25 April, 2013

Dear KDE Community!

Dear KDE Community,

meet the mailing list where you can now talk about non-technical topics relevant to our community: kde-community. From a debate about our next conference to discussing our collaboration with other organizations and our goals as KDE community, this list is for anything which does not fit on the KDE development lists.

The goals are described clear enough:

The purpose of the mailing list is to provide a place for non-technical information and discussions which are relevant to the KDE community as a whole. All people who consider themselves to be part of the KDE community are invited to join. Conversations on the mailing list are respectful, considerate, polite and constructive following our KDE Code of Conduct.

The list collects announcements, information and results from discussions in other places and offers a place to get feedback on non-technical questions or plans of relevance for the whole KDE community.

As the 'collects announcements, ...' part already hints at, we expect people to try and make a habit of summarizing discussions which do NOT take place in public on this list once a conclusion is reached. This should be the central place for KDE governance debate.

You can find the list and subscribe here.

History lesson

Summer last year Cornelius wrote a blog about setting up a kde-community mailing list. It had been discussed on the KDE e.V. list that it doesn't make much sense that we have no public place to discuss governance related things in KDE.

Most of these discussions take place on the private KDE e.V. mailing list. Mirko Boehm proposed to simply open that list: what is discussed there is relevant to the whole KDE community. While there was agreement on the principle of opening up, there are things which are discussed there that probably should not be open. They are few and far between but some discussions about financial or personal matters do benefit from a less public place. Some argued that public discussions can also harm our public profile and it came up that bikeshedding could get even worse.

An alternative was proposed by Jos vd Oever: create a new list and put discussions there, unless there is a strong need of keeping them private.

After this, however, the discussion kind'a died out (I am summarizing more than a handful of mails here...). The subject came up at the e.V. board meeting in Berlin and we agreed that there's no good reason to Just Do It™. If nobody likes the idea the list will remain empty. Natural Selection FTW! I went ahead, asked our Amazing Admins to set me up, configured it and made Cornelius and myself admins who will exact our vengeance on everybody we disagree with who misbehaves.

So that's the story. The result is the KDE Community mailing list on the KDE servers. Is it official? What, you active in KDE and you don't know how nonsensical that question is? As always, the list will have to prove itself... I can only ask: please subscribe and bring your non-technical questions, comments, reminders and proposals to this list. We'll yell at the folks on the internal e.V. list if they bring things there which should be public.

And don't forget: if you want to talk to each other in person, this is where you do it. Go and book ;-)

Looking forward to your hugs at Akademy!

21 April, 2013

Klyde coolness update

I've heard Will Stephenson, Klaas Freitag and Frank Karlitschek talk about a lighter and/or easier KDE based desktop forever. And while I shared the ambition, implementing it is always easier said than done.

So when Will asked me to join his Klyde Hackweek project, I thought - awesomeness, let's try and finally move something forward! And that happened, we had lots of fun and I learned some real packaging tricks. I'll bore you with epic details at a later time ;-)

We realize the idea of Klyde and what we aim to do is a tad vague so Will and I had a long chat yesterday and came up with some more details about our focus.

1. Modular for everybody

The first goal is to make everything more modular. The openSUSE KDE team did a huge effor here, simplifying dependencies so you can have a Plasma Desktop without most applets, Activities, Nepomuk or Akonadi. Of course, that means you give up on good and useful functionality but reality is that we don't always need everything. This way the functionality is optional and this will hopefully become the default packaging state for openSUSE. What you don't use will not add menu items, widgets and memory usage to your system.

By default, a 'Klyde' desktop comes with none of the above-mentioned things and only a minimum of applications and applets. But upon installation of Activities the widget will be added to your panel and Akonadi will fire up the first time you start up KMail or Akregator!

2. Low footprint if you want

We know that 'lightweight' is not easy to define and it is hard to do scientific measurements of memory usage and all that.

Currently, the Klyde settings have some obvious things (disabling animations, disabling some services etcetera) and lots of temporary choices (plastique as widget style for example). We WANT to make informed choices here and input from developers on what is faster (even if that means loosing some functionality or eyecandy) is very much welcome. And we realize work will be needed: we would greatly welcome help creating a fast and efficient widget style, for example.

3. Simple by default

systemsettings simplified.
Systemsettings exposes about 80 different modules to the user. Some of these you'll (almost) never use. And many which, from an user point of view, belong in one place (like theming) are split over several categories due to technical implementation details. It is noticeable that this was designed from the technology up, not from the user requirements down. I spend a big part of my hackweek figuring out how these categories are populated and the modules are shown, then creating an alternative tree with only about 35 modules. Will made a patch to allow systemsettings to either show the basic or the full set of KCM's.

This is an example of what we mean by simple, although we're not done yet. Ideally, these and other improvements will go upstream and we intend to put work into that.

Note that this simplification, in no way, can be scientific. Of course 30 KCM modules is more 'simple' than 80 but it is very much a matter of taste to decide which ones need to be there and which ones don't. That's why we want to put effort in having our cake and eating it too: creating a proper theming KCM might allow us to get rid of a whole raft of theming-related KCM's, for example. Yup, we're still KDE people... But in other places, we are willing to make hard choices based on common sense, research and simply our taste. Unless a designer can convince us he/she Is Right™ we reserve the right to make bad decisions.


