Tag Archives: netbook

More on netbooks, devices and everything


Memory is starting to be fuzzy already, so, since i promised a blog about the same topics on my talk about the netbook, here it is, mostly because the netbook project (but more important its implications in helping Plasma being ported and be optimized for a long spectrum of devices) has really soft spot in my hearth.

We started from the most familiar non-desktop platform: The netbooks, but…

Aren’t netbooks just underpowered little laptops? Indeed today are sold like that, with just still XP or Windows 7 preinstalled, but that’s the reason the interest in them is decreased recently. they are just not good general purpose machines.

But, they are pretty good as devices that can be used on the move to look at online content such as news, emails or social networks, and ultimately as a communication tool, rather that a content production workstation.

KDE SC and Plasma:why?

We still hear again and again that KDE is to heavy and too bloated to run on any modest hardware. Of course technically the situation can be improved and it will, for instance the platform profiles that are being cooked right now will be able to provide a law fat (as in Kevin words πŸ™‚ you will find information about that in the upcoming future on the planet.

n the other hand, complaints are often not completely true, we need better communication about what the advantages of a KDE based solution are, and where the problems are: we pushes the edges of what all the layers of our platform can do, Being Qt, X, or graphics drivers, due to our hard beating the quality of the whole stack is really increasing (and this funningly enough is benefiting non KDE users as well).

About Plasma, it’s the primary UI on desktop, can be on completely different devices too?

Yes, because the Plasma library was designed with no assumptions on a particular form factor in mind. We started from netbooks to taste the waters, because was the less alien one and because we can provide a rich and complete user experience from day one.

What do you want?

Why Plasma can be good on a netbook, on a mediacenter, on a mobile phone?
because it can give people what they want, both to users that actually get to use it and developers, that want to create the most wonderful application in the world with it.


So what users want? they want something useful. Now “useful” can mean different things in different form factors. On a netbook, and even more so on tablets and smartphones, is to be efficient instruments of communication and content fetching, perfect web clients, better than even just a browser.

They want to feel in control: the day for instance the facebook interface will change without them being able to choose they will get pissed, with rich clients there is always a slightly bigger degree of choice.

They want also something beautiful: between two systems that “just work” they will choose the one they find more aesthetically pleasing, even if it’s not technically the best, it’s irrational but it’s the human nature.


They want a powerful framework to build powerful applications as quickly as possible, Plasma offers a series of common components that makes the life of developers as easy as possible.

Plasma is heavily based on a strong separation between data and the visualization.

Everything in plasma is a plugin the data plugins are Data

Everything you see in Plasma is based on Svg, it’s theme engine makes easy to customize a potentially resolution independent widget set while maintaining pixel perfection.

Its widget set is based on QGraphicsView, like the other Qt widget sets conceived for the mobile, and is possible to integrate and use it together with them.

We have also a flick able scroll widget as well a flick able QtWebkit based one, that is very important, since the future on more and more devices is the touchscreen.

Plasmoids (or plasma widget, more generally), everything you see in a Plasma environment is one of those plugins. they can be specific for a certain formfactor, like kickoff or the taskbar, or they can be quite flexible, like the microblogging plasmoid.

They are done to work well in the desktop, panel, the netbook newspaper, as standalone little windows invoked from krunner (new from 4.5).

So, what about the netbook again?

First thing:window management: the desktop metaphor doesn’t work very well there…

KWin behaves slightly differently there, windows are maximized by default, maximize windows don’t have borders, and the panel is auto hide by default, so quite a lot of pixels are saved for the app

The boundary between primary UI and applications becomes blurred when some of the content can be fetched directly from the desktop, so it becomes a normal window like an application.

Search and Launch

After some usability tests done at Indt last year, what emerged is that Search is more intuitive than browsing trough many items in categories and subcategories. Search and launch uses all the search plugins of KRunner, even if is a completely different UI.

There is still a menu, but it’s flat, doesn’t have tree structure, that doesn’t work well on the human brain.

Of course uses flicking widgets and has an extensive support of drag and drop, that makes quite convenient to use it a mouse or even a stylus.

Netbook: Newspaper

Also the main widget view for the netbook is based on flicking widgets, this gives an infinite vertical space for our widgets, because the free layout of a desktop isn’t space-efficient enough for a small screen, so a layout that can be “browsed” like exactly an actual newspaper, feels more natural there.


