August 23, 2004

Report from the KDE World Summit

Author: Tom Chance

LUDWIGSBURG, GERMANY -- During the opening day of KDE's World Summit -- aKademy -- the idea that there's no such thing as a free lunch was easily dismissed
thanks to meal tickets from IBM and a local cafe, though sadly those who
convened to discuss and celebrate free software weren't rewarded with free beer.
With approximately half a thousand people currently registered, months of
preparation have turned into a day of frantic setting up and a lively meeting of
the KDE Project's governing board, the KDE e.V.Having arrived in Ludwigsburg at 4 a.m., my travelling friend and I rose
tentatively to a quick breakfast, then sped straight down to the
Filmakademie. A team of around 20 local volunteers was working around the clock
to set up the network, a live video stream, an administrative office, and a
mass install of laptops being sold at cut prices by HP. KDE contributors
were milling around, receiving identification keychains. But no rest for the
wicked - the KDE e.V. membership meeting began promptly at 10 a.m.

The first order of the day was a series of reports from the KDE e.V. Board of
Directors seeking approval from the membership -- which consists of all KDE
contributors -- for its work over the past year. (Members of the board are
elected for a maximum term of three years and handle legal and financial
matters on the behalf of the KDE membership.) Most reports were fairly
unsurprising, but they went into some detail about the organisation of aKademy,
including the costs (⬠70,000) and the problems associated with organising an event
that would normally require one person to work close to full time to manage.

The board also mentioned, bizarrely, that they, and by extension the whole of
the KDE Project, are under investigation by the German financial authorities.
Apparently, a recent surge in undocumented donations via PayPal, to the tune of
⬠5000 in one month, raised suspicions in the authorities at a time when KDE
e.V. is trying to achieve tax-free status in Germany. KDE e.V. explained that
clear paperwork will now be required for all financial transactions, including
expense claims, to show that they involve contributions to an
organisation (KDE), not individuals laundering money.

Throughout the day, similar problems were raised that show growing pains in the
project. Recent years have brought ever-increasing levels of attention in
terms of coverage, participation and financial contributions, and the KDE
Project is clearly struggling to deal with growth efficiently. Many expressed a
desire for more formal organisations and better-defined internal relations, though hackers tempered this with plenty of jokes about bureaucrats.

Of particular concern to many was the allocation and use of budgets for local
organisations. Fabrice Mous of KDE Netherlands talked of the
problems his group has had with sourcing merchandise cheaply and of conflicts with
the branding of KDE NL as a regional organisation and KDE as an umbrella
international organisation. Fabrice shared experiences that resonated with
representatives from KDE France and various North American members who
suggested that regional organisation was a good way to involve people who
normally wouldn't be involved with KDE, for example by attending and helping out
at trade shows. North American members have it particularly bad, having no
sources for merchandise on their own continent, and high customs charges when
importing from the EU.

Another sign of KDE growing up was a proposition made by the e.V. board for new
procedures for accepting donations. Currently, all sponsors who wish to be named
are listed on a donations page, with
notable contributions on a separate page. But KDE is keen to create long-term
financial relationships with potential donors, and so voted to mandate the e.V.
board to draw up new procedures as soon as possible (with a deadline set at one
year). It was generally agreed, though not yet voted on, that the e.V. board
should set-up a a new advisory board, similar to GNOME's, that would consist of
sponsoring members. The board would have no formal control over the KDE
membership, and would have no voting powers in membership meetings, but would
have the benefit of supporting KDE and appearing to do so. A proposal for three
kinds of support was approved, with individuals requiring a donation of ⬠100,
companies with fewer than 50 employees requiring a donation of ⬠1,000, and
larger companies needing to donate ⬠10,000.

Worries were raised about how KDE should balance the interests of sponsors with
the autonomy of the KDE membership. Some felt that members would feel under
pressure if in the presence of their boss in a meeting, and so would lose the
ability to speak freely. Others raised the problem of KDE members being unhappy
with particular companies seeking to become sponsors; on this point, the
membership voted that the e.V. board must put new sponsors to the membership
before accepting their money.

The final discussion brought the first official position of KDE on software
patents, with the members voting for the e.V. to adopt a position against
software patents. Speakers from Europe, North and South America were unanimous
in their opposition, with the roles of individual developers and KDE's links
with software companies being highlighted as ways that KDE can make a real
difference.

Similar discussions moved on in the meeting room, over lunch, and in small
huddled meetings over laptops and drinks. Despite the fairly uninspiring content
of discussions, there was a palpable excitement here about the week to come, and
a sense that everyone is part of an important community project. This spilled over
into discussions about the location of next year's World Summit, with questions
ranging from the sensible (e.g. "what are the travel costs?") to the important
(e.g. "what are the parties like?"). It remains to be seen how the issues
discussed will pan out in the near future, but at least the passion and
commitment of the contributors will almost certainly persist.

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