We're open for feedback and would love to hear input. Please remember that we're trying to get stuff done so if you have input, put in the effort to make it useful. Have mockups, refer to what others do or scientific facts. Remember that we are not trying to create a desktop for experienced computer users and tinkerers: they can easily morph the normal Plasma Desktop into what they want. It's what I do myself, its what the vast majority of people who read this do.

Instead we aim for a wide cross-section of people who don't want to put in the cognitive effort to understand abstract stuff like virtual desktops or activities. If you understand and use these things to be more productive (which I do myself, by the way), you're not our target audience.

If you want to help out, join the #opensuse-kde channel on freenode and check out our trello board.

Enough talk

Enough talk? Wanna try it? Yeah, it ain't perfect yet, but I've created an initial Studio image and published it in the Gallery. It can be installed, if you insist, but this is a beginning of a work in progress: it will eat babies whenever it can.

Click to go to SUSE Studio for the testing appliance.

About packages and a repo, this isn't easy as you would either have to remove packages by hand or start with a very basic system with only X for this to work. We're looking for a solution there ;-)

EDIT: User and root password for the appliance are the SUSE Studio default 'linux'.

Have fun with it ;-)

Klyde in a VM.

11 April, 2013

Taking stuff apart

Last Saturday, I took apart an old and broken laptop of mine: a Sony Vaio VGN-TZ31XN. That was once a top of the line executive laptop. I bought it in 2009 when the model had just been discontinued and superseded by a new one, so it wasn't too expensive.

The laptop had an 11" 1366x768 screen, a 1.2 ghz Core2duo, 2GB of ram and 120 GB hard drive. The reason I paid 1000 Euro for such lowly specs is that it had a weight of 1.25 kg, doing about 6 hours on a battery charge.

Impressive piece of tech

I've been wanting a new laptop since I started to bump into performance issues during 2011. 2 GB of ram is not sufficient in a time of HTML5 - there are web pages which eat several hundreds mbs of ram. And unfortunately the Linux desktop isn't getting lighter either (it's part of why I decided to help Will and Klaas with Klyde for hackweek). And I've been doing some light video editing lately as well as more image editing. So when the screen of my laptop finally gave beginning of last year, I simply ordered my new Samsung Series 9. That Series 9 was actually more expensive than the Sony (prices have gone down since then). It is a step forward, but it is sad that it took the IT world over 5 years to finally eclipse what Sony did in 2007. And not even on every level - my Sony included a DVD burner, 3-antenna wifi, TWO card readers, mini-PCI-express, 120 GB spinning rust, FULL ethernet and VGA ports, Firewire and a removable battery in barely 100 gram more!

Opening up

When you open up the Sony, it becomes apparent how they managed to cram so much functionality (essentially everything a 'normal' laptop offers) in such a thin enclosure: they must have worked with the assumption of an unlimited budget. Seriously, it is clear why this laptop was over 2K: the target user group seemed to be entirely unwilling to compromise on features. This thing is far more complicated inside than modern ultrabooks. My Samsung S9 is mostly battery inside: it has a single, laptop-wide motherboard with 2 boards (wifi and mSATA) attached to it.

Nothing compared to the Sony: taking it apart reveals a square motherboard, a battery-power related board inside a casing, wifi board (the usual), blue-tooth board (tiny), audio board (2 chips & capacitors, audio in/out, 2 speakers, microphone all attached), 2xUSB+card reader board, touchpad board (the touchpad itself also has logic, of course), quick function keys board, 2 more small board I can't identify. Then the DVD burner has its own internal boards (2) and one on the outside, apparently to interface between the mobo and the dvd burner. Oh, and of course, memory is separate and can be replaced. The webcam also has its own 4 cm long/half wide/double sided board.

Crazy, huh? All that is connected via a myriad of flat cables, tied with tape and thermal pads everywhere, and of course screwed. Total nr of screws in this laptop is 81 and I'm sure I missed a few. Here's me betting the Series 9 doesn't even have half of that.

Considering the progress of technology, I would say that the Sony Vaio VGN-TZ31XN is far more a marvel of technology then the Series 9. Yes, the Series 9 is awesome: 1.15 kg, thinner, 13.3" screen with a higher resolution, faster CPU etcetera. Much quieter, too. But considering it is about 5 years newer it just makes the work by the Sony engineers around 2007 all the more impressive.

BTW, Sony was proud of the use of 'carbon fibre', something I've never taken serious: the laptop felt plastic all over. But after taking the entire thing apart, the top and bottom both turned out to be made of a VERY sturdy, extremely thin slap of what I can only guess is that famous Carbon Fibre. Yeah, most of the laptop is plastic, but they saved weight for screen and bottom, at least. It's just not noticeable from the outside...

And I enjoyed the breaking up of everything. I spend quite some time looking at the more intricate parts - the DVD drive laser mechanism is quite intriguing and trying to figure out what the chips on all the little boards do was also interesting. Of course, almost everything is broken and I wouldn't be able to put this thing back if my life depended on it!

What's left

Ossi, who paid us a surprise-visit yesterday, almost took the mother board as the power converters on it were apparently interesting, but decided he had enough crap at home. However, if you care for 2Gb PC2-5300-555 laptop ram, you can come and get it. I'll keep the ABGN Intel wifi card which I will probably use for my next computer build and the 32Gb SSD & 120 mb hard drive. I have no idea if the screen is re-usable, but in case it is - I've got a thin 11" 1366*768 high brightness, led backlit screen here for who's interested ;-)

I will trow both the screen and the memory away by the beginning of next week so if you can use it, let me know quickly so I can keep it around.