My Photo

People person, technology enthusiast and all-things-open evangelist. Previously community manager at SUSE and now at ownCloud while continuing an decade long involvement in the KDE community. Enjoys avoiding traffic and public transport on bike through Berlin, but only when the weather is good. Loves cooking for friends and family and playing with our dog. Find me also on Twitter!

30 June, 2010

Being Free - why it matters

Hi all,

Ok, so the blogs about being free are done (last one) - I just want to add a few thoughts here before I throw myself on the blog about my earlier LinuxTag Flames. FYI this will probably be more controversial than that one, so brace yourself (or don't read if you don't like honest yet strong opinions).

This is related to some discussions on the web about the FSF, the FSFE, and pragmatism vs idealism. And prompted by Ben Martin's blog about Meritocracy.

Let me tell you my point up front: those who see a difference between pragmatism and idealism in FOSS are wrong.

Read on to figure out why I say that...

Basic assumption
We want as much Free Software as possible, right? Let's first look at why we want that:

  • Because it is better for Freedom. "In a world where speech depends on software, Free Speech depends on Free Software." (Donald B. Marti Jr). Need I say more?

  • It helps companies to be independent of a few large businesses, it is better for the economy. FOSS promotes a free market where everyone can choose from a series of vendors.

  • It's good for second- and third world countries because they don't have to waste dollars on big US or European companies and they can learn from the code.

And I'm sure there are more reasons. So, our goal should be simple: spread as much Free Software as possible, and educate people about it. Firefox does great in this regard (at least as much as can be expected) by showing the why on their site and in the browser when you start it for the first time. Oh, and they do it this way: FIRST get them the software (free as in free beer), then try to educate them. Firefox has been very instrumental in me explaining what I do for KDE to completely IT ignorant people. I say, I am part of KDE. It's an international blablabla doing FOSS. FOSS? Yes, ever heard of open source, linux? Nope. Firefox? Yes, I know $friend using it. Ok, so that's developed by volunteers in their free time. They do that because they believe it helps make this world better. blablabla. Thank you Firefox!

Idealism vs Pragmatism

So where is this idealism vs pragmatism? Well, some people apparently dislike Ubuntu because it makes it easy to get non-free codecs. Or dislike openSUSE because it ships binary firmware. Or firefox because they make money thanks to Google. Well, screw that. Sure we must try to get such things to be opened up, but what end user is interested in those niche 'pure FOSS' distro's which barely run anywhere, can't play mp3's or can't visit Facebook, gmail and other popular sites?

Others are against making money with FOSS. Doesn't get any sillier. I'd rather have Novell make a deal with MS, letting our 'friends' from Redmond distribute SUSE licenses, than not have these customers at all. Sure such a deal has disadvantages and I don't know enough about the details to properly argue about it, but the basic principle I have no problem with. And there are plenty more examples more or less like this. Google's deal with Firefox. Ubuntu One. Darn, if BP sponsored me to do marketing for a year, fine, as long as they don't expect me to say to the world I think they're doing great in the Mexican Gulf ;-)

Idealism is going for the BIG WIN. Pragmatism is how you do it. They're two sides of the same coin. That's what I think.

It's about the world, stupid

I want *the world* to use Free Software, not 1% geeks. Commercial parties can play a huge role here, and I'm happy to let them experiment, stumble and fall, get back up and *spread the darn software* in the process. Because I believe in the end, it will work out. Take dual licensing. Is it evil? Hell no, in the end it turns out the 'free' version becomes so much better the model doesn't even work anymore... See MySQL, for example. In the end, money goes into improving Free Software, and the FOSS model ensures domination ;-)

Let me put one thing straight: I'm perfectly fine with those who hack on FOSS because IT IS FUN and don't care much about anything else. Power to you. I'm argueing with those who say they want everyone to be free and use FOSS but at the same time restrict people in what they can do!


So pragmatism vs idealism is wrong. You need pragmatism if you want your ideal world, and by only idealism you get - fairly litte. And the FSF has done plenty of pragmatic things, which is why they made a huge difference. The reason I mentioned them is that lately, some actions seem a bit too extreme to me... But there are ppl out there in 'our world' who are FAR more extreme, and hindering FOSS adoption that way. Either by opposing things, stopping others who're doing great, or just being negative and thus giving a bad impression to the outside world.

I admit, I might have went a bit over the top in the text above and there are probably plenty arguments to explain why some examples were wrong. And I admit, there are things you shouldn't be doing, there are boundaries. But in the end, it boils down to: do you want to spread Free Software everywhere, or are you just focusing on your own narrow group of fellow hackers?

