aKademy 2007 has kicked off! The first weekend hosted our user conference, which brought many talks about various topics, ranging from very technical to more practically oriented, which were spread over two tracks. The tracks were interweaved with keynote talks. Read on for the report of the aKademy 2007 keynotes.
Saturday opened with Lars Knoll, talking about KDE from the perspective of a troll. Trolltech employs over 50 full-time developers on Qt itself, accompanied by an assortment of testers and support personnel. Following the ideas behind 'extreme programming', Qt employs extensive code reviews and an incremental design. Focusing strongly on the API's while letting the developers work in loosely defined projects or even fully releasing them on 'creative friday' - it all fits very well with Open Source ideals and methods of development. This way of working is bearing fruit, and Qt 4.4 will bring us work on multimedia, hardware integration, with Trolltech even working with Apple on integrating Webkit as a new, distinct module in Qt. Research is going on in the areas of resolution-independent interfaces, multi-threading and extensive IPC.
Yet, Trolltech also has another strong focus: the community. The Trolls realize they need to cooperate more, and thus are trying to pursue the common interests. By introducing developer blogs, releasing early snapshots and having a community manager, they hope to increase communication with the community and encourage contributions. Until now, KDE developers often worked around limitations in Qt, but in the future they could send patches.
This work is bearing fruit, with co-operation with Pango and OpenOffice.org developers on a common textlayout engine, contributed by Trolltech. Of course, Trolltech is higly committed to KDE, showing this by sponsoring developers, events and code. They want more feedback from, co-operation with and contributions to the community - and these can only bring good things to the Free Software ecosystem.
13 Lessons for the Free Desktop
Mark Shuttleworth of Canonical (and Ubuntu) fame gave a keynote about his vision for Free Software. He presented the Top 13 challenges the Free Desktop faces from his perspective.
- Pretty is a Feature
- Consistent Packaging
- Simplified Licencing
- Pervasive Presence
- Pervasive Support
- Govaritye pa Russki
- Great Gadgets
- Sensory Immersion
- Real-time Collaboration
- More Organised Community
- The Extra Dimension
- Granny's New Camera
- Keeping it Free
Talking about Packaging, he urged developers to re-think their procedures and priorities. There are many areas where we create different and incompatible systems, like RPM and DEB. Long ago, in a time of great flux and fundamental innovation, these differences where meaningful and useful. Nowadays, they are just barriers to broader adoption of the Free Desktop, and lead to a lot of duplication and useless work.
Another challenge lies in the rise of new gadgets. A new generation of mobile phones, powerful enough for traditional desktop software are emerging. Interoperability with the latest digital cameras and multimedia devices is becoming more and more important, and Mark feels we should do more to bring the two spheres of Asian hardware engineers and European and American software developers on board. Asia is where the digital innovation is going on, and we should be there.
Also interesting is the merger between the digital and the real world. They become more and more connected, and Free Software can play a role here. Sound, according to Mark, is crucial here. He gives an example of the bush: if you really want to experience one, you should stand in one, and close your eyes - the environment will 'talk to you'. Not the smartest move in the Darwinian sense, but definitely the way to a cool sensory experience. The sounds of everything trying to not be eaten, and eating other things can be overwhelming yet.
Other challenges Mark mentions are real-time co-operation, the 'extra dimension' brought by the latest 3D technology on the desktop, and finally, the challenge of keeping Free Software really 'Free'. Mark says that he is highly committed to this freedom, both in the 'gratis' and 'libre' sense, and we should be, too.
An interesting talk which became even more so when Mark suggested that KDE move to a more predictable (preferably 6 monthly) schedule. Mark mentioned that if KDE, GNOME and OpenOffice.org could agree to a common, regular release period, the rhythm and beat of publicity would be a frightening prospect for proprietary competition. This certainly prompted heated discussion, which is still going on. When KDE 4 is released later this year, who knows what the exciting future will bring.
Aaron Seigo held an energising talk named 'Beautiful Features'. Though not officially a keynote talk, any members of the audience will agree that it had the impact of one. Starting by mentioning the negative (yet undeserved) reputation KDE has in the area of the so-called 'bloat' and associated bad usability, he pointed to the many unexperienced users working with KDE without issue.
However, having a basically usable, complete desktop isn't enough. First, you need to make a great First Impression. And the current KDE would have given a good impression 5 years ago, but not now. We need to start bringing good eyecandy to the desktop, while at the same time increasing its usability. A good example are toolbars. Having many toolbar buttons doesn't just look bad, it also makes using the application less efficient. Developers are used to complexity, but most users aren't - they are just not 'wired' that way. Using images and ideas from Joga, Aaron told us with what mindset we must develop software.
Showing a picture of Charles Darwin, he started to talk about the connection between real-life and what happens on a computer. Using subtle animation, a computer can feel a lot more natural. Qt 4.3 offers great features in this area, and we should make use of it. Effective use, of course. One second animations make the interface feel slow, whilst short, 0.25 second animations become functional. Aaron's grand vision of the future, a KDE out-innovating all competitive desktops, brought with a lot of humor, inspired many questions, and even led to some quotes we won't mention here.
Desktop Linux - The Next Phase
Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of the Linux Foundation starts by mentioning the Linux Desktop Architects meeting at Google's headquarters. Nobody from KDE was there, so it was a rather limited meeting - something clearly went wrong in the communication area. We ask him why KDE didn't get any invitations - after all, we represent the majority of the Linux Desktop and are working on its future. Jim told us there was a serious screwup, and apologizes - next time, they promise to get it right. We discover later on that there were a few invitations sent, but only to individual developers. Jim is offered the address of the KDE e.V., our legal organization, which will ensure the message will get through next time.
Then Jim starts to talk about our proprietary competition, and its strengths (mostly a bunch of lawyers) and its weaknesses (less innovation). What is our situation? Firstly, we grow faster than our competition. And we innovate. And we have lower costs. All this is due to the way Free Software works, both by increasing competition and co-operation. The Free Software market is much more dynamic, and thus it offers a much stronger eco-system.
Where does the Linux Foundation come in? Well, aside from paying the bills for some high-profile kernel hackers (for example Linus Torvalds), they are here to defend us. Our biggest competitor has a habit of trying nasty things to continue its monopoly and sustain the huge income it has (during the time you read this article, several millions are brought in to Redmond). It is spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt, trying to get proprietary, non-interoperable standards everywhere, and even denying our existence (even though Linux is a multi-billion dollar business). The Linux Foundation tries to co-ordinate our defence, both in the marketing and the legal area. There are a lot other organizations working on these things, like the Software Freedom Law Center and the Free Software Foundation. The Linux Foundation mostly tries to focus on the long-term, building a defence, for example lobbying for a reform of the patent law.
Jim proceeds to talk about the Linux desktop. He begins with the image it has, where we're at in that area. He points out that most talk is about what's wrong with Linux, what's missing, while we're already very good. Not perfect, of course, but what is? We should focus more on our strengths, communicate them. He told us how easy it was to impress some journalists from big American papers like the Wall Street Journal with a Ubuntu live CD.
He finally talks about things that the Linux Foundation has done, like the Linux Standards Base (LSB) or the co-operation on Text Layout (failing to mention it was Trolltech who donated the bulk of the initial code). He also asks KDE to stop locking in users and applications to our framework. Partly due to time, we didn't really interpret and understand what he meant by this statement.
The keynotes were fun, interesting and thought-provoking. Thinking is good, and most of us like
it, so we are grateful to the speakers for joining aKademy 2007, and sharing their perspectives.