Category Archives: BlaBla

On Plasma5: present and future

BlaBlaSoftware

This is the second part of my ramblings about the Plasma 5 release, just after it come out.
plasma-5-banner
This is a very important moment, after a massive amount of work.

What are the most important things that can make a free software project successful or not?
To me are principally two: user experience and developer experience.

User experience

The first release of Plasma 5 will start to make use of the work of a newly formed group in the KDE community: the Visual Design Group.
I’m very impressed how they managed to get a firm grip of many issues that are always been a problem in KDE software.
They are not only doing nice pictures, but rather starting to give real guidance to the design direction of the future Plasma and applications by KDE.
On the 5.0 release, the most visible thing will be the Breeze theme, that while still far to the final vision, it starts to show the clean and functional style (funny trivia: I remember discussing on the VDG forum about pure flat design versus using 3D effects for “interactive” controls, to give depth and intuitiveness for interactive areas… months before Material was presented. Those guys are definitely onto something.)

But it of course doesn’t stop to a theme and some icons:
what is more deep and a long term plan is to review the look, refinement and usability of pretty much.. everything.
Good design means also every single application has a clean and functional layout, and its “interaction flow” is logic, intuitive and derived from user needs rather than the technical details of the application.
An example of those things still to come is the new layout of System Settings that will come in little piece by piece, one by one in the future releases (The 5.0 release already has a new categorization, each release will move it a step more towards the final design).

Freedom, in all aspects

A big challenge in the design of Plasma 5 is that while providing a very simple and appealing experience out of the box, our central value is to put our priority in serving the different exigences of different kinds of users, because, as for devices, one size does not fit all.

The Plasma workspace is now even more flexible, on different devices it will sport completely different default user interfaces, because different use cases and different input methods require a different way to interact and a different way to present information (as lately even Microsoft discovered, in the very hard way).

And not only that, on your desktop or laptop, you can “build” a workspace experience as you please, optimized to your preferences.
We will never force you to a panel in a particular side of the screen, or to one task manager mode (taskbar vs dock) or to a particular desktop layout.
We well know that this makes the design process more difficult, but often the “easy” solutions are not necessarily the “correct” ones.
We give you a desktop that can adapt to you, rather than giving you a desktop you have to adapt to.

Developer experience

In later years, with the bigger emphasis on the user experience, the experience for developers started to take the back seat.
But we are a free software project, and its success is measured not only in users, but also in how many people would want to engage in an active way, and how comfortable are developers to work on the projects.
Being built on a foundation as strong as Qt, the software by KDE can also offer amazing tools for developers.
The recently released KDE Frameworks 5 is an important step in this direction: the KDE libraries are not anymore a big monolith but a set of very small, useful and independent libraries.

The base of the Plasma Shell is a framework as well: the Plasma framework, composed principally by two things:

  • The Plasma library: is the good old libplasma.. but it’s way slimmer and more focused than the KDE4 version: It doesn’t offer graphical widgets anymore, and doesn’t make any assumption on what graphic engine will be used (One could even build a shell completely based upon QWidgets with it, just because :p).
    It continue to provide easy access to packages, dataengines, asynchronous services and the save and restore functionalities of the layout, known as the Corona.
    The library solves problems that are out of scope for QML: from a surface with interactive graphical elements in it, it brings it to a “full featured desktop shell”.
  • The second part is instead a set of runtime components, of QML bindings that offer QML access to the Plasma facilities such as dataengines and svg themes and a set of graphical components to use in QML plasmoids and applications, such as buttons and text fields, that are converging, and will converge more and more with the upstream QtControls project.
  • In future releases there will be a comeback of the kpart to easily include qml-based informational dashboards into applications, and a runtime to launch plasmoids as simple independent mini applications.

Looking at the future

So, what are we planning for the future?

The stable, default core Desktop project will become more and more stable and polished, but the development focus will touch other use cases as well.
The Plasma Active port to Frameworks 5 is ongoing, as well the Plasma Mediacenter port, so the “different shell for different devices” story will be complete.
Of course our focus is not only about KDE on different devices, but also making KDE work tightly integrated with other kind of devices, thanks to projects such as KDE Connect. Interestingly, The Plasma Workspace 4.x series is today the environment with the tighter integration with smartphones (only with the next releases of their operating systems Apple is catching up, with a quite similar feature set).
You can expect this integration work being even more complete in future releases of Plasma 5.

Finally, the artwork presented in 5.0 is only a preview of what is still to come from the Visual Design Group: more icons, more complete widget set, more and more applications will receive a makeover look-wise and most importantly usability-wise.