I go for world domination. I want the vast majority of people on this planet to use Free Software, knowingly or not. What about you?

29 June, 2010

On Being Free pt 3

This is the second time I wrote this blog (wanted to publish before LinuxTag already) so I'll really try to keep it short. It is based on my talk on this subject at LinuxTag, which in turn was based on the earlier blogs about Being Free and discussions I had the night before the talk.

I'd like to refer to my earlier post where you can find links to earlier blogs.

Topics I'll go through:

  • Good and Bad sides of Being Free

  • 7 reasons why we're Free and What We Can Do

  • The Challenge

The Good and the Bad

So the way our community works as I described in my previous blogs has good and bad sides. Good is that we're the most innovative and fastest growing FOSS desktop community, having a lot of fun developing truly Free Software. But there is Bad. I've touched on that in my flameworthy LinuxTag blog (and I will come back to that topic in a future blog). The way we develop software is often bad news for the end user experience, and makes it hard to work with companies. We don't have a strong single point of contact for them.

So in pretty bullets:
  • Lots of fun

  • Much innovation

  • New volunteers & large growth

  • freedom

The bad
  • Too little focus on end user experience

  • Difficult cooperation with companies

7 Reasons & Actions

The question: can we improve our end user experience and work more closely with companies, while not losing the advantages of how we currently work? Let's move to the 7 reasons Why we're Free..

1. Strong focus on technology and cool things
We're a technically oriented community – in a discussion everybody is equal (assuming you're also willing to do the work). This is deeply embedded in how we in KDE think and work. This is something for our communication. Talk about this with each other. Every time you blog about a very cool thing you wrote or difficult problem you solved in an original way, you share our culture. So, blog! Even if it’s short!

2. Flat organization, little hierarchy
We don't really do 'bosses' and 'code monkeys' in KDE, and we shouldn't. New developers are coming in, paid to support come projects. They’re no different from us, so don’t treat them different!

3. Having a diverse ecosystem
Getting more companies with different business models involved in our community would be good. The increased interest in Qt thanks to Meego can help here, but we, as in the community and esp marketing people, should be working on this. And we are ;-)

We're pretty successful in reaching out to local contributors. I think we owe a great debt to some of our contributors who are very active in their local communities, getting people closer to the international community. But we need more reaching out - seen my series on who is KDE? Join that theme and bring outside contributions to the light!

This is something I'm working on behind the scenes, expect an announcement during Akademy.

4. The role of KDE e.V. is strictly supportive
The e.V. is our legal 'mother', supporting and protecting us in doing what we do. Officially, mommy has no say in what we do - in reality, most core contributors are a member of KDE e.V. and of course heavily influence development and the board sometimes does represent us to companies. However, that doesn't happen very often - the central role the Gnome Foundation plays is certainly not copied by KDE e.V. which has lost us (according to some ppl I spoke with) some potential important commercial contributions.

If a company asks the board: "We want to do this, will you accept the code which follows out of it?", and the board has to say "I dunno, ask $RandomBunchOfVolunteers", the company might go like "Yeah, right..." and move on.

So, should the board be more active in working with companies, approaching them, even? Personally, I think yes. But we should be very conscious of the risk of influence by the companies they work with. We're spending more and more money, the majority of which comes from big companies.

The Join the Game (supporting membership program helps make us less dependent on the big sponsors. A reason to join! Another thing is that we simply need to be aware of this issue and talk about it. Maybe we need to come up with some rules and agreements in this area.

5. Regular developer meetings - keep talking
The regular meetings our developers attend keep the community bonded together and increases cooperation with corporate contributors. So let's keep on doing this, the way we're doing it...

6. Meetings are funded by KDE e.V.
See 4 and 5. While I voiced some concerns, generally this is going great.

7. Having had to deal with Qt licensing - history helps
This reason for our 'being free' is very much a historical one, but one we can keep alive by talking about it and thus keeping it in our collective memory.


So in short, we should try and keep us free and independent by doing the following:

  • Be Nice

  • Reach out

  • Share and talk

Moreover, we should think about how we've organized some things. Maybe we can improve the way e.V. works? We are already working on getting community support through the Supporting Membership program; we might want to do more to diversify where our money comes from and give the e.V. more power in talking to companies.

And of course I'm going...

Everybody is prancing around with their 'I'm going to Akademy' pretty pictures. I don't want to be left behind, so...

Edit: and thanks to our sponsors and the supporting members, I'm sponsored to go there - wouldn't be able to visit otherwise so thank you again!

