29 September 2006

 

The next generation

With the documentation work for KOffice 1.6 done, it is time for me to look a bit into the future and start coordinating what is affectionately called 'trunk': version 2.0. I've already started documenting the current status, it's very concise for now but I will be add details to it when I feel like reading through the handbooks and summarising them ;)
A second thing I'm working on is an overview of what I think should be the contents of our "next generation" manuals. By reading through the current tables of contents and manuals from other office suites, and adding my own thoughts, I hope to provide a basis that we can use to make really nice documentation for KOffice 2.0.
Obviously, I can't do this all on my own. KOffice development is going at an incredible speed and there are lots of interesting things that need to be described. So if you have a KDE svn account, you can see the commits slowly floating by - and if you're interested in thinking along, you're welcome to do so. (Of course, if you are interested but don't have an account, that's no problem, there's IRC and e-mail :))

27 September 2006

 

KOffice rocks - and its developers even more so

I haven't done much real work today, but still I'm fairly happy about my results. After throwing some thoughts at KOffice and KDE docs team people, I've started doing some actual doc coordination for KOffice. One of the first things I wanted to do is getting clarity about the status of the various handbooks. Within one hour after sending out an email, I already got nice and very clear replies from four (former) maintainers. Alfredo, Ben, Jaroslaw and Mike: thanks! Too bad that not everyone is able to continue contributing, but with the amount of new people asking if there is work in documentation writing, I am sure that we can fill up these gaps pretty soon.
In different news, Sebastian Sauer has done some great job on an ODF tool. I won't go into detail, you'll read about it soon if you follow KOffice a little, but Kross rocks. Period. The dinner today with Inge, Alfredo and Isaac was also pretty nice. As virtually always when some of us meet for food, we've been talking about the chances KOffice has in the near future. It's incredible to see how much enthousiasm and new ideas are sparked at conferences like this one. Oh, and how addicting Wesnoth can be ;)

26 September 2006

 

aKademy 2006: OpenDocument Day

One of the two large specialised tracks at aKademy this year is the OpenDocument Day - the other one, HCI day, will be tomorrow. We started off today with the keynote by Barbara Held who talked about open formats and standards, and what the European Union can and cannot do with them. One of the largest problems turns out to be that what we call an OASIS standard is not a proper standard according to their rules: only specifications approved by DIN, ISO, and such institutions are. Still, there seem to be an interesting movement and open standards might very well have a good future.
Then, we had a series of lightning talks, starting off with Lotzi Bölöni on a test suite, or as he rather sees it, a series of sample documents. I was up next with a presentation on OpenRaster, a proposed open graphics interchange format which would ideally have a "container" counterpart in OpenDocument Raster. The next two talks were by Rob Weir and Florian Reuter, who both talked about common object models and toolsets.
After an excellent lunch, Sam Hiser continued with a talk on the "Promise of ODF" which gave a bird-eye view of the project, and Tim Eves pointed out some issues with minority languages and font support. Jaroslaw Staniek concluded the lightning sessions with a presentation on databases and ODF. We had a break and waved goodbye to some of our guests. Then we continued with some plenary discussions during which it became apparent that there is quite some opportinity for collaboration between the various parties. We are currently rounding up the discussions, will probably do some more informal talking afterwards, and then will go for dinner tonight.

25 September 2006

 

aKademy 2006: Contributors Conference, Day 2

Well, writing the previous post turned out to take too long to write an entry about the second day of the conference as well. Guess I'll have to do that now.
I started the day with the rest of the Community track. Eric Laffoon shared his thoughts about sponsored development, pointing out that money should not be the incentive but merely the enabling factor. Another interesting point of his was, that it's much better to hire an enthousiastic average programmer than an excellent coder who is not motivated at all. The next talk was given by Anne Østergaard, who talked about the lack of women contributing to free software and how that should be solved.
After the coffee break, I joined the Applications track which featured Adriaan de Groot on the English Breakfast Network (if you're ever in need of a nice website name, feed Adriaan a couple of beers) and Mark Purcell on the Debian KDE Extras team.
Then a shortened lunch break to be in time for Gunnar Schmi Dt's talk on accessibility that had been moved from its original slot, and the keynote on software patents. Then some more talks in the Application track, on spectaKle (digital signage), consumer electronics, and Debian-Edu/Skolelinux. All three of them interesting, but I didn't hear any things that are especially noteworthy here.
Inge and I skipped the next talk to go and throw a disc at a nearby grass field - nice to get some exercise when you've been sitting all day. After Sebastian Sauer's talk on Kross (nice examples, and KOffice is getting coverage again, which is always good) and Will Stephenson on network status support, the aKademy awards were presented. No better birthday present than an award for best application, according to Boudewijn. And Krita being my pet application, I'm extremely happy with this!