On Plasma 5

BlaBlaSoftware

We are very, very near the release of the new Plasma release by KDE (more on the nomenclature later).
This is the first entry of a short series of blogs that take a look about the past and the future of Plasma, what we learned from the 4.x series, what changed, what we can take away and to expect for the future.

First, we were (and we still are) very happy about the status of the Plasma desktop as seen in KDE 4.x, but this doesn’t stop to wonder what can be improved.
The Plasma Desktop started to migrate towards QML since quite some time, but it was clear that the real focus in Qt 5.x would have been QML2.
That’s awesome, because QML2 solves many limitation in performance that QML1 and the QGraphicsView framework had in Qt 4.x.
But that was also a problem, since Plasma1 was tightly coupled with QGraphicsView, this meant: a lot of work ahead.
What we wanted, was the plasma platform itself completely independent from any graphical system itself.
From a big monolith-that-provides-everything, libplasma would have become a way smaller library (roughly 1/3 of the code of the plasma library in 4,x), providing a *model* for the layout, and utils as painting utils and the usual data access, but the representation of this model, would have been completely up to the shell (more on that next entry).

I remember starting a branch of libplasma back in summer 2011 at the Berlin desktop summit (that was also when the Frameworks development seriously started to seriously gain steam). The thing lived as mostly a proof of concept for a while.
Fast forward at the end of 2012 and we had a minimal shell that started correctly and could correctly restore a layout of applets, in a minimal desktop (no panel yet!).
The work proceeded and the features got back one by one.
In the meantime many new people joined the effort (Some thanks to Blue Systems, some volunteer) significantly speeding up the process.
Fast forward to the beginning of 2014 and it was possible again to use it as a basic main desktop (eat your own dogfood).
Just to give a little idea of the amount of work, there are around ~5100 Plasma5-related commits only on the plasma-frameworks repository, if we count all the workspace parts, it would be a way bigger figure.
It has been a long road, with some (quite) rough moments in the middle for sure, but looking back I’m pretty proud of what we achieved, of what i did, and what every single member of the team did to get here.
But this, this is

Just the beginning

This is the first release of a new chapter of Plasma, in which a new release method will be used to celebrate the diverity of the KDE community.
We used to have a 6 months “big release” of all things KDE, called in the beginning just “KDE”, then “KDE SC”, but this release is not that anymore, because KDE grown a lot in the past years, is not just that anymore, and “a single release of everything” scales only so much.

So, let’s take a step back and see what is KDE: it is a community that can offer you a range of very different things:

  • Want a primary user interface for your Desktop, Laptop, Tablet, Media Center? There is Plasma, tailored explicitly for the particular device is running on. Desktop and laptops have an interface optimized for mouse,keyboard and trackpad input, Plasma Active and Plasma Mediacenter are instead tailored on the constraints those different kind of device pose instead.
  • Do you need a particular application for a particular task? The KDE community offers a wide range of applications, from media players, communication tools, games, to a kickass office suite, to one of the best painting applications on the market (not best on Linux, not best among Open Source ones, the best, period) and countless others.
    They are free software, they are multi platform and supported by a vibrant community of developers.
  • Are you a Qt developer that is working on a new application, and need more functionality? KDE Frameworks offers a wide variety of libraries and frameworks to chose from that can dramatically decrease the amount of work needed to do a big, polished application.
  • And in the latter case, if you want, of course your project is more then welcome to join in the KDE family, as other formerly external projects already did, like KDEnlive or GCompris

This release of The Plasma Desktop Workspace can be used for day to day use already, even tough it’s based on very new technology, so some youth problems are expected as well. Also, while the integration between KDE4 and Plasma5 applications is good, you may want to wait more applications ported to Frameworks 5 before jumply completely full on a pure Plasma 5 environment.

The cycle

So, when a new version will arrive? how do you check if new applications come?
The development cycle will be much faster now: you can expect a new release of the KDE frameworks (so the libraries, *not* the applications) every month, while Plasma5 will be each 3 months instead for now.
Anyways, new goodies should hit your distro of choice way faster than it used to be in the past.

Next time, I’ll write about what to expect in this release and the next ones about the user experience, the developer experience, and random musings on the future.

3rd party plasmoids and Plasma Next

BlaBlaSoftware

Starting from today, there is a new category in kde-look.org explicitly for Plasma 5 QML2-based plasmoids.
As it used to be, they can be browsed, installed and uninstalled directly from the “Get new widgets…” option in the Add widget interface.
plasma5 ghns
As you can see, the list is rather empty right now, but I’m looking forward to see the plasmoids published by the community.

