August 25, 2004

Report from the KDE World Summit: Day three

Author: Tom Chance

Day three of aKademy opened with presentations in two tracks, covering the themes of multimedia on the desktop and integration. A cruel starting time of 8.45 meant that the first talks suffered from a rather low attendance, perhaps due to the exploits of certain KDE hackers. But those who managed to crawl out of bed so early were not disappointed.

In the multimedia track, Leon Shiman of Shiman Associates Inc. kicked things off with a presentation on the Media Application Server (MAS), which sports impressive peer-2-peer capabilities; one can, for example, distribute CPU-intensive tasks like encoding and filtering across several computers, and bring up a visual map showing all of the components (MAS calls them devices) involved in the system, and how data flows between them. Most impressive was his claim that they streamed data over a network for 100 hours without any frame loss. Leon described how MAS had begun in a relatively open but tightly controlled research group after receiving seed funding from the X.Org Foundation five years ago, how it has been open source for the past two and a half years, and that now they want to, through freedesktop.org, open the development process completely.

The MAS talk was followed by discussions on the other multimedia contenders, GStreamer and Network-integrated Multimedia Middleware (NMM), both of which were extremely well received, with the NMM crew showing demos such as a DVD being played on a laptop and simultaneously to a PDA. One of the big decisions expected to be taken during the development of KDE4 is the multimedia framework fuelled by dissatisfaction with aRts, so these talks attracted a lot of questions from developers interested in researching KDE's options.

Konqi oversees hackers taking a break

When not in presentations, many KDE developers took the opportunity to use one of the three networked rooms to write some code, check their mail or just fool around on their laptops. The developer conference gives them opportunities both to hear presentations and discuss the issues that arise, and to work with others face-to-face in a way that isn't usually possible online. Well, all that work and an opportunity to just socialise and have some fun.

Parallel to the multimedia presentations were a series on integration. Most controversial of these was the opening presentation on the Linux Registry. Avi Alkalay opened by emphasising that developers should forget the name's association with the Windows registry, and went on to talk about what he describes as a "bazaar" of "selfish configuration files" spread across the system. His proposed solution is a single hierarchical configuration infrastructure using a key-pair system, integrated with the current configuration systems in such a way as to make it familiar to experienced users and usable for newbies. He'd do this with a collection of plain text files held in /etc/ and ~/. (dotfiles) that could then be accessed via an API that could be integrated into existing frameworks like KDE's KConfigXT.

The afternoon talks covered various programming techniques, the first of which was rendering Unicode text. Managing non-latin fonts that cannot be rendered as fixed width, and whose characters may change depending on the context of their usage was mentioned - Qt 4 will apparently solve a lot of these issues. Writing plugins for KDE was covered in some detail, as was a migration to the Model View Controller (MVC) design pattern that will be adopted by Qt 4.

The developers' conference closed with a talk by David Faure and Matthias Kalle Dalheimer on clever tricks with Qt. After coming up against many limitations in Qt, they began to write a book collecting 85 different problems with detailed solutions, some of which they presented in a talk that prompted Matthias Ettrich, the founder of KDE, to shout from the back "don't you mess with the toolkit!" Despite the motivation behind the talk, and certain heckles from the audience, it demonstrated how powerful the Qt toolkit is, giving power to the developer when they need it.

Looking to the bar for relaxation, I ended up sitting down with a group of KDE hackers discussing their respective areas of KDE, and how they can coordinate. Currently efforts in artwork, documentation and usability (those represented) are quite fragmented, and aKademy has brought out a desire for coordination in almost all the hackers I've spoken to. Jokes about accents aside (having a Canadian, an American, an Australian, a New Zealander and an Englishmen all at the same table with some German speakers tends to end up that way), common problems like people voicing their opinion without being productive or constructive were discussed, building common experiences across usually distant worlds. Eventually, of course, the jokes overran KDE talk, and the day ended for many of us being scolded by the Youth Hostel for laughing too loud in the lobby. Those that weren't still hacking in the Filmakademie slunk back to bed full of anecdotes and big ideas.

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