September 7, 2004

Report from KDE World Summit, Day 10: Why Knoppix chose KDE

Author: Tom Chance

The tenth and final day of the KDE World Summit 2004 - aKademy - presented visitors with a second opportunity to learn more about some of KDE's key technologies, and to hear of how KDE has been successfully deployed by others. A track on groupware and collaboration tools gave developers the chance to show off their work, whilst a track on success stories turned the tables, allowing visitors and developers alike to hear of KDE being used in deployments ranging from 10,000 desktops to the famous Live CD Knoppix.But first on the schedule was a talk from Michael Schultz, a Technical Marketing Manager from Hewlett-Packard. As I noted previously, HP donated some of their new nx5000 "Linux supported" laptops to hackers at the summit; they were also the Platinum Sponsor for the summit, and continue to sponsor KDE through the KDE League. So it came as no surprise that Michael opened his presentation by emphasising HP's place in the free software community, citing the new laptop, contributions to Samba, Debian, linuxprinting.org (through their various driver projects) and OpenSSI amongst others as examples, and noting that HP use postfix for their mail servers and Jabber for meetings.

Michael's main message was that HP is committed to free software. He claimed that they have, for some time now, been testing desktop systems with Mandrake Linux and Turbolinux to ensure that they work, and said the HP ensures that drivers are available for hardware. Those in the audience who couldn't get the wireless LAN adapters in their nx5000 laptops to work quickly objected when the time came for questions, with several other difficult questions along the same lines being thrown at the speaker. HP's stance on software patents was also challenged, leaving a somewhat embarrassed marketing manager to reply that he's not involved with that area of the business - he declined to answer. Though the questions may have seen overly hostile, they raise a fair question: just what constitutes supporting the free software community? Should we be grateful for partial or even almost entirely complete support from a company, or should we expect them to be committed to our principles in every aspect of their business? The audience remained divided.

Still, the day continued with presentations in German on success stories; given that I can barely order a meal in German, my reports on this track are second hand thanks to the help of Michael Renner. The most sensational presentation came from a representative from the financial administration of Lower Saxony in Germany, whose details had been kept secret until he took to the stage. His administration, he revealed, are planning to migrate 11,700 desktop PCs from Solaris x86 with CDE to GNU/Linux with KDE within the next year. Pilot installations are scheduled for January 2005, with a full rollout in all 68 offices scheduled for the following spring.

The only major work the administration has had to undertake is rewriting all of their customised financial applications in Java, with KDE technologies like Kiosk easing the system administration headaches. This theme was echoed in another presentation by a representative from the City of Treuchtlingen who migrated to using Solaris and KDE in 2002. Whilst the users are said to be extremely pleased with the set-up, migrating from custom applications was a huge problem, with between one third and one half of development shops having no plans to write ports to free software platforms.

Back in the cinema there were no such worries, with KDE hackers happily demonstrating the power of their groupware applications to audiences of varying sizes. Those who mourn the passing of geeky trade shows, and the rise of the shiny corporate stall, would have enjoyed the flavour of the talks in this track. Several times during their presentations, hackers had to stop and admit that features they were talking about weren't yet implemented, or didn't work properly. "We should really fix this" was one phrase Ingo Klöcker used several times whilst showing the audience through the configuration dialogues of KMail. An unstable laptop forced Will Stephenson to deliver the latter half of his presentation from notes scrawled on a pad. Despite these apparent setbacks, the presentations continued with a good spirit and gave an ideal showcase for the work that has been put into one of KDE's killer features.

Chris Schläger of SuSE-Novell finished the track off with a presentation on TaskJuggler, a project and team management application that was exactly how you'd imagine a geek's version of Microsoft Project. Based around hand-edited files with a custom markup that seemed to take inspiration from every Unix scripting language known to its author, the only saving grace for pointy-haired bosses came in the shape of a shiny KDE frontend that could - the audience sighed in relief- produce GANT charts.

An unscheduled back-slapping ceremony was called during the lunch break, perhaps to reinforce the community volunteer nature of the project in the minds of those who had been sitting through talks on KDE enterprise deployment. The staff who had been working in the organisation office, those who had kept the all-important networks up for hackers, and the three-man press team all received a year's subscription to Linux Magazine and a round of applause from those gathered to watch. Perhaps next year it can be arranged for all KDE contributors, be they the most hardcore programmer or a brand-new summit volunteer, to stand in front of those who benefit from their work?

The day, and the summit, closed with a talk from Klaus Knopper of Knoppix fame. The prospect of a presentation entitled "Why I use KDE for Knoppix" that provocatively mentioned Gnoppix in its abstract brought any remaining KDE hackers out of the woodwork, and they weren't, eventually, disappointed. With a candid humour befitting the circumstance, Klaus outlined his first reason for using KDE: the ability to easily manage lots of terminals on one screen! After demonstrating the revolutionary features of Konsole, KDE's terminal, he then revealed his second reason: the ability to easily script desktop icons to handle devices properly (i.e. allow them to be mounted read-only, and then to allow a user to remount them read-write through a context menu). Jokes aside, the main reason was his preference for the object-orientated nature of C++ and the ease with which he could learn and then manipulate the internals of KDE.

Having seen his colleague open the summit, Matthias Ettrich closed with a plea for participants to buy up the remaining summit t-shirts, of which too many were still left. And with that, the summit was over. It is surprising how quickly a building can empty of people, and by the evening only a handful of volunteers remained cleaning the rooms up, dismantling the network and picking up loose ends. I ate my final Ludwigsburg pizza whilst watching representatives from local KDE groups working through the remaining merchandise. If there is one memory that bodes well for the coming year in the KDE Project, and for next year's World Summit, it is the smiles in the faces of those who, with barely a day's sleep between them, were still working into the night to clear up.

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