Systemtray, Plasma Next and GTK

BlaBlaSoftware

You may have heard that KDE Plasma Next won’t support anymore the old X11,Xembed-based systemtray icons.
(More information here)

Years ago, we developed a nicer, model/view based alternative in which is the shell that actually draws the systemtray icon, allowing better integration with the workspace, it’s a specification that is now shared between KDE and Ubuntu Unity.
All KDE applications use it already, Qt4/Qt5-only application will use it depending on a small patch (and soon Qt5 will do out of the box)

But also GTK has some options: until today I was aware only about the Ubuntu’s appindicator library, but I have just been contacted by the author of another neat library, that can be found here on GitHub.
It’s a very small, few dependencies GObject-based library that allows a GTK3 application to export and control a statusnotifier-based systemtray icon. I just tested it on KDE4 and Plasma Next and seems to work quite well.
So if you have a GTK application that is using a systemtray icon, and you would like the icon to be integrated in the next version of Plasma as well, now you have an option more (and of course, the author will be happy of any patch/bugreport/bugfix).

Now it’s polishing time

BlaBlaGraphicsSoftware

Work in Plasma Next is proceeding frantic as usual.
We are around a week from the release of the first Alpha (mark your calendard from a week from now), and the feature count is getting close the current release of KDE Plasma Desktop, in order to get the transition as smooth as possible.

Of course we aren’t trying to just do a carbon copy port, but to give some nice new features and improvements, such as a dramatically better behavior of the system tray (no more weird popups-from popups!), waay better support for high DPI screens and a nice new rewamped notifications system and UI.

The big thing tough is the new capabilities of the frameworks: KDE Frameworks 5 and the new Plasma Framework, with a desktop shell all based on QML2: so many things that in the past we couldn’t do, now will be possible.

And now as usual, a sneak peek of something that will not be in the alpha release yet.
sneak peek
The KDE Visual Design Group is doing a terrific job across very different areas of Plasma Next, the little area I’m collaborating with is the Plasma theme itself (a lot more nice stuff in many different areas will arrive from them in the future). I must say I’m impressed by their work.

But what if I have a screen with a ludicrous amount of DPI?
sneakhidpi

All of this is heavy under construction, so is still subject to a *lot* of changes until the final version 馃槈

KDE Plasma sprint

BlaBlaSoftware

Last week I went in Barcelona to the Plasma sprint with a bunch of old friends.
As usual it was a great experience, but let’s talk about results 馃檪
The framework architecture is being finalized, compared to Plasma1 it will be way simpler. the Plasma framework will be a nice lean library (an order of magnitude smaller than Plasma1) accompained by a runtime component: a series of plugins provided as QML2 imports and the runtime environment, the Plasma shell, that will run Plasma Desktop, Plasma Active and Plasma Netbook (and any other you can imagine and write 馃槈 and even switch the shell at runtime. This is possible because the shell binary is pure logic, it doesn’t have any UI whatsoever.
The coding I did during the sprint was mostly on this area, especially a refactoring on how QML plasmoid are loaded by the shell and written, that should lead to faster startup and cleaner code.. but since is all stuff under the hood, no fancy screenshot tis time, sorry :p

The default Desktop experiece will be at first not too dissimilar to the one of Plasma1, a big focus will be on redesigning the singular components around simplicity and elegance (see here) rather than big changes in functionality altogether.
A set of visual guidelines is being developed, that will help any developer to make their plasmoid elegant and well integrated.
Changes can always come a bit at a time once the new technology is well road tested.

The importance of KDE hardware

BlaBlaSoftware

Those days I’m giving the final touches to what will be the image of the operating system that will be preinstalled on the Improv board.
Does it work? Yes:

Plasma Active on Improv

Blurry exibit #1: Plasma Active running on the Improv

KWin compositing

KWin is one of the few X11 window managers (and the only desktop-grade one) that can do composite on GLES devices (withut GLX)

Now, a little backstory: A while ago the Plasma team received a bug report about the popups in the Plasma panel. apparently they couldn’t receive any mouse event, and this happened on ARM and only on ARM.
This type of bugs are quite weird and difficult to catch, especially when they happen only on an architecture none of the developers is using as development machine.
And while it was possible already to test KDE on ARM devices (we got the bug report in the first place after all), it has never been easy (also helped by the fact most ARM deviecs are as close as you can get, especially the reasonably high end ones).
Not being easy means that it takes a long time to do… not many KDE developers have the time to go trough all the hassle to get a build environment working on an ARM device, and this means bug stays.
When working on the Mer image for the Improv of course i stumbled upon this bug as well.
But wait.. there we have OBS: testing patches on a single package it’s a matter of minutes, thanks to how much easy is to branch a package in an home project (Heads up to OBS developers for this).
In a couple of hours the problem was identified and fixed. In this case is an ARM specific ugly workaround, but luckily won’t be needed with Plasma2 (basically mapping from a QMouseEvent on a QGraphicsView to the QGraphicsSceneMouseEvents on the QGraphicsScene breaks on ARM when the item is at positions farther that (-QWIDGETSIZE_MAX*2, -QWIDGETSIZE_MAX*2), due to different sizes of data types compared to ia32/x8664).