24 September 2006

 

Complex Systems and Their Usability

When I grabbed my writing pad to jot down some notes during one of the talks yesterday, I came across notes from an elective course on sustainability I followed last October, which featured a talk on industrial ecology and complex systems by Igor Nikolic. Having heard Aaron's keynote on the KDE community being a dynamic movement, this sparked some thought I'd like to share. Be warned, it is quite a long thought, with lots of loose ends...
As a side note, you can find Igor's complete talk here, some of his definitions will be used in this post - I encourage you to read the rest of his slides as well.
There are of course a lot of definitions of the word "system", but a quite fitting one for this purpose is an interacting group. As Igor was talking about complex systems in particular, I should include the definition of "complexity" as well: a certain system property, being the inability of any formalism to fully describe the system. In other words, one way of looking at the system is not enough. This applies quite well to KDE: as Aaron said, it's not easy to describe KDE in general without mentioning at least a number of activities or key ideas. Of course, Aaron's term of choice ("community") is a reasonably well-fitting name, but it's very broad itself. This will most likely hold for many similar projects.
There are lots of other system properties and I want to mention a couple here. The first is adaptiveness, the idea that a system has a tendency to change towards a fit state. What state exactly, can (and probably will) change from time to time, so a proper adaptive system is changing continuously.
The second one is instability. This might seem like a negative property, but is actually a very important one. Basically, instability means that when an action is taken within the system, the resulting situation is different depending on the specific time and place that action is done. This boils down to the butterfly effect.
Next, related to instability, we have context-dependency. It is not only what is done that affects the system, it is also the "when" and "where" that are important. Or to put it differently, not every action makes sense in every situation.
The last property I'd like to include here is self-similarity: different problems are often approached and solved in a common way. We can see this in KDE where more and more code is going into libraries, which is then used in totally different applications which just wrap their specific needs around it.
Now, leaving the theoretical stuff, a couple of questions which I came up with. For example, take adaptiveness. In my opinion the KDE project is quite adaptive. Goals and applications are changing, we are getting really well organised, and last but not least, more and more attention is being paid to usability and accessibility. A very good thing, but still there are some issues to be resolved there.
For example, imagine an application that is starting to become mature - let's call it KPainter, just to give it a name. It has a group of users, which are more or less used to its interface and behaviour. Its developers want KPainter to follow the rest of KDE, which means some of the very specific behaviour and interface has to be changed. Just changing stuff is not really an option since this may scare users away, and will most likely only have KPainter roughly comply with the rest.
This is were usability and guidelines come in and this is where the real thought lies that I mentioned at the start of this post. How can we adapt KPainter to comply with our ideals on usability and user interfaces, while keeping the original behaviour and codebase? Of course we want to make sure that the people currently using KPainter will keep using it in the next, adapted version. On the other hand, we want to gain as many users as possible with our next version.
Basically, this is an issue with every highly dynamic system (what I consider KDE to be). However, an extra complication in our case might be that we are a very broad project with a lot of interdependent and changing subprojects, so there is quite a lot of group dynamics involved as well. I will leave discussing that part to experts in that field, though, and concentrate on user interface thoughts here.
Back to KPainter: we want to improve its usability without degrading user experience for those people that just want to work with it as it used to be. This is difficult matter, since it involves knowing what your users want (and who your users are, cf. Ellen Reitmayr's talk) and being aware of how your program is perceived. This means a lot of work which normal developers usually do not do, either because of time constraints or because they are not familiar with the concepts needed. It looks like it is time to reinforce the usability group...
To wrap things up a bit: yes, I am aware that this post is vague and it might make more sense when I give it some more thought. I'm planning to talk to some people during aKademy, and might post a followup later. For now, it seems that I've just pointed out that KDE is doing great, but that we might need to pay more attention to getting our usability and UI research done... I'll go into details later, this post is way too long already anyway :)

23 September 2006

 

aKademy 2006: Contributors Conference, Day 1

Day one of the conference is almost over. I am writing this while listening to Inge Wallin's talk about marketing and promotion, "How to make your program popular", which I helped reviewing earlier this morning. His talk basically boils down to: take one quality of your product, emphasise on it in your promotion material, and use all your promotion channels whenever available.
But back to the start of the day. The conference started by two opening talks from locals, followed by Aaron's keynote about self-reflection. What is KDE, what do we consist of? According to him, we are a dynamic community which keeps itself running. Afterwards, I visited the KDE4 track which offered talks by Ellen Reitmayr about user-targeted development (note to self: personas are really useful!), Aaron Seigo again, this time about Plasma, and a combined talk by Matthias Kretz and Kevin Ottens about Phonon and Solid. In the meanwhile, the other hall featured talks on cross desktop development.
A lunch at a nearby pub provided us with enough energy to follow the next talks. John Cherry from OSDL did a keynote about the Linux Desktop. I then went to the talk by John "J5" Palmieri, who had a very strong message about the relation between GNOME and KDE. "Repeat after me: Competition and cooperation are not mutually exclusive" (if I rephrase correctly).
Since the temperature was getting quite high, I decided on a short break and went back to the talks after the second coffee break, visiting the three Community talks. First a talk about organising events by Martijn Klingens and Claire Lotion of KDE-MWG and KDE-NL fame. Then a talk by Kevin Krammer on user support - apparently the amount of user questions is way too high for the few people who are answering them. And then Inge who is now answering audience questions.
So, time to finish this entry. I'm planning some more socialising before leaving for dinner: pizza, kindly sponsored by Nokia.