What the future reserves us? We need more widgets, especially PIM related, to make the “newspaper” really useful, a GSoc project is helping in this.

Also, the dataengines needs to cache their data for when the network connection is not available, there is a GSoc project working on this too.

Last two points, we need to expand on other devices, because I think netbooks won’t stay the way they are today, they will probably not converge with tablets, but for sure be strongly influenced by them, or become something even different.

Last but not least, the newspaper concept spawned some unintended at first but really interesting developments: two GSoc projects around Kontact and Skrooge, as well some work on KDevelop to provide a “dashboard” of useful widgets in standard desktop applications.

Akademy talk: The KDE Plasma device spectrum: netbooks and mediacenters


I’ll give a talk at Akademy together with Alessandro Diaferia, so the topc can be easily guessable πŸ™‚

We’ll talk about the adaption of Plasma to completely different use cases to its usual dress, that is to be the main user interface of a desktop system.

In particular i’ll talk more about the Netbook Shell and Alessandro will talk about the media center project.

I’ll leave Alessandro going in more details on the mediacenter, I’ll try instead to answer to some question, some generic, about porting plasma on different devices some specific to the Netbook use case:

  • Why netbooks need something different?
  • Why KDE SC is a good platform on non desktop devices?
  • What Plasma has to offer there?
  • What has to offer to users?
  • What about toys for developers?
  • What are the components of the Netbook shell and why they are designed the way they are?

It will be on Saturday 3 July, 17:45, at the mobile track, stay tuned πŸ˜€

Converging minds


Sometimes when times are ready some ideas really want to come up and be used

Without calling the examples in the history of science, that is quite a bit exagerated here, in the recent history of computing, at all levels from low level stuff to the UI.

this happened over and over again, because of advancement in hardware that makes something possible, because a certain fraework matured enough, because some projects take inspiration from another one, maybe with changes that may improve over the original one or may get it worse (that’s all about the evolution in nature is btw) or some times they just pop out in the same moment even if one doesn’t really know about each others work.

As a result, the evolution follows very similar steps on several quite different platform.

I’ve tought about it quite a lot when i seen this video:

(no, don’t have other formats since that video isn’t mine)

This is a preview video of the user interface intended for the MeeGo distribution to run on tablet devices. The main “primary” UI shows two “pages”, one is a grid of icons with an optional search field that has been seen in several places already, from the very very old mobile devices such as the first Palms to things like The iPhone or the Plasma Netbook Search and Launch interface (where our search functionality is quite more powerful than just searching applications to launch)

The second interesting “page” is a space where is possible to have widgets that connects to webservices, list your media files, PIM data etc.. does this ring a bell?

This is quite similar to the netbook “Newspaper” ui, there is quite different, instead of being two columns that scrolls vertically, it’s one single row that scrolls horizontally, because when you have only touch as input, it’s indeed a way to use it quite more convenient.

Now, what’s interesting, that in prevision of adapting pieces of the netbook ui on devices like tablets, there is an hidden mode in the netbook ui that permits exactly this behaviour. In not suspect times (November 2009) i did shot a screencast that shown also that feature among other things (go to 2:39 to see it):

OGG version

Yes, it’s quite funny to see this video now, since the project came quite a long way in the meantime and so it works way more smootly, but it shows the idea already basically working.

In KDE SC 4.5 the newspaper ui as well the other components received quite some love, so now the general usage feels much more smooth, even this hidden just-a-little-experimental feature of the newspaper, so for today I’m leaving you with a brand new video of this kind of interface as is in today’s trunk (and SC 4.5) running on the usual low powered VIA tablet:

OGG version

Oh, almost forgetting, of course:

I'm going to Akademy

Netbook and performance


Probably I should had written this little notice uhm, a quite while :), anyways, it’s quite technical but here there are a little hint on how to make the Netbook shell a garzillion times faster, if you’re hit by an unfortunate series of circumstances that makes it run sloooowly πŸ™‚

Why on some netbooks it runs slow

As shown here, The Plasma Netbook shell can be quite fast on a standard netbook, however many are experiencing it going rather slow. Why?

Qt can use different graphics backends to render the graphics, now on X11 systems the default is the one that is called surprisingly enough, X11, that relies heavily on XLib and XRender. Now, this sounds allgreat, but two things tends to happen.

If the Xrender acceleration of the video drivers is pretty poor, things tend to slow down.