Hardware like the Improv, that comes with KDE preinstalled with an easy way to test out development and patches may really contribute to increase the quality of KDE software on that devie class.

Dock

You need to test your software on another kind of device? Just pop the CPU card out of one and pop in into another, without having to setup the same stuff multiple times.

I dream in the future more and more “KDE first” devices, from mobile devices to laptops, to workstations, to set top boxes, both ARM and x86, from many different manifacturers.
They are good not only for who is making them. They are good for KDE software, for KDE developers and in the end for all of our users.

Improv

BlaBla

Today we finally announced the first product by Make路Play路Live: Improv.
It’s an engineering board with one interesting difference compared to many others: it’s not one board, it’s two.
The actual machine is in a small board, its size is crucial and is kept at the bare minimum: why?
eoma_front
When the actual hearth of the device is kept small enough, it can be used as is in a wide variety of different devices, making possible to experiment more with an open, cheap, modular architecture.
but you can’t do that much if you have only the CPU card, at least it’s much more useful if it has and handful of input/output devices, right? That’s what the Improv board is for:
improv_black_2
The CPU board has micro HDMI, micro USB, micro SD, with the Improv board you get power, Ethernet, full size USB and Sata (The extra connector on top among other things gives you VGA as well)
The software will come with Mer preinstalled featuring KDE and Plasma Active, again together with Mer’s OBS, a white canvas to create something new and great… what You will come up with?

Merweek

BlaBla

week-of-mer

Sometimes the need for something becomes so high, that the situation for just the right thing to happen slowly build up, sometimes for years, and all of the sudden the opportunities blossom from multiple directions.. at the same time (not going to make the parallel with the invention of calculus.. but here you go ;))

Right now i’m not finding the situation on the mobile and embedded landscapes that exciting.. Why? because the alternatives we have right now in the landscape are either straight away completely proprietary or so tightly controlled by a central entity that makes impossible to contribute, and to build something new, exciting, and unexpected that doesn’t come the central entity in control.

That’s why the Plasma Active project started and that’s why we are building hardware that comes with it out of the box.
We found a wonderful free software (and most important, open participation) project to base our work on, excellent both for a KDE-based UI as well as a base for other projects: MER.

It’s a very lean operating system that is excellent as a base for any device-related project. And right now, we have not one, but three mer-based projects that will make an important announcement this month.. on 3 consecutive days (for anyone wondering, no, we didn’t made an agreement about that, is really a weird planet-alignment synchronicity ;).

But let’s talk about what I’m more connected to: the announcement by Make路Play路Live:

improv

This logo represents the first product launched by the Make路Play路Live network of partners, it is based on MER (FAQ: yes, it can run KDE. No, it’s not Vivaldi. Yes Vivaldi will come after this)

While I’m writing, I’m reading 9 days, 20 hour, 05 minutes, 42 seconds.
That’s a short time to wait for an exciting new beginning of something great.

Plasma2: all about elegance

BlaBlaGraphicsSoftware

Ok, I lied: it’s about elegance, performance, simple and great API, better user experience, more cross-device compatibility, in the end about improvement on all fronts.

And a very important thing is to gove an user interface more beautiful, tidier, more elegant.
One example is what Sebas talked about yesterday.
That new calendar is kindof a blueprint of how the UI of the Plasma workspace is being reworked: no huge and breaking changes, but fixing small layout problems, paying attention to the visual balance of the elements, and way better typography.
One thing that was pointed out is that its contrast or readability it was still dependent on what kind of wallpaper or windows you have behind it.

That’s what we came up with:
dadel2
(Note, the panel is from Plasma1, the systemtray and clock area will look much better 馃槈

Here what it’s changed: contrary to what it seems, the window is *not* more opaque than the screenshots of yesterday, but it’s a modification of the blur effect in KWin.

What it does, it reproduces the effect of seeing something trough a frosted glass: what do you see is a combination of what’s behind the glass, the color of the glass, and the reflection of light reflected by the glass.
This last part is what has been added: it adds a bit of light to the color, but unlike a semi-transparent white window in front, it conserves all the information about colors.
So while being almost white, therefore very contrasted with the text, but still looking happy and colorful, instead of more dull and opaque if the theme was white, 95% opaque.