Aaron Seigo on the Future of KDE

The KDE desktop is adding functionality, extending the social desktop, and enlarging its hardware platform.
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No one is better qualified to talk about the state of the KDE desktop than Aaron Seigo. A former member of the board of KDE e.V, the German non-profit that oversees the project, Seigo is a lead developer on the desktop. Last weekend, I interviewed him at the Calgary Open Source Systems Festival, COSSFest, in front of an audience, on where KDE is today and where it is heading.

According to Seigo, the large-scale changes that began two years ago with the release of KDE 4.0 are mostly complete now. "We've reached the stage with the 4.4 release that happened in January where we've got this nice feature set on the desktop and we have applications available for it and some nice refinements in the look and feel. That's where we are. But where are we going? That's always the difficult question. Once you've arrived at a place,what are you going to aim for?"

Seigo's answer to his own question is that KDE is currently moving in three directions: adding functionality to the desktop in both small features and within specific applications, extending the concept of the social desktop, and the introduction of KDE on to every possible hardware platform. Each is a small story in itself.

Fine-tuning the KDE Desktop

In contrast to some of the earlier releases in the KDE 4 series, Seigo says, now "we have the features that people expect [and] we've given people a lot of new things they can do." The next step, he says, is "putting an emphasis on fit and finish -- working on performance, really ratcheting down the screws on stability."

Something of this direction can already been seen in the current 4.4 release, with the addition of new features such as the ability to group many windows into tabs in a single one. However, tabbed windows are only the beginning, Seigo says.

He suggests that future releases will make the taskbar aware of tabbed windows, and allow users to save them for use in a latter session. Similarly, he sees the recently-added geolocation feature as a first step towards a KDE version that will automatically change the contents of the desktop according to where you are -- for instance, opening one set of icons and files when the computer starts at your office, and another when it starts at home.

In addition, many of the changes to the desktop are occurring within specific applications. For example, KOffice has received funding from Nokia to develop a document viewer for the Maemo 5 mobile platform. Nokia," Seigo says, "is investing a lot, not only so it's fast, but also so it has import/export filters for Open Document and Microsoft Office format, so if you create a document in OpenOffice.org, it will work perfectly on your phone."

Another example is the new direction for Krita, KOffice's rasterized graphic program. For a long time, Seigo says, the sub-project wasn't sure "If they were a drawing app, or maybe a photo retouching app, or what-the-hell were they?"

At a recent developers' sprint, Krita enlisted design expert Peter Sikking, who has also worked with the GIMP, to help the sub-project find direction.

"At the end of this experience, they decided that what they really were was a natural process drawing application," Seigo says -- that is, an application that simulates as closely as possible such aspects as brush strokes and color-mixing. "Other things like photo editing are plugins now, something that you add afterwards."

"The other exciting area of development right now is in business support," Seigo says. "Things like groupware. KDE is working a program called OpenChange which is doing a compete reimplementation of MS Exchange," Seigo says. "They were actually at the Samba conference this year, and I always refer to them as the Samba for Exchange. KDE is being ported to the new Akonadi framework [for personal information management], so in the not-too-distant future, you'll be able to choose your server of choice, including Exchange. That's really a first for us."

KDE and the Social Desktop

The second major direction is the increased use of the social desktop. According to Seigo, this trend began with introduction of Nepomuk, the social semantic desktop that maintains a database of files and their tags.

Next Page: KDE and New Hardware

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