Hey Mycroft, Drive Me to our Goals!
Almost three months after Akademy 2017, I finally found the time to write a blog post about how I experienced it.
Akademy is where I learn again about all the amazing things happening in our community, where I connect the dots and see the big picture of where all the effort in the various projects together can lead. And of course, I meet all the wonderful people, all the individual reasons why being in KDE is so amazing. This year was no different.
Some people voiced their concern during the event that those who are not at Akademy and see only pictures of it on social media might get the feeling that it is mostly about hanging out on the beach and drinking beer, instead of actually being productive. Everyone who was ever at Akademy of course knows this impression couldn’t be further from the truth, but I’ll still take it as a reason to not talk about any of the things that were “just” fun, and focus instead on those that were both fun and productive.
Tales from the KDE e.V. Board of Directors
One thing that happens at every Akademy is the Annual General Assembly (AGM) of the KDE e.V.
This association, usually just called “the e.V.” by the community, is KDE’s legal and financial representation. Among other things, it raises funds and uses them to make in-person meetings within KDE happen, such as developer sprints or conferences, and sponsor attendees who cannot afford travel and accommodation for those themselves. It also takes care of legal issues such as maintaining KDE’s trademarks, and this year it also uses some of its funds for two marketing contractors, Ivana and Paul, to help push our promo efforts. Since last Akademy I am on the board of directors of the KDE e.V., so the AGM is especially important to me.
One important aspect of this year’s AGM was that three out of the five positions in the board of directors were up for re-election. Two of the board members whose terms ended, our president Lydia Pintscher and vice president Aleix Pol, ran for another term and were re-elected, whereas Marta Rybczynska was not able to run for another term as treasurer, and is now followed by Eike Hein. Eike used to be one of the “KDE phantoms”: He’s been a very active KDE contributor for many years (most notably the maintainer of Konversation, Yakuake and several key parts of Plasma such as the Task Manager), but the majority of his fellow KDE members have not seen him in person until this year.
Fortunately I had the opportunity to talk to Eike more than anybody else at this Akademy because we had been assigned as roommates. He had lots of interesting stories to tell, from the way IRC facilitates building communities, to communication culture in Korea (where he now lives), to the experience of moderating multiple Subreddits, and much much more. I’m really looking forward to working with Eike on the board!
My highlights from two days of talks
The following are explicitly my personal highlights. If you’re a non-programmer like me, who is also especially interested in design and/or in KDE software running on anything that isn’t a traditional desktop or laptop PC, chances are you might find those talks as interesting as I did. If you know more about programming than I do, you’d also enjoy a lot of the other presentations, where I could just sit and be amazed by how people like you can understand all of that technical stuff.
So, here goes:
Aleix Pol’s talk about A laptop by KDE summarized our experience with the KDE Slimbook, the very first KDE-branded hardware on the market, and gave a few ideas on what we might do next in that area. This was especially important to me because I was deeply involved in promoting the KDE Slimbook initiative. The talk was followed up by a BoF session during the week where we did an in-depth retrospective on how the Slimbook project went so far and what we learned from it.
A talk which was especially relevant for me as a user researcher was the one on (K)UserFeedback, where Volker Krause introduced the new framework that allows applications to – after opt-in and fully anonymized, of course – collect usage data and send them to KDE to use it for improving our software. Given that privacy is at the core of our Vision and Mission, of course we are extremely cautious in that area, but some usage data is needed for us to make software that fits the needs of our users, not just our own. Volker’s talk was accompanied by a BoF on Tuesday where we discussed what our policy on collection, storage and use of that data should look like in order gain useful information without compromising our users’ privacy.
A talk which was interesting for me from a strategic, design and user perspective was the one about Mycroft AI Plasmoid & Plasma Desktop Integration, in which Aditya Mehra presented some of the amazing things the Mycroft AI can already do in Plasma, as well as his plans for the future. Digital Assistants are one area where the Linux desktops clearly lag behind all big proprietary operating systems. Many Free Software proponents reject digital assistants outright due to a perceived inherent privacy problem, but Mycroft (apart from currently using a Google service for speech recognition, but there are plans to replace that) shows that privacy-protecting and fully user-controlled digital assistants are possible. That is why from my perspective, this is a hugely important strategic area for KDE. This talk was also accompanied by a BoF on Tuesday, about where else in Plasma we can use Mycroft’s capabilities. If you are as excited as I am about the role KDE could play in Free Software solutions for AI and home automation, consider participating in the discussion on my community goal proposal on that subject.