28 June, 2010

Announcements at Akademy

If you're a participant of Akademy, speaker or not, and you have any news you want to announce @ akademy: please please give the promo people a heads-up! Either now (mail kde-promo, dot-editors or one of us privately) or come to the press room at Akademy. It will help us prepare it, and help you get a cool announcement out with good timing (eg not at the same time as another big announcement, for example).

Think about it!

Influence of Money

Part of my blogs about Being Free is talking about the influence of money on (volunteer) contributors.

This is something discussed by a lot of people, so I won't add to this discussion, but it's interesting for sure so I include a few links for those who want to read up on it. For me, it started with this blog about money and motivation by Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier and I initially followed a few links in there. A very early blog about the subject comes from the Gnome community (by Luis Villa) where this issue has been playing for some time. Stormy has also written a few excellent blogs about the subject. Stormy's opinions are worth following in general, and her experience in this area make for some insightful articles.

Let my give a quick summary here:
You can put money into development in 4 ways:

  • Bounties (bad, often hurts motivation of others)

  • Job (seems to work pretty well)

  • Grants (works very well)

  • Giving Shiny things (works very well)

Read on in this overview by Bruce Byfield from 2007, he painted a clear picture. For the latest insights, I'd say talk to Stormy...

27 June, 2010

KDE Promo is Cool :D

Hi all,

I just wanted to say thanks for the responses to my earlier blogs about helping KDE promo. Yes, there weren't a lot of comments on the blogs but I did receive quite a few mails and a couple of things were picked up by new contributors. Super cool! You'll see articles by them appear on the dot soon, and other things are also moving now. We've got a cool and growing team here at KDE-promo - if you want you can be a part of it!

At Akademy especially we'll need some help. We're still looking for someone who wants to make photo's dedicated for the dot articles. Which means shooting, selecting, retouching, and delivering by mail or USB in small and large size to the writers. Should be a fun job - so who feels like doing it? No, we don't require ANY special skills or camera - in earlier years pictures quickly made with my N95 made it to the dot for lack of better. So, really, ANYTHING is a step forward compared to nothing as we have now...

Oh and at Akademy during the e.V. meeting I will report on what the marketing team has been doing over the last year. I'll post that in a blog too, it's actually ready to go ;-)

22 June, 2010

grabin' them at a tradeshow

So our cool booth dudes and dudettes are regularly hard at work at booths on tradeshows, telling people about our great community.

I've been there many times, and there are a few thoughts I'd like to share. This isn't just meant as a how-to or a finished plan but also to start a discussion - we can improve in some area's and why not discuss it in public so anyone can weight in and add comments ;-)

So here a few insights from others and me since the last happening at Linuxtag:

  • first of all, the booth must be clean. Either we 'work' at the booth, or sit/hack somewhere else.

  • We must make sure we know what we're selling. We should have a list of selling points. The promo team is on this, and we'll distribute it to booth attendants once it's done!

  • Reciprocity: giving something makes ppl want to give something back. If we want to get them to sign up for our supporting membership, having some give-aways is important. This is related to the booth box, also in the works. But we currently don't have many give aways, as funds are limited. Should we put money in this?

  • Have pretty things at the booth. We should have one or more cool devices in our booth box which ppl will want to play with. Touch screens +1! However, again something which might be costly, so we should probably ask sponsors for things.

  • Ask questions. Not only to figure out what people want or are interested in to find an angle to talk to them, but also because questions simply make people more open.

  • Use examples: talk about successful KDE deployments, how we have millions of users and how we get a lot of positive feedback!

I could go into the evil psychological schemes behind the these things, but they're probably clear. So who knows other things we can and should improve on at the booth?

21 June, 2010

Help KDE promo!

Hi all,

Again a little call for help...

Pretty picture
Soon, there will be a new release of our bunch'o'stuff ("KDE SC 4.5). We need a pretty picture for our blogs ;-)

If you're a writer, we're always looking for new authors. I've often have magazines ask me if I know anyone, you can even make a buck that way. Let me know!

The KDE promo team has worked on a booklet with information about the KDE community and our products for a long time. It's mostly done but needs 2 things: someone to push for finishing it, and someone to do layouting. If interested in either or both these tasks, let me know...

Some of you might know Openhatch. It's a cool way to help people get involved in FOSS projects. We do have a little presence there, but there could be a lot more. Anyone up for being the official openhatch manager? Contact kde-promo to coordinate ;-)

19 June, 2010

Promo at Akademy

Hi all,

As you might have read, Lydia wrote about some ways of following what will be going on at Akademy. See, we do stuff ;-)

So the promo team has been working to prepare for Akademy. We've tried to get articles out every once in a while, get in contact with magazines and journalists etc. Meanwhile we are also working on a press kit (a first, afaik) and will try to take good care of our journalists. We'll have a press conference on the first day with the keynote speakers and of course we'll be working on the usual dot articles and other communication channels.

