The Future of the KDE Free Desktop

Aaron Seigo and Sebastian Kügler, two leading developers in the KDE community, share their ideas on the future of the Free Desktop.

AS: Third would be the idea of increased mobility—having multiple devices. FOSS started on the desktop—literally being written on desktops—on top of or below a desk. Now, we don't work only on desktops and laptops, but we run our software on phones and Netbooks. This is a huge shift but also presents new opportunities and opens doors. The best thing is that we're not separating these devices like our competitors are doing. We don't develop a vertical stack on each device like Apple and Microsoft do, with different user interfaces and widgets, effects, layout and everything. We do what the Linux kernel did—one kernel for wristwatches up to big-iron hardware. We're developing a horizontal stack, from mobile devices all the way up to workstations—a device continuum. In part, this is possible because technology got more sophisticated; mobile devices are now more powerful than the average desktop was five years ago. The low end is fully capable of running our desktop stack.

Coming Together

SK: The best thing about these three trends is that they are coming at the same time. They are different but complement each other perfectly. You can have multiple devices with the same software stack, working together over the network and aware of your social context—blending on-line and off-line. Technology-wise, they are separate streams, but they create the compelling user experience for the next ten years.

AS: For example, Nepomuk initially was conceived as the Semantic Web technology. We're currently doing this on the local computer, but we are ready for the Web, storing all the data properly to be shared. This then works with the Open Desktop Initiative, focusing on open and free Web services where you are in control of your own data.

SK: Look at Canonical's Ubuntu One service or the Maemo OpenDesktop work. The services are coming already. The division between computer and the Web will become smaller and smaller—you can connect your on-line life with your local life in an obvious and simple way. Users won't even notice, won't care. Cool stuff.

AS: Many of the most exciting things going on right now have been on our minds for many years. Exploring new ideas is like being in a dark room, looking for a light switch. You stumble around in the dark, bump into things, and when you finally find the light switch, you already have a pretty good idea of the room. Then you see it in full light and really realize its potential. There is no shortcut to that. Ask any researcher—it takes blood, sweat and tears. It is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, to use a cliché.

Traditional Desktop

JP: And how about the current desktop, is that still being worked on?

AS: Of course, there is a lot more going on. We are not stepping away from what we initially wanted to do; we're not a ship looking for wind. We are still on track, but growing into new challenges—challenges that inspire people and let us take the next step. We're now at tens of millions of users, but this will be something people will want to use, and it has the potential to bring us to the mainstream.

SK: Well, a question that might come up is “Do we want focus or diversity?” But in free software, you can have both. Some teams work on specific innovations like these, but our community is very diverse in nature, and we do lots of other stuff as well. For example, for the coming releases, the traditional enterprise use cases, like groupware and office, have a lot of resources behind them. Many developers work on digiKam and Gwenview for better photo management, and KDenlive, a great video editing solution. Our educational community is growing like never before, especially lately in Brazil. The KDE games community is working on a whole new framework for 2-D and 3-D games, easily distributable by GetHotNewStuff. So yes, the basics are covered—in the last 180 days, we fixed more than 18,000 bugs! So we're working at the crazy rate of 100 bugs a day!

AS: And, so much is going on all the time. We have a beautiful community here. KDE is currently really a hot spot for innovation. All these developers at meetings and on-line are talking about such cool stuff, the challenge is to tell the world what we're doing. I personally see that as a part of my job, besides writing code—listening to what people are doing and sharing the story!

SK: Our community has been growing a lot lately, and we've actively worked on enabling that. We have a very open community, with little hierarchy and a lot of room for trying new things. This is why we're so innovative, and why it's so much fun. We also spend a lot of energy on retaining people. Over the last few years, we really improved upon the process of turning casual contributors into core contributors. We have a lot of developer sprints, and these work incredibly well. It is a good way of combining the flexibility and diversity of an on-line community with the advantages of being with a bunch of smart people in one room and knowing each other personally. These meetings are good for making great technological strides, but also for community building. We're currently at a rate of one meeting somewhere in the world every 2–3 weeks, besides our two yearly conferences, Camp KDE in the Americas and Akademy in Europe.