In his talk Opening new doors: KDE in embedded, Agustin Benito Bethencourt presented some of the ways in which KDE could play an important role in the world of embedded systems, for example in the automobile industry. He has been involved in two different projects in that area and told us that the industry is waking up to the benefits of open source, and that from his perspective, now would be a great time for KDE to make ourselves known in that space. This talk, too, was accompanied by a BoF session, where we discussed next steps for getting our software to run on automotive systems. This is also an area where I believe it’s important that KDE champions Fee Software, because, like with virtual assistants: What have we won if our PCs and phones run Free Software, but our cars are not in our full control and might even spy on us? If you are interested in this project, head over to the Automotive project on Phabricator and join the discussion and work there!
In his talk Looking for Love, our marketing contractor Paul Brown taught us the importance of focusing our communication strategy on the users’ needs, by presenting, in clear and easy to understand words, what benefit our products bring to them, instead of trying to describe their purpose as precisely as possible from our own perspective. That he took the Kirigami wiki page, which I had contributed significantly to, as a negative example of a description which uses way too much jargon and focuses on technical details instead of user benefits, of course meant that I had to endure seeing one of my “babies” being ripped apart in front of my eyes, but it was definitely worth it! The talk was meant as an appetizer for a workshop on Monday, were Paul helped everyone who wanted to improve their product website.
In his talk Input Methods in Plasma 5, Eike Hein made it clear that the state of input methods (which are needed primarily for text input in e.g. many Asian writing systems, but can also handle things such as emoji input or auto-completion or -correction) in Plasma and KDE applications is currently lagging behind other popular operating systems and desktop environments. He presented what needs to be done to improve the situation, and is now rallying people behind a proposal for a community goal to make it happen together. So here as well: If you also feel that improving input methods in KDE software is important, join the conversation on the proposal!
Camilo Higuita, author of the Babe music player, gave a talk Introducing Babe and a contextual approach to multimedia desktop apps where he demonstrated how Babe uses various techniques and online services to find connections between songs in order to give smart answers to search queries. His talk was also accompanied by a BoF session during the week, where we discussed some design ideas and how to use Kirigami to make Babe a convergent desktop and mobile application.
Yours truly also gave a presentation, together with Dan Leinir Turthra Jensen, titled Folding Your Applications, where we talked about the design behind the Kirigami Ui framework and how application developers inside and outside of KDE are already using it to easily create mobile and convergent user interfaces.
Putting Ideas to Action: The Workshop and BoF Days
Monday through Thursday were dedicated to workshops and Birds of a Feather (BoF) sessions, where various groups in KDE – established project teams, groups spontaneously forming around a topic, or often a combination of both – discussed how to drive their ideas forward.
In addition to the already mentioned follow-up sessions to talks from the previous days, these were the sessions that inspired me most:
In the Plasma Mobile part of the Plasma BoF, we learned about Plasma Mobile’s current status and discussed what needs to be done next. There is also a proposed community goal to improve the Plasma Mobile platform for end-user needs, so if you agree with me that Plasma Mobile is of strategic importance to KDE, please participate in the discussion there!
If you ask yourself what the deal is with all those community goals I keep referring to: The initiative to define some concrete mid-term goals for KDE for the next 3-4 years was actually born at Akademy, during a BoF titled ‘”Luminaries” Kabal Proposals’, where Kevin Ottens, Frederik Gladhorn and Mirko Boehm presented to us what came out of their discussion about how they think KDE can be put on the right track towards the future. The goal-setting initiative was one of their proposals. Another one was integrating the KDE e.V. working group reports, which have so far been part of the AGM, into the general conference schedule, allowing people who are not members of the KDE e.V. to learn what’s happening there, as well as significantly shortening the AGM. This proposal will be implemented at next year’s Akademy. Their third proposal, making sure the barrier of entry to contributing to KDE is as low as possible, has been picked up in two goalproposals (which are likely to be merged into one), so, once more: If you agree that this is important for KDE, join the discussion over there!
In a BoF titled “Visual Design Direction”, Andres “Andy” Betts brought up some ideas on how to better integrate designers into the Plasma development process again, and volunteered to spearhead the next round of design improvements. Andy has also submitted a goal proposal related to this, so… you know the drill by now.
Closing Words (and a shameless plug)
Now that I’ve advertised various community goal proposals here (one of them being my own), let me use the final paragraph to link to my other proposal, Making KDE software the #1 choice for research and academia. This goal aims to give KDE software the exposure in the research and academic sector that it deserves due to its features and quality, but currently does not have. I think KDE has a lot to offer to researchers, teachers and students, so I’d like us to get in touch with them, promote our software to them and improve it based on their direct feedback. If you agree, participation is welcome!
With hat out of the way, I can summarize that this year’s Akademy was a very successful event, despite being slightly smaller than usual (due to the location being a bit hard to reach and the timing falling into vacation time for many KDE members). I’m now full of enthusiasm again about the things to come for KDE, and looking forward to next year’s Akademy in Vienna!