Communicating freely

Archive for the ‘KDE’ Category

Akademy 2008 rocked

Monday, August 18th, 2008

I was at Akademy 2008 to speak on a panel and (less formally) to wander around annoying hackers with silly questions. 

I spent a good deal of time harassing Armijn in the USB plugfest room by picking up random sticks and asking "what’s this one for?"  The answers ranged from Bluetooth to InfraRed to DVB, and appearently quite a few of these devices work on GNU/Linux.  However, I am heartbroken to report the DVB sticks refused to play ball.  Sighs, so much for watching the Olympics on my laptop.

Speaking of devices, Nokia gave away 100 internet tablets to KDE developers.  I saw groups playing with them in every corner of the conference.  My attention was caught by a report that some enterprising chap had got Plasma working on the 400mz CPU.  I tracked him down in the Plasma BoF room and drilled him regarding stability and speed; it’s looking good.

I want to see more 100% Free Software devices in the mobile space.  OpenMoko has blazed a trail in proving the viability of the Four Freedoms in this sphere; now it’s time to get onto 500 million devices.  I believe KDE 4 may provide one platform to accomplish this.

Talking about vision, on our panel Aaron spoke eloquently about the future of KDE.  I was impressed by the direction of the KDE e.V. board and by the sheer scale of the sustained innovation happening across the project. Knut from Trolltech also said some pretty deep things about social innovation and the place of Free Software.  Great chap, and he’s mad about creme brulee.  Plus points in every direction.

Towards the end of my adventure, Adriaan drank strange Dutch gin out of paper cups with me.  We discovered that the stuff melts the binding of the cups, leading to a slightly woody and vaguely gummy experience.  Excellent.  Thanks to Armijn from providing the spirit for testing and to Mr KDE Solaris ™ for being a drinking victim buddy.

What a conference.

Be nice to developers

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Adriaan from KDE – the man I personally blame for all bugs ever encountered in programs written in the C++ language [1] – has written a blog post suggesting that it’s a good idea not to send abusive emails to Free Software developers who don’t offer professional support services at zero cost for their code.

He has got a point. While the low barriers of access and hierarchy in Free Software often provide easy access to the developer in question, the developer’s personal provision of support is likely to receive a far lower priority than development work. This is hardly surprising.

Few people expect to speak directly with the developer of a proprietary application when the application misbehaves. Support is instead provided by a department inside the production company or an accredited partner. Free Software takes this abstraction a little further. One of the key innovations in this paradigm is that third parties can provide professional top tier support regardless of their relationship with the original developer of the application.

It is important to remember that the word "Free" in Free Software does not refer to the software having zero cost either in production or in adoption. It refers solely to the freedoms the software offers everyone who receives a copy.

There is a cost of production, delivery and support with Free Software. This cost may include personnel hours, hardware and electricity on the production side and it may include training, integration and maintenance on the support side. Such cost calculations do not disappear because Free Software offers more freedom than proprietary software.

Free Software is often developed by people and organisations who offset their cost of production because they get something else in return. What they receive may be kudos, the ability to play with other people’s innovations or a solution delivered to users. The situation and cost benefit analysis differs for each individual or organisation.

In the post delivery of a solution different dynamics are at play. A developer who creates a technology with a cost offset might not wish to also offer service level agreements to users. It might just not fit into their reason for making the software or it might have too high a cost.

Everyone can get the code, everyone can distribute it, everyone can offer support for it. It’s more flexible and encourages more competition over delivery of solutions. Those solutions can be technical, integrative or support based.

Many developers are happy to answer some questions and even respond to requests for features, but it’s not reasonable to expect that they are obliged to do so. We should be nice and bear in mind that we have no entitlement when it comes to obtaining support unless the creator has promised such support explicitly.

[1] KDE is written in C++. There is a connection.

Wanted: new paradigms

Friday, November 3rd, 2006

I was chatting with some KDE people recently and the discussion turned to collaborative documents.  We were talking about how it would be neat to be able to transparently share data with each other.

Our thoughts were about doing much more than sending a file to someone.  We were interested in how you could use the existing desktop and existing programs, but add a layer to the windowing interface to regulate networked collaboration.

You know, it would be cool to right click my ODT document, select ‘Work Together’ and select a name from my instant messenger.  Then we could both edit the document in real time.

Calenders are another thing worth thinking about.  Yes, there are collaborative calenders.  Yes, you can share appointments.  But somehow it all feels a little clunky.  It still feels like we have not got this mix right yet.

It all boiled down to one thing; the current desktop paradigm is pretty good but we’re hitting some walls when it comes to our day-to-day workflows.  We need to think of ways to fix that.