworks. Are there any plans to integrate ZENworks with KDE ?
ZENworks is an enterprise management console. ZENworks was originally written for Windows and now
the next version called "ZENworks for Linux" will also support Linux. It is a complementary tool and is
the tool that administrators use for mass administration. So it does software inventory management and
it *controls* the lockdown. ZenWorks does not provide the actual lockdown functionality, but it
provides the configuration values. On the client you would need the counterpart that actually knows
how to implement the values that ZENworks has.
There have been some rumours, corroborated by some CVS commits, which show work going on in KDE-PIM on a configuration wizard for the Novell Groupwise client. Also the aKademy interview with Will Stephenson talks about the integration of Groupwise functionality in Kopete. Can you elaborate more on this?
We are working on the integration of KDE tools in the other products from Novell. Groupwise is the most prominent of these and is a collaboration tool that offers messaging, calendar and mail services to the user. You can now use KDE tools such as Kopete together with the Groupwise messenger and you can use Kontact to access the corporate calender and address-book and also for email.
Just curious, how long did it take to program the Novell Groupwise integration into Kontact, Kopete and KAddressbook, and how many people were involved?
It was quite amazing that we were able to do this. The messenger integration was done by Will Stephenson in 2 months. Even more surprising was the integration of Groupwise into Kontact. In less than a week developers got it running. We were able to exchange data from the server to the client. Sure, there are still bugs in there and we need to iron these out but I'm glad that it was done so quickly. I'm sure we can get it ready for the next deadline for the Novell Linux Desktop.
How will this evolve with regard to KDE and who will maintain this stuff?
We have some KDE people on board and we currently have an offer on our website for a KDE developer, especially for the KDE-PIM area. One of the tasks would be to maintain the Groupwise and messenger integration.
During your talk at aKademy you said we needed fewer toolkits. What do you mean by that?
Linux is plagued by too many toolkits. We've got Tcl/TK, Java, Motif, Athena Widgets or the old X toolkit, GTK, and Qt, and all of them look and feel totally different. Applications written in those toolkits do not follow the same standards and guidelines and are a mess to use. Especially if you have them side by side or you need to use them frequently.
Some of toolkits do not really cut it today. There is little support for accessibility, there is hardly any support for hotkeys. We just need to get rid of them. It was great that they were there and they served their purpose but I personally would like to see as few toolkits as possible in the future. They are still projects that come with their own toolkit like Mozilla and OpenOffice.org. I'm sure we can find a solution there that these toolkits can integrate and behave very well with the rest of the desktop.
I think it is important especially because the most interested enterprise customers we have are government agencies and they have strict rules on accessibility conformance (section 508 is mandatory in most of the US in the government agencies). If we want to get involved in that market then we need these features and they are not there yet. So I am glad that there is work going on in these areas and SUSE is a very active contributor. For instance, we have a blind developer on our team who did the first support for braille displays. SUSE Linux was the first distribution not only usable but also installable from scratch by a blind person using YaST in text mode. Of course text mode is fairly easy compared to graphical user interfaces and having a good off screen model and screen reader is a significant amount of work. Trolltech and Sun have done really a lot of work in this area and we really hope that with Qt4 and KDE4 we can profit from this and offer this technology to users.
What will Novell/SUSE do to improve the experience on the desktop?
We are working on OpenOffice.org to make it integrate better with the desktops. On SUSE 9.1 you saw already the first fruits of this work - if you start OpenOffice.org it looks like a KDE application. It is a first step but it is far from complete: if you open a file you get a totally different file dialog that is not only awkward to use, but also doesn't fit into the KDE look and feel. The same for printing. That is still something we need to overcome but we are working on this and probably will have better integration with the next product.
So that's one piece of the experience on the desktop, the OpenOffice.org part is there. Something going on with the Mozilla browser part as well?
Well that started on aKademy where we discussed this on the first day. The question came up during a discussion I had with Matthias Ettrich and a few others. It is currently a pain to the user to need two installed browsers, one browser which works for this website and the other browser which works for the other website. Konqueror is fast and nicely integrated, but Mozilla renders more pages better.
Customers that do web application development heavily use DHTML and other special features that Konqueror doesn't handle very well and it is a lot of work to implement this. Although I like KHTML and the architecture quite a bit I am sad to say that probably the Gecko rendering engine will be the dominant one used in the enterprise arena, and as KDE developers we've got to make sure that we can integrate Gecko fairly well into KDE.
So Lars Knoll and Zack Rusin started working on this at aKademy and I was delighted when they put me aside and showed me what they have done in just three days. It is amazing! I think it is the right way to go! It is a bit sad for KHTML and I hope that despite this people will still maintain it as it is a nice lightweight browser. If it would be a purely technical decision, KHTML has the better architecture, but sometimes you need to go the shortest way to get to your target.
I think D-BUS will come probably with KDE4, not earlier than that. It is a lot of work to implement that properly but I think it is going in the right direction. We need to integrate the desktop and the operating system much deeper. So that you can control the hardware on the desktop or have the right feedback on the desktop.
If I connect a camera currently I get a nice icon on the desktop where a Konqueror browser is opened. SUSE has that for quite a while, but if you look at how we implemented this ... It is a real pain and doesn't work 100% reliable. The problem is with the hotplug system of the underlying OS and the way we have to communicate those kernel events into userspace. D-BUS hopefully will solve some of these problems in the long run. It is a lot of work but it is going in the right direction and I'm sure we will adopt that.
Do you think the KDE desktop should ready itself for that kind of technology?
I think that there is a general understanding within the KDE developer community that D-BUS is the right way to go. Not for KDE3 but probably for KDE4.
Currently we have developers, translators and documentation writers as part of the KDE development process. How do you think other disciplines like accessibility and usability should participate in the development process?
I think they should participate and the KDE project should adapt their structures to integrate those groups as well. It is important to have their work integrated but that is something you should ask the KDE release coordinator to see how we can fit these people into the process. But for example, who could have imagined that we would have more then 50 languages in KDE? Surely this will also happen to other areas like accessibility and usability, as there is some good work going on to get people involved.
Where would you like to see the future of KDE go, and what new features would you like to see in future releases?
KDE has made tremendous progress over time. I joined the project when it only had a few dozen people and now it is 700 people strong and is constantly growing, and the enthusiasm of the project hasn't decreased at all. It is now not only working on the core part but also working on parts like accessibility, translation to many languages, documentation work, artwork and other areas which are not directly linked to the core code-hacking. I'm glad this is going on and we need more of this in the future. We need more applications in the future, and good accessibility support, OpenOffice.org integration and the browser problem are the most practical features would like to see in the next release.
How will the relationship between Novell and KDE evolve?
I'm sure that we are going to sponsor KDE development in the future. We have (I think) sponsored every major KDE event, like we did with aKademy this year. So why should we stop now?! Novell is very much committed to KDE!