21 September 2006

 

Preparing for aKademy 2006

Shall I, or shouldn't I? The amount of posts in the "aKademy, here I come" department is quite high already. But why not, since I'm really looking forward to it. A week packed with talks, meetings and hacking, all to improve our favourite desktop environment...
Since it's only a 1.5 hours flight from Amsterdam to Dublin, I'll do the packing tomorrow morning and take the 12:30 train. If all goes well (and why shouldn't it?) I will arrive in Ireland four hours later (15:30 local time).
It's quite easy getting used to not being at home...

20 September 2006

 

Last-minute Krita redecorations

As Cyrille already posted, Krita will have new icons for the 1.6 release. Great thanks to Ronan, who did an excellent job recreating and modifying them over the last few days. I will be updating the screenshots in the documentation tomorrow - luckily that can be done without breaking text freeze. Another step to a good-looking painters' application! Let's see what good ideas aKademy brings :)

18 September 2006

 

Discs in Darmstadt

Back from Germany, back from a weekend of ultimate. The Darmstadt-based Ars Ludendi people did once again organise their Poolimate tournament - a great success. Everything was located nearby (the campsite was next to the fields, as were the showers and the party location) and this was accompanied by nice sunny weather.
The open division consisted of 11 teams, so to make the schedule fit in nicely some matches were played against randomly constructed pickup teams. Ours went quite well, although we lost one or two which we could have won if we would have played more secure passes and made less personal errors. That didn't prevent us from having fun though :)
The open final was won by the Feldrenner from Mainz, not surprising since they are this year's German champions. The Nuernberg-Delft combination team left with a nice 7th place.

13 September 2006

 

Aagh! Scheduling!

So, there we are... Documentation freeze for KOffice 1.6. I've sneaked in a couple of last-minute additions, but they should not be the difference between a translated and an untranslated manual :) Talking of which, it's time for me to do pick up translating...
That is, between the meetings tomorrow and Friday, the ultimate tournament in Darmstadt this weekend, my searching for a job, and aKademy which begins end of next week. Hmm. Ah well. At least this isn't a boring week ;)

10 September 2006

 

Meetings galore

After an easy week, only disturbed by some PHP/SQL nuisances, it started with an NFB board meeting Friday evening in Amsterdam. Although we were only three, we could work out things quite easily and the meeting was overall quite productive.
I had Saturday morning off, but took the train later that day again to go to the Open Source BBQ, my first and hopefully not last. Throw 30 to 40 nerds in a yard, add charcoal^Wwell-done meat and beer, and mix well. You can figure out the result yourself.
This morning was characterised by a little but irritating headache, and an hour's walk to Tiel station where my journey through the country continued, destination Arnhem. The second NFB meeting of the week, this time a brainstorm session, went fairly well and even sparked some renewed enthousiasm with some of the board members.
Back home around 7, read up with email and IRC backlogs, dinner, and relaxing with a nice can of tea.

06 September 2006

 

More fun with Krita

With the documentation freeze near, it's time to finish off the manual for 1.6. Unfortunately, I haven't had much time to add real explanatory chapters, so most changes are in the interface description. I'm planning to do the more general how-to-use chapters after the freeze, so that the next version (1.6.1? 1.7? 2.0?) will have some easier readable text as well.
And for all of you with spare time ;) : any help with the manual (tutorial-like things, usage hints and tips, proofreading, or even some more text) is welcome. Leave a note on the mailing list or drop by on IRC (irc.kde.org, #koffice).
Oh, before I forget. The Perspective tools have been nicely documented on video: see the Krita videos site.

04 September 2006

 

Back after the summer

Well, there we are... having not blogged for about half a year, I thought it was time I'd pick up the old art of rambling again. I wonder how long it takes this time before it slips away into the wide fields of lost bits.

So to continue where we left... I've had a quite relaxed summer, doing some hiking in Austria, participating in my first LARP (live action role playing) event, and starting a programming project. With a couple of meetings, BBQs and aKademy coming up, I'm glad that I've got an easy university schedule the first two months.

Of course, there's news on the KDE front as well... With KOffice 1.6 in message freeze and documentation freeze scheduled for the 8th, I've been exploring the new features in Krita. The new bezier and MOS tools are extremely nice - see Bart Coppens' blog post for spiffy screenshots. We've also got perspective tools in the pipeline, which Cyrille is busy with, and some other stuff which altogether makes 1.6 an even larger pleasure to work with than 1.5 was already.

And last but not least, I've rewritten the screenshot automation script from scratch. With a totally new wrapper, a configuration file and proper usage information, we can hopefully start automation of making the screenshots for our manual translations soon. (For a quick view, see WebSVN.)

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