September 2, 2004

Report from KDE World Summit, Day 8: End of the marathon

Author: Tom Chance

Day eight of aKademy marked the end of the coding marathon. As though restless with their desktop, KDE hackers turned their attention to a tutorial in live cracking, an impromptu demonstration of command line tools, and a brief rootkit panic. Despite the shift in focus, I found some time to talk to some members of the documentation team about their plans.The day began much like any other, with bleary-eyed hackers stumbling upstairs to plug themselves back into the network, refreshed NOC (Network Operations Crew) members finding time for idle IRC banter, and lots of small meetings to discuss the many ideas raised during the past week (essentially an excuse to sit in the cafe / bar next door). But before the laziest amongst us had even had time to entertain dreams of not moving for a day, the official aKademy group photo was announced. Squinting in the sun, a wave was the most exercise many could manage.

Once back inside, I found Lauri Watts and Philip Rodrigues from the documentation team huddled together, again, discussing a new KDE User Guide. Currently KDE documentation works on the principle that the user will generally only want help with using individual applications, and so most of the work goes into writing manuals. There is also a quick introduction to the basic concepts of KDE (window management, the panel, etc.) but it has become quite out of date. The new User Guide will take a different approach, providing the user both with an explanation of the key desktop concepts, and then a series of introductions to how the user can tackle various tasks with KDE. With entries like "Multimedia with KDE" and "Getting started with e-mail", the guide should be more suitable for new users who simply want to get started with the desktop, and don't want to read a full explanation of every feature.

Because of the nature of this new guide, the documentation team are very open to submissions. Lauri wants to dispel the impression that you need to know a lot about the documentation tools and a considerable time commitment to contribute (an impression she feels is common amongst users). Developers are usually reluctant to write this material, and find it difficult to describe their technology in a way that users will understand, so if you find a section of the guide not yet written, the documentation team encourage you to submit something (simply send a plain text e-mail to kde-doc-english@kde.org).

The docs team have also been talking with various developers and the resident usability experts about KHelpCentre, the application that displays the documentation. Bugs filed against the application back up the usability experts' concerns about the interface, which presents the tree of all documentation in a pane on the left, and a collection of menu and toolbar entries that are unnecessary and confusing. When opened for a specific application or section, the tree on the left should only display the tree for the current section; the toolbar and menu will be cleaned up; and a search interface will be added. The developers have to balance presenting attractive and digestible information with being able to present all of the KDE documentation, and potentially any other documentation found on the system.

Running throughout the day was the last pair of tutorials, one of which focused on live cracking - dealing with cracking, that is! Running through who the aggressors may be, what tools they use, how they can crack into your system and how you can block them, participants were treated to live demonstrations and a thorough treatment of the subject.

Participants could have simply walked around the computer labs that afternoon for an unscheduled live demonstration. A report of a possible rootkit sent hackers into a frenzy, checking their machines whilst speculating on how the intruder might have breached the victim's security. The suggestion that the cracker might have exploited icecream, the distributed compilation tool, only made the developers' nerves worse. Happily, it turned out to be a false alarm, with no real damage done.

Despite the excitement, hackers who had spent up to nine days at aKademy already were beginning to show signs of burnout, with heads sinking to the desk for a brief rest. With the Users and Administrators Conference starting the next day, even the sight of a bench outside was welcome solace for some.

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