September 7, 2005

KDE conference celebrates success and looks to future

Author: Tom Chance

Ten days of presentations, workshops, and chaotic coding sponsored by Trolltech, Novell/SUSE, HP, the local governments of Andalucia, and Malaga can only mean one thing: aKademy 2005, the KDE community's annual conference. Held in Malaga, Spain, aKademy 2005 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.

After a private meeting of KDE's membership organisation KDE e.V., the conference was officially opened on Saturday the 27th by talks from local officials and a representative from KDE. José Ángel Narváez from the University of Malaga introduced Fuensanta Ramos from Diputación de Málaga, who emphasised the important efforts of free software developers. Linux and KDE, particularly through projects like Guadalinfo, are giving local people free access to free information and so she encouraged the assembled tourists to visit nearby towns and the beach, presumably to discuss freedom with locals. María Gámez from Junta de Andalucía then thanked the organisers for choosing Malaga, whose local government was the first European authority to put the source code of its programmes at everyone's disposal. Finally Matthias "Kalle" Dalheimer of KDE thanked the previous speakers, the conference's sponsors and the Malaga Linux User Group for making it all possible.

A group photo of KDE contributors at aKademy 2005

With mutual adoration in the air, the User and Administrator Conference opened to showcase KDE's maturing platform. The usual applications were explained in detail as well as various technologies for enterprise deployments: Kolab is KDE's advanced groupware solution; Kiosk provides a framework for administrators to lock down features on the desktop; KDE and NX make Windows to Linux migrations easier with fast remote desktop and application access. But exciting new technologies were also featured, including Krita, a painting and image editing application. Though Krita has been in development for more than five years, it wasn't ready for use until this year. While The GIMP undoubtedly retains the crown for the most advanced free paint program, Krita has an interface more familiar to Photoshop users and a range of advanced image restoration plugins. The next version should have support for CMYK and other colour spaces as well as 16 and 32 bits/channels, two features long demanded of The GIMP by professionals.

There were also talks of interest to power users. Richard Moore described how users can write scripts that will integrate into the desktop, a task made easy by KDE's modular architecture. Michael Brade spoke about a range of power features in applications including several hidden features of the Konqueror file manager and Web browser. For users obsessed with customising and extending their system, Josef Spillner showcased, a Web site and desktop feature that enables users to effortlessly download new artwork, plugins and more from the Web.

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. New features in Qt 4 were showcased, including QtTestLib, the Trolltech Unit Testing Library, the Scribe rich-text editor, and changes in Qt Designer, a powerful application that makes creating complex graphical interfaces quick and painless. Zack Rusin showed off some cutting-edge visual effects in Xorg that may transform desktop eye candy. (A video of Rusin's presentation is available from Albert Astals Cid, one of the key developers behind the unsurpassed PDF reader KPDF, introduced the Poppler PDF rendering library, which is being developed through by KDE and GNOME developers. Cross-desktop collaboration like this promises more rapid development of basic technologies that can then be fully integrated into the competing desktops. The conference suggested that KDE developers have an extremely strong base from which to develop the next generation of their free desktop.

Aaron Seigo presents an award to Albert Astals Cid

On Tuesday the first KDE Appreciation Awards, or the "aKademy Awards," were presented to recognize outstanding contribution 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. KDE hackers Matthias Ettrich, David Faure, Brad Hards and Aaron Seigo served on the jury for this year's awards, and this year's winners will serve on the jury for aKademy 2006.

After four days of presenting and listening to talks the 200 contributors present were only too pleased to jump into a five-day hacking marathon. Whilst the majority wrote code, a series of Birds-of-a-Feather sessions gave hackers interested in usability, marketing and high-level design a chance to discuss and apply their ideas. Several hands-on usability tests and some paper prototyping, where users sketch their ideal interfaces for developers, complemented work on the KDE Human Interface Guidelines. The highlight was Celeste Paul's presentation on alternatives to KMenu, which is currently based upon a confusing hierarchy of application types. Celeste discussed task-oriented, search-oriented and verb-based interfaces, giving a lot of detail on the relevant research being conducted in the field. A summary of usability work can be found on KDE.News.

Of course, aKademy wasn't just about presentations and workshops. For the hundreds of developers from across the world, the conference is a rare opportunity to meet each other in the flesh and have a good time together. Hackers lounged in cafes, sunbathed on the sunny beaches of the Costa del Sol and organised a tour of Malaga's tourist hotspots. For those who sunburn easily, the labs provided welcome respite and a chance to work on code -- huge quantities of which were churned out during the week. A few linguistically challenged individuals even managed to fall foul of a local prankster, who directed them to a brothel when they asked for a decent bar.

The conference ended, fittingly, with a beach party. Another year of coding, documenting, translating, designing and promoting free software was celebrated with free food and free beer. As they limped home, the developers and KDE users alike can look forward to the future with anticipation, not least for the Open Source Developer Workshops coming up in mid-October. If the workshops can train a new army of KDE developers, and KDE4 work goes to plan, then aKademy 2006 should be an unmissable event!

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