APR
23
2017

Current state of Babe

A better view of this post can be found here:
https://medium.com/@temisclopeolimac/current-state-of-babe-9fb56ce16ac6

To continue my last post about Babe [1] where I wrote about a little of its history, in this new entry (I’ve now switched from the KDE blogs to Medium) I will tell you about the current state of Babe and the features implemented so far.
[1] https://blogs.kde.org/2017/04/14/introducing-babe-history

So welcome to this walk through Babe:

APR
14
2017

Introducing Babe - History

https://babe.kde.org/

This is my very first post for KDE blogs and it is also my very first application. So when I sit down to think about what to write about I thought I would like to tell you all about how and why I wanted to start coding and then why I decided to create a (yet another (i know)) music player, specially made for KDE/Plasma.

So here comes the story:

APR
6
2017

Complex text input in Plasma

Binary keyboard
Surprisingly not enough

A brief note: If you're a developer or user of input methods in the free desktop space, or just interested in learning about "How does typing Chinese work anyway?", you might be interested in a discussion we're now having on the plasma-devel mailing list. In my opening mail I've tried to provide a general overview about what input methods are used for, how they work, who they benefit, and what we must do to improve support for them in KDE Plasma.

Bringing high-quality text input to as many language users as possible, as well as surfacing functionality such as Emoji input and word completion in a better way, is something we increasingly care about. With the situation around complex text input on Wayland and specifically KWin still in a state of flux and needing-to-crystallize, we're looking to form closer ties with developers and users in this space. Feel free to chime in on the list or hang out with us in #plasma on freenode.

APR
3
2017

Simon 0.4.80 alpha released

The first version (0.4.80) towards Simon 0.5.0 is out in the wilds. Please download the source code, test it and send us feedback.

Some new features are:

MAR
22
2017

Looking for a job ?

Are you looking for a C++/Qt/Linux developer job in Germany ?
Then maybe this is something for you: Sharp Reflections

I'm looking forward to hear from you. :-)
Alex

MAR
13
2017

New life in Simon speech recognition

As my blog as FSFE Fellow No. 1 is temporarily not aggregated on planet.kde.org and my private blog about woodwork (German only) currently only tells about a wooden staircase (but soon again about wooden jewelry) I'm building I found a new place for my KDE (non-Randa) related stuff: KDE Blogs. Thanks to the KDE Sysadmin team for the quick setup!

MAR
10
2017

Fear not, OMG! Ubuntu! You will bounce again!

Serving the quadruped audience

Intrepid journalist Joey Sneddon over at OMG! Ubuntu! recently pointed out to us that Plasma 5 is currently not doing so well when it comes to serving an important user demographic - bored cats!

Indeed, Plasma 5.0 cost them (and us) the Bouncy Ball widget. And the reasoning mentioned in the article ([...] when trying to develop a professional experience toys and gimicks aren’t a good thing to be shipping by default [...]) is actually pretty solid I think. Hmm.

Have we lost our bounce forever? No!

But! These days we have the sexy KDE Store going on, which is a great place to put toys and gimmicks (along with neat menus).

So it's back! Behold the demo:

Bouncy Ball v2.0 on Plasma 5
Bouncy Ball v2.0 on Plasma 5

You can grab it now for your Plasma 5 via Add Widgets... in your desktop menu and then Get new widgets in the Widget Explorer, or check out the Bouncy Ball store page.

Now for some additional fine print, though: I wrote this at ludicrous speed over a Friday night, and it's not well-tested. It behaves a little quirky sometimes (the goal was to match the original closely, but I didn't have a running KDE 4 to refer to). And despite the v2.0 moniker, it's still missing some of the features of the old Ball, including auto-bounce and that satisfying Boing! sound on collisions. I went with v2.0 in honor of the heritage - I'll polish it and add back the missing features a little later!

Update Bouncy Ball v2.1 is now on the store with sound support, auto-bounce, much better mouse response, a configurable simulation tick and a few bugfixes!

MAR
1
2017

Plasma 5.10: Folder View as default desktop mode

Plasma with desktop icons
New defaults: Plasma 5.10 with desktop icons

A brief history lesson

To set the stage, we need to briefly recap some of the problems with the KDE 3.x desktop that (among others) Plasma initially set out to solve.

In the KDE 3.x desktop, three separate applications performed the duties of today's Plasma shell. kicker was in charge of putting panels on screen edges, kdesktop put wallpapers and desktop icons on screens, and SuperKaramba allowed for (quite shakily) putting widget windows in an extra layer between the desktop and application windows. kdesktop was essentially non-extensible (i.e. you couldn't make it put anything other than icons on the desktop by installing an add-on of some kind), while kicker and SuperKaramba could be extended by new plugins at runtime, but using incompatible plugin formats that couldn't share any code and had to do their work using entirely different sets of APIs.

With Plasma 4.0, things got a lot better. Plasma widgets need to be written only once, using one set of APIs, and can then be added to both the desktop and to panels - tuning their UI to their respective surroundings. Moreover, things like the desktop and panels themselves are plugins as well, and can be similarly swapped out (allowing us to make very different UIs for different devices within the same framework). And multiple plugin can share the same data sources in the back, also cutting down on overhead.

