Tell us something about you 🙂
Aaron: I’m a software developer who first started working in the industry some 15 years ago. Back then I was working primarily on machines running SunOS, though I used a Mac at home. These days I work on KDE full time from my house in Calgary, Canada.
In what ways do you make a contribution to KDE?
Aaron: There are three ways I contribute to KDE: software development, coordination and promotion. I help with parts of the KDE libraries, the file manager and file dialog, the desktop panels amongst other things. I have patches scattered throughout KDE software that have accumulated over the years I’ve been around the project.
It’s not all writing code, however. I am a member of the board of directors for KDE e.V. which is the project’s non-profit legal entity. It helps organize events such our annual aKademy world conference, holds property such as trademarks and server hardware, takes in and disburses donations and more. I also represent the project at several conferences and industry events each year.
How and when did you start to contribute in KDE?
Aaron: I started contributing sometime around the 2.0 release. I had just finished with a local company and had a few months of free time on my hands ahead of me as I didn’t want to jump directly into another office job. Not being one to sit idle, i started looking for something to do. I was already tracking KDE2’s progress via CVS prior to the 2.0 release and one day whipped up a little patch to fix a bug in the Run Command dialog that was bugging me. The next morning I had a thank-you email saying the patch had been applied and that was it: I was hooked.
I began writing a weekly summary of KDE development efforts called “Kernel Cousin KDE” that ran in parallel to Kernel Traffic which did the same thing for the Linux kernel efforts. I also started sending in more patches until I was told to get a CVS account of my own. Somehow I ended up maintaining a few applications, such as KsCD and KJots and got more and more involved with the community. Fast forward a year or two and I was spending many evenings and weekends working on KDE things.
How much time do you spend on KDE?
Aaron: Honestly, I have no idea. I know it’s a lot, however. It’s very rare that a day doesn’t go by that I don’t spend at least a couple hours doing something KDE related and usually I spend most of the day working on KDE issues. KDE is simply what I do, much like a farmer farms.
We hear “something” about the next major release, KDE4. What can you say concerning this? What will be the main changes in this release?
Aaron: One of the big points we’ve been concentrating on is the port to Qt4 which gives us access to better technologies for large data sets, graphics and cross-platform development. Qt4 is also leaner and faster than Qt3, so KDE4 will benefit from that as well.
Of course, KDE4 is more than just a simple porting job. We’ve spent a lot of time looking at how to address issues of beauty, usability, meeting the new needs of today’s desktop users, lowering the barrier to application development and expanding our horizons to provide native support for non-Linux/UNIX platforms.
Towards this end we have a new set of interface guidelines being authored, a new graphical style called Oxygen (http://oxygen-icons.org), a new hardware API called Solid (http://solid.kde.org), a new multimedia API called Phonon (http://phonon.kde.org), a messaging and VOIP API (http://decibel.kde.org), a new desktop workspace (Plasma), integration with search technology (Strigi and Nepomuk), a desktop messaging store system for email, calendaring and contacts called Akonadi (http://akonadi.kde.org) … and we’re not done yet. We’re also of course keeping the things that worked very well in previous releases such as the kiosk configuration policy framework, KDE Print, etc. and continue to expand our support for various standards and specifications such as the XDG mimetype specification from freedesktop.org.
Above the frameworks, applications are also getting new capabilities and features. This includes things like annotations for PDFs, DVIs and other documents, face lifts on all our games, improved groupware, slicker system monitoring tools … With the new frameworks we also expect to see exciting features appear in applications over the lifetime of KDE4 such as improved hardware awareness (e.g. messaging apps will note when network cables are unplugged or a webcam is plugged in) and pervasive multimedia. So much like the KDE3 releases we’ll see a jump forward on the application front as well.
We’re also working to reach out to new developers. One avenue we’re pursuing is to elevate the visibility of non-C++ development in the community. We’re committed to shipping at least one (and hopefully more than one!) Ruby and/or Python application with KDE 4.0. The native ports to Windows and MacOS will also bring in many new developers from those platforms who will work on applications and even hopefully the base frameworks themselves.
The end result is that we’ll be able to look upon all that we’ve done a few years down the road and see that we have more applications, a stunningly beautiful workspace, the most usable desktop on the market and terrific community thriving around it all.
What about Phonon? It will replace arts (that’s actually unmaintained), isn’t true? What are the benefits for a new media framework?
Aaron: Phonon doesn’t so much replace aRts as it is the result of what we learned from aRts. aRts was a well intentioned project that served us very well during the KDE2 and KDE3 time spans. However, multimedia is not a “solved” problem in the Free software world yet and there is a lot of fragmentation in the solution space. It’s almost impossible to predict which solution will eventually become the de facto standard, or even if any will at all. It’s almost certain that for the foreseeable future there will be different media systems on different platforms, particularly between Linux, Windows and Mac.
So we’ve taken the pragmatic approach of delivering a framework that provides for the basic desktop needs of virtually all apps with the exception of pro-audio apps like multi-track audio processing systems. Phonon does provide enough flexibility and power for applications like Amarok while making it easy for other non-multimedia apps to easily add multimedia features such as video or audio clips as annotations to documents or notes. This another important point: most media frameworks are not very application developer friendly, while Phonon provides a nice simple framework complete with ready-made widgets for video and audio that will be instantly familiar to anyone used to the KDE/Qt style APIs.
However, Phonon doesn’t itself provide the multimedia playing capability. Just like Amarok, Juk, Kaffeine and KMplayer (among others), it relies on plugins written to specific media frameworks such as NMM or GStreamer. The benefit of
this is that application developers can write to one set of interfaces and have their application run everywhere KDE runs. Even if the media framework changes on a given platform, the applications themselves won’t need a rewrite.
It is things like Phonon which will continue to bring people to KDE when they want to develop quality applications for the desktop.
What do you think is still missing in KDE?
Aaron: More applications, more and better documentation, more and better translation … we already do very well on all these fronts, better than any other single Free software desktop project, but I can point to specific instances where we have gaps. A good small business accounting package would be great as would a simple (emphasis on “simple”) video editor application.
We also need to do better with documentation for software developers and other potential contributors. The bar is often set too high for them and we need to address that.
As you can see, there’s a lot to be done and the project always welcomes new people willing to help out with open arms.
But most of all, KDE is missing more users. I’d like to see the whole world using Free software and until that happens the “more users” issue will always be something on my mind.
Thanks Aaron, we hope to have you here for an Italian KDE Conference in the future :-).