MAR
5
2014

New Blue Systems Office Edinburgh

The Blue Systems office in Edinburgh has moved across The Meadows to the Grassmarket to a larger office which is also surrounded on two sides by curious artist collectives and the occasional hipster café. Hosted in Edinburgh's new technology incubator Codebase we are in another building which is nicer on the inside looking out, this time with a view of our local volcano Arthur's Seat.

FEB
17
2014

A Yakuake update: Frameworks 5, Wayland, More

Things have been rather quiet in Yakuake land for a while. 2014 is going to shake things up, though, so it's time for a brief look at what's been going on and where things are headed next.


Frameworks 5

Not long ago I pushed an initial port of Yakuake to Frameworks 5, the next generation of KDE's platform libraries, to Yakuake's git repository. The new code lives on a branch called frameworks for now.

Yakuake on Frameworks 5 is functional and free of the use of any deprecated APIs. The port is mostly complete, too, missing just a few more touches to the first run dialog and skin handling. Here's a screenshot:

Yakuake on Frameworks 5
Ah yup: Looks no different.


Wayland

One of the broader initatives the community is engaged in this year is enabling our workspaces and applications to use Wayland. Yakuake may just have a small role to play in that.

Historically, Yakuake's relationship with window managers has been plenty interesting. It's managed to crash several of the popular ones at one point or another; it's an unusual application with unusual behavior that exercises window manager code differently from more typical apps. More recently, it was perhaps the first non-workspace process to communicate and collaborate tightly with the compositor, asking KWin to perform the slide-in/out animations on its behalf if available.

The latter is a model for things to come. In Wayland, application windows know intentionally little about the environment they exist in, and instead have to petition and rely on the window manager for things like positioning with no recourse. Yakuake on X11 does this legwork by itself; on Wayland, the comm protocol to the window manager will have to be rich enough to allow for equivalent results.

Having Yakuake ported and ready will allow for it to serve as a useful testcase there.


General feature plans

Yakuake's theming system has been showing its age for a while, so I'm looking to implement a replacement for it. The new system will be based on QML, taking some inspiration from KWin's Aurorae decoration engine. The result should allow themes to support anti-aliased edges and shadows, along with much more flexible control over the placement of Yakuake's UI elements. Existing themes will continue to be supported however (by way of new-format theme that knows how to load and display the old ones -- the config UI will list both types transparently in the same list, though).

The other major feature that's been a long time coming is proper support for session restore. This has mostly been held back by missing functionality in the API of the Konsole component that provides Yakuake with terminal emulation. Unfortunately that situation remains unchanged for now, but I'm still hoping to eventually get around to some Konsole hacking to satisfy Yakuake's needs there.


Schedule thoughts

Frameworks 5 uptake in distributions has been very promising so far, with several distros (I'm aware of Fedora and Kubuntu, but there are no doubt others) packaging the preview releases soon after they were announced. It's still pre-release software, though, and APIs might still change until the stable release this summer. Until it's out, the repo's master branch will therefore continue to contain the KDE 4 codebase, and there will be another maintenance release cut from it sometime soon.

Development of the new theming system will be targeted at Qt 5 and Frameworks 5, however, due to significant API changes in the new Qt Quick and QML generation. As with the next KDE 4-based release there's currently no firm date for this - Aaron makes a good case for not rushing things - except to say it will be some time this year.

FEB
14
2014

No Licence Needed for Kubuntu Derivative Distributions

Early last year the Linux Mint developer told me he had been contacted by Canonical's community manager to tell him he needed to licence his use of the packages he used from Ubuntu. Now Ubuntu is free software and as an archive admin, I spend a lot of time reviewing everything that goes into Ubuntu to ensure it has freedom in its copyright. So I advised him to ignore the issue as being FUD.

FEB
10
2014

Talk and Interview at FOSDEM

Hacker Public Radio FOSDEM edition is up now for those wanting a podcast packaged full of geek interviews. My interview is 27 minutes in and talks of KDE, Kubuntu and how Baloo will make the KDE world slicker. MP3 file.

FEB
9
2014

KDE Plasma at the movies

For several years, I used to maintain a collection of clippings showing the KDE workspaces in use in interesting settings - popping up on TV shows, on public terminals in odd locations, in articles on leading scientific endeavours. All sorts of cool cases. More recently I haven't been collecting as diligently anymore, though, for perhaps the best possible reason: It's happening so frequently now that individual examples have lost much of their novelty.

But from time to time it still provides me with a (pleasant) shock to the system to see our software help others push the envelope and create amazing things. The latest example occurred just the other day, while I was watching the making-of documentary for Alfonso Cuarón's impressive film Gravity:

KDE workstation at Framestore

KDE workstation at Framestore

Framestore worked for several years to provide the majority of the film's effects shots, and their London-based offices appear filled to the brim with workstations running KDE Plasma. I think I may have even spotted Yakuake on a panel in there.

Interestingly, Framestore isn't the only London-based VFX house using KDE software. I previously collected a snapshot of Doctor Who VFX provider The Mill using Plasma Desktop in their work as well.

One factor driving this adoption is perhaps the synergy between our and the industry's extensive use of and familiarity with Qt - many high-end 3D modelling and video editing/compositing packages now use Qt for their UI, and often provide PyQt as convenient extensibility solution for in-house dev teams at the studios. The same is true of KDE. But I'd like to think providing a damn nice desktop experience also has something to do with it :).

In the thick of competition, or looking purely at market share data, it's sometimes easy to forget just how much real and compelling use the stuff we make is seeing in absolute terms. And the degree to which our software permeates the foundations that big chunks of our culture get built on top of.

