Interview with Aaron Seigo - Part 1


KDE 4.5 has been released some weeks ago. We take this occasion to interview Aaron Seigo (aseigo).

Ikhaya: Hi Aaron, please introduce yourself to our readers:

Aaron Seigo

Aaron: I am a member of the global KDE community, and have been for nearly a decade now. Within KDE, I work as a software developer, provide some project and community management services and help provide a public face to the world for KDE by doing presentations at conferences, participating in interviews like this one, etc. I have also served on the board of directors as President of our global non-profit foundation, KDE e.V.

Beyond KDE, I live in Canada and have a young and happy family on the Western coast of North America, which provides a wonderful environment for enjoying the outdoors as well as music and food, which are two of my main "vices".

Ikhaya: How did you get in touch with 'kde'? What are you working on currently?

Aaron: I got in touch with KDE shortly before the KDE 2.0 release. I had been using KMail as my email client as it was the best GUI email reader I could find at the time on Linux. I wasn't very interested in the KDE 1.x desktop, though, as I didn't find it very compelling; I was quite happy with my Blackbox window manager and numerous aterms running. KDE 2.0 really changed that, though: I saw a design inherent to it that was really compelling. "This," I though, "could really change things!" So I started tracking it from CVS at home and one evening I whipped up a bug fix for the run dialog that I emailed off to a KDE mailing list in case anyone would care. The next morning I had a reply saying it had been applied and thanking me for the patch. I was hooked.

These days I work mostly, though not exclusively, on the KDE Plasma Workspaces. This encompasses the KDE Plasma Desktop, but also Plasma Netbook, Mobile, Media Center and other Plasma-powered projects. We're seeing Plasma pop up in usage in applications as varied as Amarok, Skrooge and Kontact, so it's really growing and that keeps me and the others in the team quite busy.

I do still find time, however, to work on other things in KDE, including non- technical ones. There is a lot that goes into keeping a community as large, dynamic and diverse as KDE. Thankfully we have a great group of people who work on these support services, ranging from our system administration team to the community working group who helps keep the social aspects of things moving well.

Ikhaya: Could you please explain, to our readers from the Ubuntu world, in a few sentences what Plasma is?

Aaron: Plasma is a KDE technology for creating desktop environments. It combines a world class window manager which has advanced features such as focus stealing prevention, window tabbing and hardware accelerated desktop effects with a workspace that is made up entirely of "widgets" (analogous to apps on a smart phone, really) along with all the essential tools needed to get the most out of the computer, such as a system settings center.

Using these pieces, we create and ship products such as the Plasma Desktop which provides a modern, usable desktop environment for larger computers, or Plasma Netbook which is designed for devices with smaller screens, driven by touch (it works great on tablets, for instance) and used primarily for information access. These different products share almost all of the same code, allowing components written for one system to run well on all Plasma systems. This can be as simple as a battery indicator or as complex as a Twitter / identi.ca client.

Ikhaya: We have heard that plasma is getting an iteration on mobile devices. How is it progressing?

Screenshot Kontact Mobile

Aaron: It's progressing very well at the moment, in part due to the terrific new QtQuick technology in Qt 4.7 and the well designed Plasma infrastructure. Combined, these tools allow us to decouple visual and interaction design from the under-the-hood functionality. Not only has this allowed us to bring in interaction and graphic designers as first-class participants, but it's allowed us to do things such as create a mobile-optimized interface to the traditional system tray that shares nearly all of the underlying code with the desktop system tray but which is adapted to small touch driven screens.

Plasma Mobile is also using the concept of task themed activities to great effect, putting multiple home screens on the phone each of which is contextually tied to a concept such as "making a phone call" or "playing a game" or "checking online services".

Screenshot Marble Mobile

You can see a development version of Plasma Mobile in action here:

Keep in mind that Plasma Mobile is still in alpha and running on 2+ year old hardware in that video. It's very promising, especially since I can use the exact same apps on my Plasma Mobile device as I can on my Plasma Desktop!