Second, if QPainter hits some code patch that aren’t directly implemented via the X11 graphics system it will have to fall back to another paint system: raster, that is totally software based, so pixmap-to-image conversion (and memory copy) is involved (and is necessary, to not actually lose features depending on what graphics system you’re on), and things slow down.

Now, with Intel drivers things seem to not go soo well, especially for items clipping: that’s unfortunately what’s used more heavily in Plasma Netbook πŸ™‚ the newspaper and the search and launch result works as follows: a smaller QGraphicsWidget contains a bigger one, that contains the actual contents that could be the plasmoids of the newspaper for instance. the outer widget has a particular flag that enables clipping, so what overflows from the parent widget won’t be actually drawn.

with Intel drivers and the X11 graphics system this seems to be pretty fast until the parent widget is of a certain size, then performance degrades significantly pretty quickly.

The actual how to

So the alternative is to use the raster graphicssystem from the start, that is really fast (especially if one think about that is completely software based rendering) there are basically 3 ways to do it:

the application can be invoked with the graphicssystem commanline switch, so:

plasma-netbook -graphicssystem raster

But this has to be done every time, or Qt can be configured at build time to use this as default (some distributions such as Gentoo or MeeGo actually do this) but will have the effect on every Qt application.

So I’ve added a config file option in Plasma Netbook to use it as default even if Qt has X11 as default: with Plasma Netbook not running, edit the file

~/.kde/share/config/plasma-netbookrc (in some distributions could be ~/.kde4 instead)

And add the following line:


That’s it πŸ™‚

Here is a video that compares before and after on the usual EeePC 1005ha, with a bright note: the difference isn’t anymore so noticeable like it was used to some months ago, even tough it’s still makes the difference.

OGG version

Why isn’t the default?

Two reasons: it’s still quite unstable sometimes, overall with X11 Plasma (and other Kde apps as well) seems to (still) be more stable.

But most importat, as said it’s purely software based, so it could be not so gentle on the CPU (so with the battery life). I mean, it’s impressive how much it’s efficient, but will never belike a working gpu based solution. So if you aren’t running on the problem described before, it’s probably better you keep it as is.

So there is hope for the future?

Absolutely! a still experimental new graphics system is in the works, using this time OpenGL. The whole application (any Qt one actually) can be run completely with OpenGl drawing with the -graphicssystem opengl, or just a QGraphicsView can use it (by using a QGLWidget as viewport). That’s exactly what happens if you start Plasma Netbook with

plasma-netbook --opengl

This works in the new born Plasma Mobile too by the way. and is a great hope especially in those two sheels, since GPUs of small devices are designed to be not soo fast, but to be very low power, a bit less than the cpu, actually.

Right now, as in KDE SC 4.5 and Qt 4.6/4.7 is still not for everyday use, is still not so stable and there are some graphical glithces (this actually varies from a graphics driver/video card model like crazy) but what is encouraging is that since this feature was introduced (Qt 4.4) it came a very long way, it’s really sooo better than when it was originally out.

Plasma Netbook 4.5


So, it was pretty a long time since the last time I blogged about the KDE Plasma Netbook project… what’s going on on that? you wanna videos?, you’ll get videos πŸ™‚

This doesn’t mean it’s stopped. Au contraire my friends, since 4.4, many of its parts were rethought and redesigned. Some of those changes are quite visible at a UI level, some other are more under the hood, but contribute to give to it a more “finished” look and feel to it.

Alongside KDE SC 4.4 the first version of the Netbook Shell was released, and while it was a really big achievement for us it was still at a really early stage: it had to be released (early and often, they say :)) but now things begin to really get serious.

We made a step back and looked at it, asked ourselves where we want it to go and what purpose it will have to serve (in brief: developer sprints are very, very useful :p)

When we started the project Netbooks were a certain defined thing: underpowered device (low price, weight and power consumption), compact size (high portability) and a very targeted use case: they are mostly Internet devices, or a platform to run very simple applications, so more of a secondary machine for casual use rather that a proper laptop.

In the meantime they have changed, they are more near to a laptop, with bigger (but not actually big) screens and almost normal hard drives.

So, they really have changed so much? yes and no. We can’t afford for this reason to be “less careful” to issues like screen size or power consumption, because despite how it could look, they still continue to be quite different beasts compared to laptops.

Computing power issues aren’t going to go away anytime soon, and even if tomorrow morning netbooks will have a resolution of 1920×1080 or 3 times more, 10 inches are going to remain 10 inches: your eyes don’t zoom.