Meanwhile, we've had more plans than what we could finish (as usual). And we'll be needing help at Akademy itself as well. Someone needs to be in the press room, we need help doing interviews and dot articles and keep twitter & other media up to date.

Also I'm looking for a 'dedicated' photographer who will make sure we have plenty of good pictures readily available for us (flickr, the dot etc) and for our journalists.

So if anyone feels he/she could help out, let me know!

16 June, 2010

Flameworthy LinuxTag Notes

As I kind of promised in my previous blog - here some notes from LinuxTag, worked out in an opinion :D. Now this blog is different from my usual ones. While I do write about strategical stuff, I try to stay away from controversial things. Not this time, sorry.

KDE in the early days
At LT I spoke with quite a few interesting people, including Georg Greve (the dot will feature an interview with him soon) and Matthias Ettrich (who started this whole KDE thing). The latter had a fairly interesting opinion about his 'kid'. After we started talking about stuff not for this blog (mostly politics and economics) we came on the topic of why he started the KDE project.

Basically, it was to give the common user access to the freedom and power of a better platform (Unix/linux). When Gnome started he was fine with that as some in the KDE community moved over there and added a whole bunch of features he didn't want in KDE anyway. But at some point, Gnome and KDE started a feature race - which was lost by Gnome, so they re-focussed themselves on user experience with help from Sun. Basically, Gnome 2.0 was what Matthias had envisioned for KDE in terms of user experience. He decided things didn't go his way, and instead of fighting or following the new direction he stepped out and started working on Qt.

KDE now
Since then, a lot has changed. That doesn't include the difference in focus between Gnome and KDE - Matthias complained Gnome builds a great user experience on inferior technology, KDE creates super technology while not doing enough on usability. He's not wrong.

So KDE has created a very open culture which results in innovation, experimentation and new technology. The user experience, while more of a focus than in the KDE 3.x times, imho still ain't what it needs to be, might never be the way we currently work. At least, the finishing touch is boring and hard to do in such an open meritocracy.

How to create usable software
You'd need a strongly design-driven development for a finished, consistent experience, were developers follow a common vision laid out by a few brilliant designers. And follow through on the boring stuff. This simply doesn't fit how we work - developers decide on what happens to their applications and what they spend their free time on. So different applications have different ways of solving certain issues (like with the + hover button on folders). This leads to innovation, and in time to better solutions - but while these are fleshed out (and there is always SOMETHING going on) it makes the whole set of apps less consistent, less stable, less usable.

Another issue is the large influence users have on how we work. Yes, that's right, I'm blaming active users here for unusable software. Many of our vocal users are powerusers and demand features easily accessible which only 1% of the world needs. And we cater to them, which often leads to a more bloathed piece of software. Especially removing functionality often leads to a big flamewar. Gnome simply ignores those who don't agree with the vision they have, and the end result is at least more consistent.

The last mile
Many in our community hoped the distributions or other commercial parties would be able to pick up where we left, and finish that last mile. They didn't - well, they tried, but every distribution which successfully did so either didn't contribute upstream (xandros) or went belly-up, was bought or had to change focus (mandrake/mandriva, suse). Ubuntu does the last mile for Gnome but Kubuntu lacks resources to do it for us.

What do we do?
Now we could start some top-down effort and force these things. Kill innovation, chase away a large proportion of our brilliant developers, having less fun. Please let's not. KDE, as it is, is great. We have a lot of fun, we innovate, and most of our current users love our products. So I am not advocating any change in how we work here. But we need to create a more usable and stable product if we want to grow beyond 1% of the market. So I think change needs to come from the outside. From a new start. How? I do have ideas, but I'll first put on my flamesuit and enjoy the heat...

What do you think?

15 June, 2010

LinuxTag from my view

So I finally took a little time to blog about LinuxTag. Still a lot of writing to do/finish (count on a bunch of articles and 1 or 2 longer blogs from me) but I should give a little shout out as to how amazing LinuxTag was.

Yes, for me it was amazing. Last year wasn't that useful (even though it was fun, maybe even more than now) but this year we spoke to a huge number of visitors, got quite a few to sign up for the supporting membership (and hopefully convinced many others to sign up later on), got away with a lot of business cards to follow up on and spoke with many other FOSS people. And as usual, there was a lot of hugging. I'd complain if there wasn't (must admit I had to surprise-hug a few ppl - what's wrong with a hug?).