Of course, it isn't just Plasma that's going mobile in KDE these days. Marble has an excellent mobile version and Kontact Mobile is perhaps the best email and calendaring solution I have ever used on a smart phone, and I've used more than a few (and been disappointed more than a few times as well 😉. KOffice has become an excellent substrate for the mobile document viewer that is available for Maemo and MeeGo devices.

Ikhaya: What are the most important new feature for you in KDE SC 4.5?

Aaron: While there are many improvements and new features in this most recent release, I think the most important of them all is the emphasis in this release on stability and performance. We have been in high innovate-and- develop mode for several years, both leading up to the first release of the 4.0 platfor in 2008 as well as since then. We really needed to take a moment to pause and work on polish, and we managed to achieve a lot in doing so in the last development cycle.

Not only has it made Plasma Desktop and many of the KDE Applications so much nicer to use day-in and day-out, but it has given us a more tidy base from which to build towards our feature goals again.

Things like the map routing in Marble, the file management improvements in Dolphin or the numerous improvements in Plasma Desktop are all great and are helping users of KDE software find new enjoyment and utility ... but I think the concentration on quality was outstanding and has paid off more than anything else in the 4.5 releases.

Ikhaya: The KDE 3 series reached a 3.5 release. Now KDE 4 has also a .5 release though with a shorter release schedule. Where does KDE – especially the desktop Plasma and KWin – stand now compared to 3.5?

Aaron: For the desktop shell itself (Plasma Desktop), there are far more features than KDE 3 ever had. Whether it's the desktop widgets, the improved notifications, the vastly improved system settings and system information applications, the beauty provided by SVG theming or the amazing desktop effects like "present windows" or smooth zoom, the Plasma Desktop has moved significantly beyond what was possible with KDE 3. Best of all, it's all presented in a far more elegant package: we've managed to streamline and simplify most of the configuration interfaces, for instance, despite the increase in functionality.

Large improvements have also been made in key applications such as the file manager which has also been streamlined in workflow but which offers so many possibilities to the user including tabbed browsing of file systems, remote access, tagging and rating, metadata search including via fast indexing or "traditional" grep-style at time of search, great previews and thumbnails, etc.

Then there are entirely new sets of functionality like the KRunner search interface the replaced the old "Run Command" window. It not only provides launching of commands but also quick access to bookmarks, web sites, contacts, music and much more through its plugin-driven interface.

It's also the little things like being able to pop in a USB key, have the device notification pop up in the corner of the screen without interupting your work flow, and then see it appear in the file manager, the file dialog and the application launcher menu simultaneously. Drag and drop to these entries works just as expected, as in it "just works". This level of integration and consistency between components is something KDE has worked on for years, but has only really achieved at this level in the 4.x releases.

Beyond features, the quality in visual design is not even comparable. It is easy to set up a Plasma Desktop to look, act and feel just like a KDE 3 desktop environment, but the defaults are more on par with what one would expect from a product coming out of Cupertino in terms of visual appeal.

Outside of the desktop environment itself, there is a similar forging ahead in quality, features and looks. Whether it's Gwenview for image viewing, Digikam for photo management, Marble for mapping with OpenStreetmap.org, Konsole for command line access, KDevelop for writing software, Cantor for doing serious mathematics, Killbots and KPat for some fun or KStars and Kalzium for learning, the applications have been moving ahead at a great pace with the same kind of feature and design improvements.

KDE 3 was a great set of products, no doubt about that. But the KDE Platform, Workspaces and Applications have evolved even further ahead in their 4.x releases. There are very, very few features to be found in KDE 3 that aren't in today's KDE software, while there are large numbers of improvements in today's KDE applications that KDE 3 never provided, and in many cases couldn't provide due to inherent limitations of the design.

The second part of this interview will be released tomorrow.

Kudos to martingr for contributing screenshots and helping translate this interview.