So, what we will see in this area in the future?

  • More diversification: bigger screen with Atom and smaller screens with ARM (will it actually happen? I hope so)
  • More original devices: clamshell notebook-like as usual, opposed to tablet form factors: so two totally different types of user interfaces will be needed, right? Well, the world could be more complex (and interesting) that that.
  • So, there will be more kinds of devices, some of them will be addressed by Plasma Netbook, some of them by Plasma Mobile.

So, after thinking about it for a moment the natural process is to pass from the tough that this was not as different of our every day computing as we thought to the certainly that the challenges that will be faced will be way more than ever thought.

So, let’s not be so far-fetched and let’s see what are the new shiny things that will ship in KDE Plasma Netbook Shell 4.5.

Faster. Several optimizations have been done on the shell itself and on the Search and Launch activity, (alongside the continuous optimization work it is being done in Qt, especially on the QGraphicsView features we put on a pretty tough stress test:)) Now the general usage and feeling should be a lot snappier and responsive.

Search and Launch. It uses a different way to fetch the data used in the menus, so they should be a lot more accurate now.

Moreover, extensive drag and drop support has been added. This makes it more intuitive to use and more friendly on a touch screen device. On the video below you can see it used on a normal netbook, on the usual 800MHz little tablet with Moblin and on a bigger tablet with an 1GHz Via processor (note here the video driver is the plain old vesa but it’s running pretty decently anyways). 3 completely different devices, same UI, of which some elements are starting to translate very well across all three, some of them still not, and here is where the extremely modular architecture of Plasma comes to its full power. just replace the little elements that interaction wise are device specific.

Last but not least you can see there also that many of the layout and behavior rough edges that were previously in the icon view have been solved.

OGG version

Newspaper. The main information hub of Plasma-netbook, shown in the video below. As all the Plasma “flickable” scroll areas, uses brand new code (by our very best graphics ninja, actually πŸ˜‰ to handle the touch and the flicking in a much better way.

Now,to improve both the looks and the usability of it, the widgets appear perfectly aligned in a 2×2 grid (it’s still possible to have as many columns and rows as we want by the way). By interacting on a widget, it will expand to take up to the whole screen height, so offering a “maximized” view of it, that reflects the concept that now your attention is on that particular one (so, trascuring for a while the other ones, albeit still reachable)

the page can behave like this or all the widgets can be “maximized” like before, eliminating all the internal scrolling areas leaving only the big external one. this will probably be the preferred behavior on touch screens.

OGG version

Other than that, there is the quite important addition of javascript support I talked about in the last entry: it will make personalization (by distributors and in the future directly by users as well) very very easy.

Script your netbook


This post is of the boring-with code type, but if you are a distribution packager read till the end, it’s important πŸ™‚

As said by Aaron some days ago, now Plasma can be controlled vith Javascript code.

This is useful for creating the default setup, for quicly controlling the desktop look and feel, to handle updates in the configuration files and even for controlling large deployments.

Setup scripts can also be packaged in the same format as the Javascript based plasmoids, so in the future (probably 4.6 timeframe?) will be possible to distribute and downoad setup for actvities, for instance with get hot new stuff.

Now not only the Plasma Desktop is using it: also the netbook has full scripting support, this will make really easy for distributions to customize the default layout as needed.

so, let’s see how it’s done:


It loads 3 packages, one for the Search and launch activity, one for the panel and one for the newspaper. The newspaper is:

var page = new Activity("newspaper")
//not shown by default
page.screen = -1
//properties for the wallpaper
page.wallpaperPlugin = 'image'
page.wallpaperMode = 'SingleImage'
//templateName comes from the desktop file of the package,
//and will be translated
page.name = templateName

page.addWidgetAt("news", 0, 0)
page.addWidgetAt("weather", 1, 0)
page.addWidgetAt("opendesktop", 0, 1)
page.addWidgetAt("knowledgebase", 1, 1)

It adds the default widgets, will be possible to distribute and download different pages. The search and launch instead is the following:

var sal = new Activity("sal")
sal.screen = 0
sal.wallpaperPlugin = 'image'
sal.wallpaperMode = 'SingleImage'
sal.name = templateName
sal.writeConfig("PackageManager", "kpackagekit")

The PackageManager bit here is particularly important: a new feature of the Search and Launch activity for 4.5 is a new button in the toolbox, called “Add applications” (complementar to the usual “add widgets”) it will launch the gui for the package manager… now, since it’s highly distribution dependent it will have to be customized. Here uses as default “kpackagekit” this is the name of the desktop file of the application, in OpenSuse that line would become for instance sal.writeConfig(“PackageManager”, “package-manager”) and so on

It’s a small little bit, but it’s an important piece to give it a more integrated and easy experience.