Eckhard did a good job at organizing the booth stuff as usual, and boy, was he nervous the first morning... We all had to stay out of his way a little as he was jumping-jumping and trying to move the world a bit to make it fit better. Now it's surely the case we can improve a few things - we should set up booth rules at some point to prevent a few baddies (yes I know, baddies is not a word). For example, sitting at the booth for hacking is NOT GOOD. Yes, I did that too, a lot, sorry Eckhart...

Another rule I'd like to institute is "more Lea's". We actually thought about simply putting her in the booth box, but were afraid Daniel wouldn't like that. Lea? Oh, she was amazing... She came with her boyfriend and Amarok hacker Daniel Dewald, and initially was sitting in a corner of the booth, looking around with a face saying "wtf am I doing here". Understandable, of course, if you're not a big geek. So at some point I gave her the excellent talkpoints we had on paper about our supporting membership program (written by Sebas) which, in bulletpoints, explains what KDE e.V. is, does and why you should support it. Frederik and a few others gave her further info about KDE later on - and she turned out to be a wirlwind, eclipsing us all when it came to talking to visitors. I think over half the people who signed up at our booth for the supporting membership did so because they were approached and convinced by Lea!

And although the high heels on the first day didn't work out that well for her feet, she had a great time and claimed she wanted to do more conferences - sounds good to me, we can use some help...

Now of course I shouldn't dismiss the other people at the booth, I especially think Torsten Thelke (our KDE e.V. intern) did an amazing job, and so did Frederik in his sometimes-scary way. Yes, showing off Fluffy Bunny themed plasma desktops, then jumping some of your fellow booth mates for a hug could be off-putting. Especially for ppl with gay-fobia - I even heard some opposed the Fluffy Bunny project as it might make young boys gay. Interesting concept - I've heard of ppl claiming to be able to 'heal' gay ppl into being hetero, so pink could 'heal' hetero's into gays? Who knows... Either way, a warning for you all - Frederik, despite his hugging and happy nature, is NOT gay, and I would keep your girlfriends away from him as he's quite the womanizer.

There were at least 10 more booth people I should talk about but this blog is getting long and potentially boring so I'll stop... Count on two more blogs with less ppl content and more thoughts over the next week ;-)

03 June, 2010


2 days ago I wrote about the booklet the KDE promo team has been working on.

I noticed a few contributions, really cool!

However, those ppl did not add themselves to the authors list in the document - you should :D

And of course - keep on doing this! I'm looking for some ppl to help out in creating the layout and stuff, meanwhile, the text must be finished...

01 June, 2010

more writing!

Hi all,

Found someone for the interview I asked about last time, thanks! You'll see his name on the dot soon ;-)

There is however another writing job I have which is a bit different. At the last KDE marketing sprint we started working on a booklet which has as goal to introduce newcomers to KDE and it's products. This booklet has been shaping up nicely but there are a few things which need some more work and some reviewing would be great. Let me include the todo here:

* Add a few succes stories!

* On the bottom, help is needed from a developer or someone familiar with development to give some clues on how developers can get involved - more practical things. And some teasers like "phonon makes multimedia easy" or something.

* There should be a few more games mentioned in the learn & play section, maybe also some mor edu?

* Communicate needs text about KDE PIM

* Create needs a bit more text about KWord, KSpread etc

* the first page with short texts is not complete yet.

* introduction needs to be discussed

* reviewing text

* Screenshots

* Layout

* final review

* printing and celebrating!

This booklet can be a great source of information to people completely unaware of who we are and what we do, and thus make a great addition to booth boxes. Try to look at it from that perspective - if you know little of computers and nothing of KDE, what would you like to know?

As you see I've put 'add a few success stories' on top - I think it is very important to show our audience what we have accomplished already. A big deployment or two would rock. I've already written a piece about KHTML vs WebKit, it needs review of course and having more such stories would be great.

And as usual: if you doubt you'd be helpful, add your ideas and text anyway. Maybe add a comment - but in general, others will go over it and it'll turn out much better and far more useful than you might think ;-)

The current text can be found here:

Special thanks to those who have already contributed - Luca Beltrame, Stuart Jarvis, Justin Kirby, Roger Pixley, Carl Symons, Vivek Prakash, Lydia Pintscher, Valerie Hoh, Pradeepto, Frederik Gladhorn, Daniel Laidig, Eckhart Woerner, Claudia Rauch AND YOU?

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions but keep in mind: pretty much anything is useful, really. Having some text to work with makes it very easy for some of us to go in and finish it up (for ex. Carl is real good at that). So just go ahead. Google docs (we're moving to Etherpad but this was started on G-docs) has nice rollback so don't worry about breaking stuff. Again, any help or any comments are welcome!