16 July, 2014

It all comes together: no more Software Compilation but more KDE!

KDE 4.0 demo in Dresden, 2007 (short hair time, yes)
With the KDE 4.0 release we had the issue that everything was one big blob: the libraries, the desktop and the applications, all inter-dependent.

Back then, at the end of 2007, the libraries and many of the applications were in a very good shape. Especially the KDE Edu applications I remember: they were stable, pretty and awesome for many months already before the release and their developers were itching to get their code to users. I had made a blog post with cool video's of KDE edu apps in October 2007. Here is Kalzium at that point:

Unfortunately, the desktop, having undergone a HUGE rewrite, was not at that same level of quality. As I wrote later that Month:
"When I show people the state of Plasma, they're like "hmm, that's not good". So I then proceed to show the Edu and Games, cheers them right up."

But the last release of KDE had been in 2005 (!!) and after more than two years, we really wanted the new and improved apps to get out to users. The desktop was basically workable so we decided to release. Code that is not in users hands rots away...

We all know how that went - distributions shipped it as default and the internet erupted with hate.

Doing better now

So, for the 5 series, we split it all up: Frameworks 5.0 (the new name of our modularized libraries) was released last week, the desktop came out yesterday and the Applications still mostly have to start moving to Qt5/Frameworks 5... We weren't forced to release half-baked stuff but everything came 'when done'.

KDE is now People. And dragons.

Better separation: rebranding

That was possible because we rebranded 'KDE' to mean community in November of 2009. This created (over time...) separate brands  for 'Plasma', 'Applications' and 'Platform' (now 'Frameworks') which could release on their own. Could being the operative term here, as we kept releasing it together.

That created quite some branding confusion, also because we had not thought through all the issues we would bump into. So when we finally decoupled releases at the release of Plasma 4.11 (the latest release in the 4.x series) and the KDE Platform at 4.9 (although that got some serious updates since then and has kept increasing version number for packaging convenience), it was largely ignored.

Which in turn created some confusion when Frameworks 5.0 came out - several people asked 'where can I get KDE 5', expecting to run the desktop and applications already. Well, I'm quite OK with users saying 'I use KDE' as long as they mean Plasma and realize there is more to KDE than the desktop. Because when I say I use Microsoft, I am not lying. I've always been a huge fan... of their keyboards. Not joking, their operating system wasn't great last time I used it but I love the 'comfort curve' series of keyboards. They should stick to hardware, clearly their strongest point.

In hindsight, we probably better would have waited until there was a real need for the rebranding - like today, or in 2013, when Plasma stopped releasing. Then again, we did expect that to come soon - there already had been talks about disconnecting the releases, it just didn't happen. Well, hindsight is always 20-20, they say...

And as the title points out - there is no more need for the 'Software Compilation' term, which was invented to solve the confusion of 'KDE releases three separate things but all at once'. We no longer release the Applications, Desktop and Libraries at once...

Better communication

Another thing we changed is our communication. In the KDE 4 times, what we did was PROMO: being as positive as one could be ;-)

Since then, we've learned a little actual marketing. Perception management and fancy stuff like that. Including properly explaining what something is and is not ready for! That's why I wrote a known issues section for the Beta of Plasma including:

"With a substantial new toolkit stack below come exciting new crashes and problems that need time to be shaken out."

With a clear section on where we stand in the final release announcement on the dot (See Suitability and Updates on the bottom of the article) we have made clear what the state is - and that we don't think distributions should ship Plasma 5.0 as default. And distributions have picked up on this - at least neither Kubuntu nor openSUSE will ship their upcoming release based on Plasma 5.0.


Now, the future. Plasma 5.0 is out, and on a 3-month release cycle. Frameworks comes with a new version every month, the Applications are still at 4.13 with a beta of 4.14 out last week. After 4.14 is out, the work on a Frameworks 5/Qt 5 port will commence full-steam but some applications will be ready before others. How will we deal with that conundrum? I don't know yet. There might be two KDE Application releases for a while, as some applications will take longer to get ported than others.

But we're better positioned than ever to bring innovations to the Linux Desktop. So let's see what the future brings!

(Ok, I do have SOME thoughts on where KDE, is going, see Part 1 and Part 2)