07 January, 2014

Building Converging UIs

What Convergence looked like in 2010
I just blogged about my article on linux.com about the just-released KDE Frameworks 5.

Converging Form Factors

On the Frameworks, one can soon expect to see releases of KDE's Plasma Workspaces. A Technology Preview of Plasma 2 has already been released and this ambitious project has not lost any of its goals. Today, I noted that ZDNet's Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols wrote about what he expects from Ubuntu in 2014. There, he quotes Jono Bacon talking about formfactor convergence.

Separating The Men From The Boys

I would argue that neither Microsoft, GNOME, nor Ubuntu/Canonical are even half as ambitious as the KDE Community in the area of convergence. They are all merely catching up to the state of KDE technology in 2010. In that year, the KDE community released Plasma Netbook, a plasma-based shell optimized for another form factor: the netbook. With far more advanced convergence than anybody today has yet shown: Plasma Netbook and Plasma Desktop share well over 90% of their code, as opposed to not even sharing toolkit or display shell (Ubuntu) and having a completely separate desktop (Microsoft Windows).On Plasma, widgets can dynamically adjust to the constraints of their environment, be it on a panel, free-form on the desktop, full-screen, in a window or in a tiled environment. And yes, the different form-factor optimized shells be switched on-the-fly. No separate login or account, no loss of functionality, no separate applications for each shell, nothing like that. It just works.

I understand what Microsoft is doing - trying to build a single user interface for vastly different devices. And I guess we've all seen how it does not work - Apple is smarter, in that regard. Underlying technology can of course be re-used but you simply can not make a UI which works equally well on a 75 DPI 24" screen with mouse & keyboard, on a 455 dpi touch phone, on a 300 DPI touch tablet and a 64" television with Kinect or something like that...

Instead, the Plasma team has build a technology which separates presentation from logic, allowing you to build UI's which adapt dynamically to the needs of the form factor.

Moving Forward

This technology will be brought to a new level with the release of Plasma Workspaces 2, where your workspace will be able to smoothly morph into a different form factor without even a hickup. So, when it comes to the convergence of formfactors, KDE is lightyears ahead of what the competition is even aiming for.

Did I say something about the power of innovating in the open? That's what I'm talking about.