September 3, 2004

Report from KDE World Summit, Day 9: Users and Admins

Author: Tom Chance

Day nine of aKademy saw the start of the Users and Administrator's Conference, and the celebration of the international Software Freedom Day. With the end of the developers' section of the summit, the hacking rooms began to thin out, but the loss in numbers was accommodated by (for the most part local) crowds of users filing in to hear from developers and other users and administrators. And for those following the SUSE-Novell developments, a keynote from a Novell employee was not to be missed.

At an almost-reasonable 9.15am, Chris Schlaeger (Vice President Research & Development, SUSE-Novell), who worked on KDE almost from the start of the project, and who joined SUSE in the KDE 2 days, took to the stage. He opened his talk by claiming he had thrown out the standard marketing presentation slides and had started from scratch, a move that was possibly calculated to show he was a regular KDE guy and not a corporate drone. His presentation began by showing how far we have come on the desktop, from using the command line in FVWM to using KDE 3.3 under SuSE Linux, again pandering to the KDE audience. He then move onto SUSE's desktop strategy, showing a chart that plotted the number of users against skill levels, and highlighting the technically adept end as being SUSE's target market thus far. Novell Desktop, he said, would focus on bringing the middle bracket of users in the business environment, who rely on software that often isn't available, into their fold. The key challenges, he said, are interoperability with existing set-ups, usability, a sufficient range and quality of applications and administration in the enterprise.

Readers might reasonably ask: what can Novell offer that we haven't heard from every other distributor? Chris talked about automatic configuration, dynamic resource management (e.g. automatically loading a camera with the correct access restrictions), reverse engineering interoperability with proprietary formats and protocols, and so on. Where he did get a little more specific was on usability: it must mean, to Chris, an easy learning curve from Windows or MacOS, as opposed, one might surmise, to finding the best approach independently of what competitors do. He highlighted the application menu, where handling multiple applications with similar functionality (e.g. Kmail, Evolution and Balsa) without confusing the user is difficult. He also mentioned using Qt as being a better strategy than porting Java and .net/Mono applications.

The one final issue he tackled was desktop integration between frameworks; he praised the work of freedesktop.org, and encouraged more integration and standardisation. Still, he said, 9 out of 10 SUSE customers use KDE (though one should bear in mind that it is the default). On the sticky subject of the desktop choice in Novell Linux Desktop, he repeated what we have heard before: both KDE and GNOME will be included, and a choice will be offered during installation.

After a brief break, the day continued with a series of presentations in two tracks: one on using KDE for office work, and another on development in KDE for newbies. After, predictably, discussing KOffice, the office track moved onto less obvious subjects like advanced scripting with DCOP & kdialog and rapid application development with kommander, as well as covering KDEPrint and the feature-rich text editor Kate. In the newbie developers' track, presentations varied from introducing Kalyxo, an effort to better integrate KDE into Debian (and a reaction in part to Bruce Perens' KDE-less UserLinux), to running KDE on Windows using Cygwin.

It would seem as though the presentations were very much aimed at SUSE's core market - the technically adept power users. Though many developers had already left the summit, it at least gave them something more substantial to participate in than watching a presentation aimed at complete KDE novices.

During the lunch breaks in this conference I have often wandered off around Ludwigsburg to explore. The many amateur photographers present were of the same disposition, capturing the stranger sights (like the car, found by Giovanni Venturi) as well as the more mundane. I would like to quickly thank the photographers whose photos I have used in these articles, including Giovanni, Stephan Binner, Sven Guckes, Michael Prokop and Peter Rockai. For hundreds of photographs from throughout the summit, go to this page.

The final presentation of the day, scheduled, I assume, to celebrate Software Freedom Day, was from Bernhard Reiter from the Free Software Foundation Europe, entitled "Social and Political Aspects of Free Software". Trying to appeal to developers familiar with the FSFE's rhetoric whilst clearly explaining himself to the free software novices in the audience, Berhnard began by introducing the famous four freedoms (to use, to copy, to modify and to redistribute). He moved on to clarify the FSF's position on licensing, and on the many names (Free Software, Open Source, Free Open Source Software, Free Libre Open Source Software, etc.) for "the same thing".

As an antidote to the very technical focus of the previous presentations, Bernhard then outlined the social aspects of Free Software, namely those of communication (i.e. the freedom to discuss software and its details, and to communicate digitally without being tied to any single technology) and education (i.e. the freedom to learn from the source code). On the political aspects of Free Software, he chose to simply outline the problems of software patents and DRM (which he described as Damn Restriction Management), no doubt hoping to inform the clueless and motivate the informed.

With the end of the FSFE's presentation came the end of the day, a short break, and then a "party" to celebrate Software Freedom Day. I qualify the word party because the underwhelming attendance (in part because hackers were too busy working upstairs) relegated it to a pleasant but under-attended social gathering. Many (myself included) chose after a while to find another club or bar elsewhere in Ludwigsburg. It's a shame that the day couldn't have ended with a big exciting party, but I'll leave it to the anthropologists to determine how you get hackers and members of the public together for that.

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