KDE on MeeGo


This entry will show off a new cute thing, while also being a pretty shameless call for help πŸ™‚

Last couple of days i was playing with the MeeGo sdk, it’s still a very young system but is really interesting (probably also exactly -because- it’s so young)

After installing the meego atom image on a netbook (by basically copying everything by hand, don’t think there is already an automated installation procedure yet?) and after updating all the packages I noticed at the current stage there indeed -is- a working X11 on it, so the subsequent step was quite obvious of course πŸ™‚

The setup of the main SDK on the development machine as described on their wiki is really straightforward, so having a complete chrooted build environment is a matter of a moment.

Then i started to build a trunk version of KDE… almost all packages -required- for a build are already available (and recent enough πŸ™‚ in the standard MeeGo repository, so I did a pretty basic build (with optional stuff kept to the minimum, will be important to decide carefully what would or would not be included in a build for that, since is targeting mostly low power mobile devices)

The result can be seen in this video (of course with Plasma Netbook shell, since we are on a particular environment like that)

As a side note on this video, is also show some new features of the Plasma Netbook shell in the upcoming KDE SC 4.5, but this is another story πŸ™‚ (will do screencasts on those shortly)

OGG version

It can be seen that the boot is really really fast, and the performance is quite good too. It is significantly faster than on an older X11 on the same machine, however there are still some graphics glitches (not present on OpenSuse on the same machine) But I’m confident all of this will be gone on a new release of video drivers/X11/Qt (we have been here some times already after all :))

So, moral of the story, this shows KDE libraries and apps can be build really quickly there, they can work really well and that is the platform where some of our new projects can really shine, like the Netbook, the Mobile and the Mediacenter shells. Now think about for instance remote widgets between a mediacenter and a phone, or a phone and a netbook, just to name some of our technologies that would really come to full potential when having them on different devices

So, if you know how to do -good quality- packages, (that honestly, is really -not- my expertise :)), maybe already involved in the MeeGo packaging effort, some help will be really really appreciated, it would be really cool to set up a repository that people can use to quickly install a whole KDE stack on a (at the moment still text mode only) MeeGo install

Get the bleeding


Today, as Aaron and Frederik said, we just launched a really cool thing: periodically updated images of a reference distribution for KDE Plasma Netbook. It’s done with the openSUSE build service and is based on opensuse; however it’s quite customized with our artwork and settings, so the general feeling of the distribution is exactly what the name suggests: a reference.

Search and Launch

It is (or, will be since we’re at very early stages of development) how we envision a complete system that boots straight into the Plasma netbook shell, and to be also a way to quickly test the really really bleeding edge development version without messing up your own system πŸ˜‰

It is also very easy to customize the build on the openSUSE build service to make your own branch, so remixes and sperimentations of new ideas is really welcome πŸ™‚

Here you can find the usb stick image, and here some useful documentation on Techbase.

Drag, drop, search and launch


KDE SC 4.4 is just out of the door (by the way, what an achievement, woha :D) and as our tradition we are already cramming features on trunk, that will be KDE SC 4.5.

In plasma land you will probably see more things in the tone of polishment and refinement of stuff already there rather than completely new stuff. But since the fourth Tokamak is approaching, expect something really really tasty coming out of it πŸ˜€

But now there’s a little appetizer: in 4.4 in the Search and Launch interface of the netbook shell is possible to add favourites and remove them by clicking on the little “-” icon

While that’s good and will still be available, now is possible to add favourites where you want with drag and drop from the results view and move them by just dragging around.

The drag operation will start with a pretty low sensibility, making possible to still scrolling the view by dragging.

For instance since the results view scrolls vertically, if you drag vertically the view will just move, but if you drag horizontally over an icon, after a while a drag operation will start.

This feels pretty natural and make it actually usable on touchscreen and mobile devices, as it’s shown on this video:

OGG version

For the curious, that mobile device is a standard off the shelf thing, available from quite some time. That’s all I’ll say for now, during Tokamak wou’ll hear many more details about this and many other things πŸ˜‰

So yes, I’m definitely…