Each summer brings a round of free software conferences, but the sunniest this year was aKademy 2005, the KDE Project’s annual summit for users, administrators and developers with ten days featuring over 60 presentations, numerous workshops and over a week of chaotic coding. Held this year in Malaga, Spain, it included a Users and Administrators Conference, a Developer Conference and a Coding Marathon. Users, developers and local visitors with an interest in open technology were treated to a display of stable desktop software and glimpses of cutting-edge innovations to come.
The conference opened with a private meeting of KDE e.V., KDE’s membership organisation. Developers voted to set-up working groups to improve interaction with corporate and governmental partners, to gain presence in standardisation bodies and to improve cooperation with other projects and companies. These procedural changes were an indication of a nine year-old free software project maturing. With a free, stable and integrated desktop environment under their belt, the KDE community seems determined to reach out beyond the traditional GNU/Linux market of geeks and to establish KDE as an important player in technical, corporate and political circles.
With a stable desktop environment under their belt, the KDE community is establishing itself as a major software platform
The talks at the Users and Administrators Conference covered topics from corporate deployments and technologies, KDE power tools and some of KDE’s upcoming applications. Krita, KDE’s age-old paint program, is finally progressing fast and will soon include full support for the CMYK colourspace and 16 or 32 bit images, features that professionals have long asked from The GIMP. Agustín Benito presented the inspirational mEDUXa, a KDE based GNU/Linux distribution created by the local government of the Canary Islands. Many talks covered the same topics as last year, including Kolab (KDE’s advanced groupware solution), Kiosk (a framework that allows administrators to lock down features of the desktop) and KDE NX (fast remote desktop and application access).
Monday brought around the KDE Developers Conference, and with KDE4 on the horizon most talks covered bleeding-edge technologies or general programming techniques that might influence its direction. A highlight was hearing two Nokia engineers talk about their work building a web browser based on KHTML/WebCore for Smart Phones, which use the Symbian operating system. Attentive KDE developers were curious to learn about the constraints an embedded system imposes on software development. The most anticipated talk, Beauty and Magic For KDE by Trolltech-employed X hacker Zack Rusin, was delayed until Wednesday. But when he finally presented his work on cutting edge graphics work in X, the preeminent free graphical environment, developers were flabbergasted by the effects he demonstrated. Over the next few years the X developers are going to give graphics cards and OpenGL a central role in rendering graphics, meaning that applications should be both more responsive and stunningly beautiful.
Other hot topics were: developing in Windows, improving the accessibility framework in KDE 4 and a variety of new tools introduced in Qt 4, the new version of the toolkit that KDE uses. QtTestLibi is a new unit testing library that will let KDE developers improve the performance of their code; Scribe is a rich-text editor widget that will save developers having to create many of their own editor features, especially in KOffice; and changes in Qt Designer, a powerful application that helps developers create complex graphical interfaces, should make the work even more quick and painless.
Tuesday also saw the presentation of the first KDE Appreciation Awards, awarded by a jury of key KDE hackers, to recognise outstanding contributions to the KDE community. Albert Astals Cid and his KPDF colleague Enrico Ros won the award for the best application or application improvement. Lauri Watts picked up the award for best individual contribution for her tireless work as documentation coordinator. The jury’s choice award went to Stephan Kulow and Oswald Buddenhagen for the effort they have put into migrating KDE’s development code repository from CVS to Subversion.
The Coding Marathon was, as usual, a creative, chaotic hackfest. Developers from many different countries took the unique opportunity to meet and exchange ideas and source code. Numerous Birds-of-a-Feather sessions (BoFs) were held, which gave hackers interested in usability, marketing and high-level design a chance to discuss and apply their ideas. Next to real-time usability studies and a workshop on paper application prototyping, Celeste Paul presented findings of her research on alternatives to the KDE start menu, a classic thorn in the side of desktops trying to provide access to the plethora of applications that distributors package. Task-oriented, search-oriented and verb-based interfaces were all discussed.
Martin Konold, a KDE developer since the earliest days and a major force behind the Kolab/Kontact groupware and PIM framework, talked about RuDI, a potentially revolutionary idea to assist third-party developers in creating cross-platform desktop services. For long-time GNU/Linux and BSD users, one welcome consequence of RuDI—if adopted by Qt, Gtk, KDE and GNOME developers—is that all applications would be able to inheret the behaviour of the desktop environment you’re running. So, for example, if you launched a KDE application whilst in GNOME, it could use GNOME file dialogues.
If the promises and ideas expressed this year can be realised, aKademy 2006 should be an unmissable event
But contrary to the image of the hacker as a lonely social outcast working from his bedroom, aKademy wasn’t just about hacking on code. Developers lounged in cafes, sunbathed on the sunny beaches of the Costa del Sol and organised a tour of Malaga’s tourist hotspots. A few linguistically challenged individuals even managed to fall afoul of a local prankster, who directed them to a brothel when they asked for a decent bar. The KDE Project is difficult to define, encompassing a bewildering array of software projects, online and real-world communities and friendships. All of these aspects found their expression in the labs, bars and beaches of Malaga.
The conference ended, fittingly, with a beach party, celebrating another year of coding, documenting, translating, designing and promoting free software with free food and free beer. The conference showcased an impressive array of free software, the fruit of nine years of work, and hinted that over the next few years we may see some truly original work come out of the ever-growing community. Having caught up with and in some ways surpassed the proprietary desktop offerings, KDE developers are now experimenting whilst piecing together their plans for KDE 4. If the promises and ideas can be realised, aKademy 2006 should be an unmissable event!