It's nice to reflect on that now and then.

Gravity has been nominated for ten Academy Awards recently, including the Best Visual Effects category. I loved it, and have a feeling it has a pretty good chance.

JAN
29
2014

Homerun 1.2.0

Monday saw the release of version 1.2.0 of Homerun, now a collection of launcher interfaces for Plasma Workspaces, powered by a common foundation. If you're already familiar with, or even a happy user of Homerun this description of it might make you raise an eyebrow, so let's take a look at what's new in this version.


Homerun Kicker

Homerun Kicker
Tada.

The main addition in Homerun 1.2.0 is a second interface built atop Homerun's collection of data sources, the Homerun Kicker launcher menu shown above. Unlike the first Homerun interface, which is designed for use on the full screen or desktop background and meant to be both mouse- and finger-friendly (you can check it out here if you're new to Homerun or just need a memory boost), Homerun Kicker is a more traditional launcher menu design optimized for efficient use by mouse or touchscreen when placed on a panel.

The use of traditional, cascading popup menus is complemented by a sidebar strip in which application favorites and items related to power and session handling may be placed. Both types of items can be added, removed and reordered at will via mouse and menus, much like in the bigger, older brother.

It also has search, which - also a previously known Homerun feature - mines several different sources of data for your query. Unlike in the larger interface, however, results in Homerun Kicker are shown in dynamically created columns, one for each source:

Searching in Homerun Kicker
Mmmmm. All that data.

Homerun Kicker looks and should feel simple, but has a bunch of fairly neat things going on under the hood to achieve that goal. Optimization for efficient mouse use starts with the chosen layout, but doesn't end there: The handling of mouse input is smart enough to, for example, treat a diagonal move into a sub-menu differently from vertical movement, to avoid accidentally switching to a different category when only briefly grazing menu items. The result is a menu that hopefully feels solid, dependable and hassle-free.

Keyboard aficionados have no need to feel to feel left out, either: Arrow keys and other keyboard commands work as you'd expect from a menu. Upon opening Homerun Kicker keyboard input focus is placed on the search field, so the search-and-hit-return workflow familiar to Homerun users is supported here as well.

Another feature worth mentioning is support for setting a custom image as the launcher button. The image can be non-square, enabling greater visual variety and a wider mouse click target.


What else is new?

With both Homerun interfaces built on the same underlying framework, several of the new things in this release pop up in both of them. Acute eyes may have already spotted a "Recent Applications" entry in the first Homerun Kicker screenshot - this is backed by a new Homerun source that can of course also be placed on tabs in the screen-spanning Homerun interface. The same goes for "Power / Session"; having a combined listing of buttons many users mentally group together had been a popular user wish in the past.

The original Homerun interface is most often used as a fullscreen launcher, but thanks to the versatility of the Plasma Workspaces architecture can also be placed on the desktop background, where it is very useful in a tablet or hybrid laptop setting. Some users felt the Plasma Desktop Toolbox getting in their way in this usage mode. It's now hidden by default, but can be toggled on and off from the configuration menu.

There's also the usual collection of minor behavior improvements and bug fixes. One particularly nasty bug could lead to the wrong apps being launched when using the "All Installed Applications" source with a particular combination of sidebar filtering and a search query - that's fixed now.


Future plans

Homerun Kicker is included here as a first version that lacks some of the greater power known from its big brother. In particular, there's no graphical way to change the list and ordering of Homerun sources in the menu yet (though there's one big knob to disable the integration of non-apps data into search results if you don't want it). This is one obvious avenue for future versions to explore.

Those future versions may already be powered by Plasma Next by then - porting to Plasma Next (and therefore Qt 5 and Qt Quick 2) is on the immediate todo as well. The Plasma 1 version will continue to be supported with improvements and fixes until that transition is complete, however.

Some of the work put into Homerun Kicker and the experience gathered with it may also benefit the Plasma Next effort down the road. First reactions from the development period and the users of distributions that have already included Homerun Kicker in their default configuration indicate there's definitely an audience for a traditional menu option that integrates nicely with workspace theming, unlike the classic launcher menu widget currently bundled with Plasma Desktop. Replacing that widget with a derivative of the work accomplished here is one option that's being discussed at the moment.


Closing notes

Welp, that's it! Go grab the tarball or poke your favorite distro for an updated package. After checking out the goods consider providing your feedback. There's a #kde-homerun IRC channel on freenode you can stop by, and of course bugs as well as wishes can be reported at KDE Bugzilla.

JAN
13
2014

Tier 1 is a Slam Dunk

KDE Frameworks 5 tech preview shipped last week and we've been packaging furiously. This is all new packaging from scratch, none of our automated scripts we have for KDE SC. Tier 1 is in our experimental PPA for Trusty. Special thanks to Scarlett our newest Kubuntu Ninja who is doing a stormer.

JAN
7
2014

FOSDEM 2014

I'm going to FOSDEM for 2014, are you? FOSDEM is a massive free software meeting with more projects than you knew existed. We need help on the KDE stall. We also need visitors in the devroom. Finally we need KDE people to come and eat pizza on Saturday evening. Add yourself to the wiki page if you want to help KDE at FOSDEM.

DEC
27
2013

Photo Retrospective: Ubuntu

I'm done triaging old photos, here's some of my favourite Ubuntu themed ones from 2005 to 2009.

2005-04-18-sydney-geeks-asleep-oliver-andreas
The first Ubuntu conference I went to in Sydney featuring Andreas, one of the Kubuntu originators

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