Enter Folder View

Folder View is one of the bundled plugins, and it illustrates many of the above concepts. It does what kdesktop used to do - visualize folder contents. But not only can you use it to put icons on the desktop, you can also put additional Folder View widgets on top of that desktop, or put Folder View in your panel, all of them showing different folders. In the panel, it will usually take the form of a button that brings up a popup (which can use either list or icon view modes), but it will expand into the panel itself if the panel is roomy enough, allowing even for a file system sidebar.

No more icons on the desktop?

Back in Plasma 4.0, we made the decision not to use Folder View as the default desktop layout (default being the operative term - users could change this in config, returning to a more traditional icon desktop). Instead, we left the desktop surface empty by default, and had Plasma add a Folder View widget on top of it.

We had reasons for that. We wanted to let users know about Plasma's new abilities: highlight its more modular nature, encourage experimenting with new setups and personalized mix-and-match. We didn't want the desktop to be constrained by the skeuomorphic desktop metaphor that at the time looked like it might well be on the way out (as indicated e.g. by a pervasive shift from spatial to browser-style file management across systems). It was exciting to ponder what things might fill the void left by shedding those icons.

Yes - icons on the desktop

More recent history has shown, however: Icons are here to stay. In mobile, there's been an explosion of new platforms that have really doubled-down on the icons-on-the-homescreen thing, making it more popular than ever. Many of those platforms also mix in widgets as we do, meaning nine years after 4.0, both our long-time and our still to-be-recruited users get all of this with ease now. We no longer need to try so hard when it comes to doing the onboarding for Plasma's key concepts.

The evolved landscape leads us to believe that Folder View is now the better default, and this is what Plasma 5.10 will be shipping (some distributions, of course, have beaten us to this, or have always done so). It will still be possible to have an empty desktop (it's that "Layout" option in the desktop settings), but it's a role-reversal in what's opt-in and what's opt-out. Likewise, extending Plasma with new desktop layouts is of course also still possible.

Better icons on the desktop

Given Plasma 5's incarnation of Folder View is about to be put front and center, we're putting a lot of effort into making it really shine throughout the 5.10 development cycle. Performance has been improved greatly. We've been thoroughly auditing for interaction issues, sorting through feedback and talking to people about how they use Folder View. This has lead to numerous small improvements, often subtle, that improve the feel of using Folder View - e.g. tuning the sizes of various hitboxes and hitpoints to make rectangle selections and dragging icons around that extra bit less cumbersome. Sizes and spacing have been tweaked as well in response user feedback, resulting in a tighter icon grid than before. And there's even some cool new functionality as well.

How you can help

We're committed to making the default experience of Plasma 5.10 - desktop icons included - rock more than ever. If you want to help, several distributions offer live images or packages of current development snapshots. Use them to take a long good look at Folder View, and then let us know about your experience!

JAN
31
2017

Plasma 5.10: Spring-loading in Folder View; performance work

I was sorely remiss not to blog more during the Plasma 5.9 dev cycle. While 5.9 packs a fair amount of nice new features (e.g. here's the widget gallery in Application Dashboard at some point during development), there was not a peep of them on this blog. Let me do better and start early this time! (With 5.9 out today ...)

Folder View: Spring-loading

Spring-loading in Folder View
Spring-loading functionality in Plasma 5.10's Folder View (click for YouTube)

Folder View in Plasma 5.10 will allow you to navigate folders by hovering above them during drag and drop. This is supported in all three modes (desktop layout, desktop widget, panel widget), and pretty damn convenient. It's a well-known feature from Dolphin, of course, and now also supported in Plasma's other major file browsing interface.

Folder View packs a lot of functionality - at some point I should write a tips & tricks blog on some of the lesser known features and how they can improve your workflow.

Performance work in Folder View ... and elsewhere!

But that's not all! I've also been busy performance-auditing the Folder View codebase lately, and was able to extract many savings. Expect massively faster performance scrolling big folders in big Folder View widgets, lower latencies when navigating folders, and greatly improved Plasma startup time when using Folder View widgets on the desktop. In the case of big folder + big widget, a 5.10 Folder View will also use quite a bit less memory.

I've done similar analysis of other applets, e.g. the Task Manager and the Pager, and done both smaller improvements or looked into more fundamental Qt-level issues that need addressing to speed up our UIs further.

Others on the Plasma team have been up to similar work, with many performance improvements - from small to quite large - on their way into our libraries. They improve startup time as well as various latencies when putting bits of UI on the screen.

While it's still very early in the 5.10 cycle, and it won't be shy on features by the end, performance optimization is already emerging as a major theme for that upcoming release. That's likely a sign of Plasma 5's continuing maturation - we're now starting to get around to thoroughly tuning the things we've built and rely on.

JAN
30
2017

Simple Menu launcher on KDE Store

Example screenshot for Simple Menu v1.0
Simple Menu v1.0

Quite a while ago already I wrote a launcher menu widget named Simple Menu. It's using the same backend I wrote for our bundled launchers, and it's a little bit like Application Dashboard scaled down into a small floating window, plus nifty horizontal pagination. It's also really simple and fast.

While some distributions packaged it (e.g. Netrunner Linux), it's never been released properly and released - until now! Starting today, you can find Simple Menu on the KDE Store and install it via Add Widgets... -> Get new widgets in your Plasma.

Please note that Simple Menu requires Plasma v5.9 (to be released tomorrow). Actual v5.9, not the v5.9 Beta - it relies on fixes made after the Beta release.

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